Category Archives: Places

Communing With The Crustaceans

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Our is largely a Jewish household.  Judaism, thankfully, is a somewhat flexible proposition, unless you’re a Fundamentalist (or, as we call them, Orthodox).  The rules laid down in the Torah, the base text for the Christian Bible’s “old testament” have been interpreted and reinterpreted over the last three thousand years or so, to the point where many of them are nearly unrecognizable, and others are simply ignored.  Kashrut, the rules for What May Be Eaten, have morphed over the millenia to the point where we now have Kosher For Passover Face Cream.

Roy, having been raised in an Orthodox household (although we are both officially Reconstructionist), is a bit more a stickler on these matters than I am.  As a result, I do not cook dishes that combine the muscle protein of mammals with the dairy products of those mammals (originally: thou shalt not cook a kid in its mothers’ milk).  It is kind of barbaric, if you think about it, to deck out the animal protein from a species with the fluid of life from that same species.  I can get behind this.  Mostly, and certainly with respect to what I cook in the house.  Also, I respect Roy’s choices by refusing to cook treif (Forbidden Foods) in the house, when he’s around and in the position of potentially consuming them.  I don’t cook pigs or shellfish of any kind in the house, when Roy is about.  What I do on my Private Time is my Private Business, but I’m certainly not going to violate his Spiritual Beliefs by confronting him with objectionable items.

That said, my firm and private feeling is that this world is full of tzuris (great grief, and grief-inducing events such as the recent explosions in China, and certain…elements…of the US political scene).  I do not, actually, believe in a Score-Keeping God, and I sure as hell don’t believe that – if we were brought here by some Creator – that Creator started off with a list of Things Off-Limits.  I respect the journeys of those who choose to grow spiritually through restriction.  I, however, am not one of them.

My feelings on the subject are that all of these exotic rules are intended, primarily, to foster spiritual awareness of even the mundane act of dining. And I thoroughly respect that.  The meat brought into our house comes from animals that were raised with kindness and respect, and slaughtered with compassionate focus on minimizing terror and discomfort.  I don’t actually care whether a rabbi was around to wave hands and deliver some kind of benediction.  If a critter met its end, wild with fear and having spent a miserable few weeks or months, it ain’t Kosher in this house.  Chickens eaten in this house dined on bugs, settled conflicts with other chickens using its god-given beak, and got to squabble like chickens do, when they’re left to their own devices.  And so forth.  Be Kind, is the first of the law in my personal books. Be Respectful Of Life, that’s right up there too.

So, given that I clearly play Fast And Loose with the incredible scaffolding of rules, regulations, and other complicated psychological issues erected around the Act of Eating by Jewish Law, we come to one of my many possibly heretical convictions:  Oysters are Kosher in Wellfleet.  Lobsters are Kosher in Maine.  Some oysters are also Kosher in Maine, and some Lobsters are Kosher in Wellfleet.  I am Eve eating the apple, and doing it several times a summer.

But.

But.

But.  This does not imply that I scoff at what I believe to be the central philosophical point of this fantastically byzantine set of Eating Rules.  No.  I respect that even more highly, and insist on maintaining a Spiritual Awareness of the most mundane act of dining.  Especially as it regards animal life.  After all, some other creature died so that I might eat it.  That other creature’s life ended and mine goes on, in part, because the creature is no more.

I’m the sort that doesn’t even like to trample ants on the sidewalk, and feels bad about killing yellow jackets, and feels uneasy that these hornets die because they’re a threat to my existence, given my major allergies.  It’s not their fault that I’m allergic to them, after all.  They simply behave according to their nature, just as a horse does when things get a little too exciting in their blind spot and they kick.  It’s not a reason to die, but death still happens.  I don’t take life lightly.  Unless it’s a cockroach, especially a Giant F***ing Flying Roach like we have in Houston, or Fire Ants, all of which I feel completely comfortable, for some reason, wanting to eliminate from the Great Laboratory of Physical Existence.  I don’t fully understand this, but will no doubt spend the next decade contemplating.  Anyway, with the exception of the roaches and the fire ants, I don’t take life lightly. So I feel, strongly, that if something has given its life for me, even if it didn’t agree to this deal, even if it wasn’t asked – especially if it wasn’t asked – I have a powerful Moral Obligation to confront my role in that arrangement.

Which brings me to the topic of how lobsters are kosher in Maine.

A cow, it dies to provide sustenance to…a hundred people, maybe, after taking into consideration all the bits and pieces.  Maybe even more.  A chicken, it dies to provide sustenance to four, maybe six people, removed at some distance from the act of giving up its life.

A lobster, it dies to provide sustenance to one.  One person, not at all removed from the sacrifice, but sitting feet away from the process.  One.  One lobster, one person.

This creates some difficulty for me.  It is much easier to ask, or expect, that a creature will give up its life in exchange for the sustenance of a hundred than for the sustenance of one. I experience a moment of intense discomfort when inspecting a tank full of crustaceans, and having to select one of them to die for me.  Not for nameless others.  I am, even though I hand off the actual chore to a cook, that lobster’s executioner.  It is difficult.  I understand the Cycle of Life, I take my place in that knowingly, and thoughtfully, but the fact remains: I am at the top of the food chain, and other creatures lose their lives for my dinner.  It’s just not as…direct…with anything else as it is with a lobster.

My approach to dealing with this discomfort is to recognize the sacrifice that another creature made, involuntarily, at my behest, and to honor that creature’s spirit as completely as possible.  I am told that – as a result – the experience of watching me eat a lobster strikes awe into the hearts of all who witness it. Other diners, my companions, the wait staff at the restaurant, you name it.

I honor that lobster’s spirit by refusing to let even a tiny fragment of it go to waste.  I honor that lobster’s spirit by refusing to engage in any distracting activity while I am communing with it in the act of dining.  For me, this is a Spiritual Act.

For everyone else, it is a breathtaking exhibition in focus, ferocity, and determination, apparently.  I scorn those individuals who eat only the easy-to-access meat in the tail and the big claws.  I scientifically dismantle my lobsters, consuming every scrap of meat in the walking claws, the carapace, the fins on the tail, the small segments of the claws, and yes – the tail and the claws too.  When I have finished with a lobster, there is nothing left but the shell.  And the tomalley, because I’m concerned about the concentration of toxins from the crap that people will insist on dumping into the ocean.  Other than that, there is nothing.

And woe betide any who expect conversation, attention, or any other distraction from my experience of communing with the spirit of the recently-departed lobster.  The chit-chat, the request for another beer or a refill on the water, the ordering of dessert, the demand for the check, all of this can wait for another time.  I reckon any critter that gave its life for me deserves my full, complete, and wholly-undivided attention while I’m assimilating its physical existence.   I don’t care how many people are struck dumb in wonder at this spectacle.  The lobster, honestly, is the only other being in my universe at these moments.

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Ripping

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I rose this morning to an air temperature of zero Fahrenheit, the temperature at which the hairs in your nose will freeze and break off, if you use your nose to breathe.  This is one of the strangest feelings in the world: it’s like every single tiny little hair in your nose meets that arctic air, reels backwards in fear, and curls up into a tiny, solitary little individual ball of terror.  Right there inside your nostrils.  The first time this happened to me, in Wisconsin in January, they warned me: when you get that sensation do not inhale.  I didn’t believe them when they told me that it was my nose hairs freezing.  As a Texan, I am routinely suspected of “telling tall tales” (which are nothing but the unvarnished truth) but to my ears, the Story of the Frozen Nose Hairs was pure bunk.  I was certain they were mocking me as a rube, in the same way that kids from New York City get sent on “snipe hunts” at camp.

And I maintained that belief until I inhaled and all those wretched, broken, frozen nose hairs shot straight up into my sinuses and started really wreaking havoc.  Five minutes later I was able to finish blowing my nose, and, by golly, there they were on the kleenex:  frozen nose hairs.    Now I know.  And I can always tell when the mercury is at zero, because even at one degree, my nose hairs don’t ball up and fall off.  Only at zero and below.  I’m sort of a Human Thermometer that way.

Now, thanks to the bloody Polar Vortex, I lost my nose hairs for the season weeks ago, right before the mountain started on that ghastly thaw/rain/melt/freeze cycles with the four (4) hideous unseasonable rainstorms in a row.  Fortunately, for a full week now, the snowmaking temperatures have been back, and the hill is roughly where it should be at this time of the season.  I could do with some plentiful snow from the sky but I’m not going to complain about the conditions we’re having right now.

So what does a New England Skier say when they walk outside in a valley town well south of the ski hill, and it’s only zero there, and the red stripe on the bottom of the TV channel is blaring the information that wind chills – in town – are well into the Super Ultra Frostbite Risk Zone?  And the mountain expect the mercury to max at 4-below at the summit, and around 5-above at the base?

It depends.  If that skier is a simple, rational individual, able to maintain a take-it-or-leave it attitude about skiing, they turn around, go back to bed, maybe pile on an extra blanket, and return to sleep.

If that skier is me, then they turn around, dig out the Expedition Weight base layers, start stacking clothes and opening the chemical hand-warmer packets, and make for the hill.

The good news is that the ultra-chilly temperatures ensured that virtually all of the skiers on the hill today were hard. core.  I mean, we’re talking a day where your breath condenses on the balaclava and makes the face mask wet through by the time you finish a run, and by the time you ski off the chair, the balaclava is frozen solid so that you can thump it by flicking it with a thumbnail.  These are hard. core. ski conditions, not for the faint of heart, but no deterrent at all to the hard. core. skier who possesses the requisite soft goods.  Soft goods are clothing, for you non-skiers out there.

The other good news is that the recent snowmaking blizzards have laid down a pretty solid layer of white on many of the runs – no thin spots or waterbars or holes, rocks, and other funny stuff.  And that these temps have dried that snow right on out, letting it pack down pretty solidly into one of the versions of New England Ice known as hard-pack.  And the groomers chew up the top layer into little rails of corduroy, all of which means that we have a surface over the entire mountain that consists of firm, dry, fast hard snow that you can get an edge into.  If you have the right skis, that is.  I wouldn’t want to be riding my midfat twin-tips over this stuff, that’s for sure.  But because I am a dyed-in-the-wool native New England Skier (not a Native New Englander) I own Ice Skis.  Yep.  New England skiers better have at least one pair of skis in the quiver – and if they don’t have a quiver, the only pair of skis they own – that is made for skiing on ice.

Ski The East: Born From Ice. Says it all, really. I have a hoodie with this design on it. Roy gave it to me, because he understands about skiing on ice.

 

So, the good news is that the surface was fast and smooth and pretty much even.  This is Rock Star Snow.  Not Hero Snow, it’s not the surface to get experimental with.  Not the surface for learning aerial tricks, and taking jumps.  What it is, is the surface for ripping.

The even better news is that I have just the pair of skis for all of this.  I bought them back in November.  They’re Volkls, which in my opinion, makes the best Ice Skis around.  Mine are RTM 84s, a nice wide uber-solid high-performance vehicle of a ski.  They remind me of my sports car, with its six-speed manual short-throw transmission and huge engine.  It took me a week before I wasn’t killing my engine in first gear.  This is not a car to go slow in.  It is, however, a car to monitor very carefully because it’s extremely easy to go very fast in.  And to go very fast without noticing.  Roy always has to drive my car with the cruise control on, because if he doesn’t, it’s only two or three minutes before we become bait for the Staties.  My car wails.  So do my skis.

Now, I used to be terrified of speed on skis.  I used to be the slowest person on the run, including on the green run.  I still remember the day that I actually passed someone else on a run.  I was thrilled because it meant that I was no longer the slowest person on the run.  It’s been a while since I was the slowest person on the run, but it wasn’t until this year that I Came To Terms with speed.

In retrospect, I understand that the biggest part of my Speed Problem was that I was on skis that were too short.  You wouldn’t think that having short skis would be a problem with speed, but it is.  Another part of the problem was that I wasn’t a good enough skier to take advantage of speed.  I was no slouch, mind you, but I was definitely more concerned with stopping and slowing down than I was with going fast.  I was extremely concerned about stopping and slowing down on ice.  I would have said, 18 months ago, that I hated skiing on ice.  I had great ice skis, with awesome hard snow grip, but they were short enough that if I poured on any juice, they’d get all squirrely under my feet.  Nothing to give a person an aversion for skiing fast on ice like a pair of skis that gets all woobly when you do it.

Now? I have skis that are the right length, and I’m still concerned with maintaining control at all times (and do)…but at this point, my concern with ice is limited to things like cursing the ice for stripping the wax off my bases and chewing up my edges.  I had one of those Epiphany Moments on Monday, before the mountain operations had gotten more than a start on resurrecting the conditions. I took a run that has a challenging little drop and a bunch of rollers.  It’s a little bit off the beaten track, so it doesn’t get crowded, which – combined with the fun drop and the rollers – makes it one of my favorite runs on the hill.  When conditions are agreeable I’ve been known to spend a few hours just doing laps on this run, I like it that much.  On Monday, it was my own private White Ribbon of Death…and I was totally unfazed.  I skied out onto it, and found myself thinking “ah, hardpack.”  (one type of New England Ice). Back in the day, I would have stopped, or at least braked, and fussed about skiing out onto an obviously icy run.  With a steep little drop and rollers.  Not now.  Before I finished the thought about the hardpack, I was approaching the drop, the top of which was covered with boilerplate – another, uglier type of New England Ice – and I sighed.  I sighed again when I dropped in and discovered that the backside of the drop was scattered sheets of blue ice (the ugliest type of New England Ice) but again, before I finished the thought “oh, that’s nasty” I was into the rollers, which were also pretty icy.  The important part is that I didn’t drop my rhythm, I didn’t slow down, I just skied that shit.

I’m not afraid of ice any more.  I’m born from the stuff.  I own it.

I got it again this morning, when I was taking a lift ride over a short, but pretty steep black diamond.  US ski runs are rated green (easiest), blue (intermediate), black (difficult), and double-black (experts only, and even then it might get hairy). I looked down off the lift at this run, which is usually bumped up (with moguls, which I hate, because here they are enormous and rock hard, like skiing a field of igloos).  Today it was groomed.  I regarded it for a while, considered that there was enough loose stuff to be edge-able, and thought “I can take that.”

And I did.  I skied off the lift, hiked up a little hill to the drop-in zone of the run – which you couldn’t see at all, owing to steepness – and while some primitive part of my brain was saying “NO WAY” the rest of it was going “Pshaw.”  I knew I could do it, you see.  I didn’t think I could do it.  I knew I could.  And so it was.  I made a few turns, and yeah, it was a little steep, and the surface was a little crisp, but I was entirely up to it.  In fact, I found myself thinking “Are you serious?  Is that all?  This is…not quite easy, but certainly not difficult.

And then I knew.  I’m not afraid of steeps any more.

In fact, I did that run three times.  My skis were loving it.  More! More! they seemed to say.  More!

So I gave them more.  I turned down the fall line, and I opened up the throttle, and before I knew it, I was not just not the slowest person on the runs, I was the fastest.  Thanks to the super-cold temps keeping all the rookies in, the mountain was pretty empty, and the people who were out on it were people who knew what they were doing.  Which means I could really open it up.  And every gout of speed I delivered, my skis just said More! More! More!

My skis hate going slow.  They’ll do it, but they bicker nonstop when I make ’em.  They were born for speed, and don’t I know it.

I remember on one run – it was empty, the surface was in great shape, and I blasted into the run like I’d been shot out of a rocket launcher, and tore it up all the way to the base, picking the most aggressive lines, the biggest drops, and carving it up hard.  I felt like I was going to leave a sonic boom in my wake.  I felt like I should have a Sound Effect: that noise that the Road Runner makes when he really pours on the speed, the one that sounds like a ricochet.  Pssschhooowngg!!

And now I know.  I’m not afraid of speed any more.

The only downside of days like today is having the ski hill to myself.  Next time I go, there will be other people on the runs, and I won’t be able to rip it out, and I will have to ski slowly.  I get spoiled.

One Day, Two Posts, and a RED Letter

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Because, you know, sometimes what you want to see is something really GREAT.

Back in the fall of 2011, not long after I started keeping my blog, I had the misfortune to be writing about the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Irene, not – thankfully – as a direct participant, but as kind of a neighbor-down-the-street.

This is because one of the hardest-hit areas of Vermont was the ski town for my home mountain, a place where I spend an inordinate amount of time and have a fairly large collection of personal contacts. If not exactly “friends”, then very regular business partners with whom I am on a first-name basis.

One of the most tragic victims of this event – in many eyes – was Dot’s Diner, in Wilmington.  It’s the building in the lower right hand corner of this video.

Downtown Wilmington is built on the banks of the Deerfield River, typically a peaceful stream.  The storm rains sent a flash flood down the valley, and when it was over, people’s lives had been destroyed.  And Dot’s.  Home of the best onion rings, the best berry pancakes, and the best meatloaf on the planet.  And a cheerful spot populated with a rotating cast of characters directly out of a Normal Rockwell picture.

Dot’s was everyone’s home spot.  Everyone’s.  And when the storm was over, half of it was washed downstream into Massachusetts.

For years, you have been able to cast an utter Pall over any random group of skiers – normally a cheery optimistic bunch – simply by uttering the word “Dot’s”.  Vivacious groups will immediately fall into a silent dejection.  Any number, any group, we all of us mourn the passing of Dot’s.

Incredibly, the owners – and the community – vowed to Rebuild.

In. The. Same. Spot.

Now, some might say, with justification, that this is insane.  The restaurant washed away once, why build there?  As far as I can tell, the answer is that this is how it is.  Dot’s is on the river.  The building was the post office, possibly the original post office for the town.  Some of the building was left after the flood.  I think, to some degree, that building there, using what was left of the original structure, is a shout of defiance against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  It is an echo of the Eternal Yea.  Not so much triumph of man over nature, but triumph of the spirit of man over catastrophe.

And so, for the last year, the thought has been winkling its way into the common awareness that Dot’s Will Rise Again.  And for the last month or so, there have been candles lit, in the finest New England tradition, in every window of the building, blazing out against the early darkness of the onset of winter.

And yesterday, as Roy entertained his little shred of hope again, and said “Can we drive by Dot’s to see when it’s going to be open?” one more time, to which I agreed as I always do, because he’s not the only one with the little shred of hope, we saw it.  O-P-E-N.  We nearly had a wreck, right there in the falling flurry.  It’s open.  

Dot’s Diner, in Wilmington, is open.

And if Dot’s can be open, then, really, anything is possible.  Reindeer might fly, you know.

Today, I received a call from Roy, who was waiting in line to put the car into the municipal garage so that our driveway can get plowed tomorrow morning.

“You’re never going to believe this.” he said.  “Dot’s is on the front page of the National News section of the New York Times.”

And so it is.  Right here. 

I am telling you, reindeer can fly.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow…

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I’d planned, this morning, to pay a visit to The Wonder Horse, dust him off, bond with him, give him a treat, and send him back to the Great Outdoors (or, at least, as much of it as is enclosed by his electric fence).  A quick glance at the weather changed my mind.  It’s 11 degrees.  I just can’t see stripping my horse nekkid, even in the barn, and obliging him to stand still just so I can fluff his air and shine him up.  Yes, he needs to be groomed for health reasons.  No, it doesn’t need to happen today, not at 11 degrees.  Besides, the thinsulate in my barn gloves is wearing out.  I discovered this when I went by to say a big “hello!” to him, give him four carrots and two horse muffins.  After that fairly brief foray, the tips of every one of my fingers was on fire.  Also, anything liquid in my grooming kit (like his Anti-ZAP Spray) was frozen like a rock.  The heck with this, he’ll get clean on another day.

We’re under our first winter storm warning of the season, and it’s just started to snow.  National Weather Service is saying maybe 6″, maybe a foot, maybe a little more.  I have the inclination to be thrilled because my ski hill is rolled into the Warning area, which means more trails open, more fresh snow, and a whole lot of fun.  I have the leisure to be thrilled because school’s out of session, I don’t have to commute to anything but the grocery store, the barn, and the ski area, and I can afford to keep the terrifyingly ancient and massive barrel in my basement full of heating oil.  So, from where sit, this winter storm is great news, pure and simple.

It’s not without its inconveniences, though.  I know, for example, as I look out of my window, I am probably seeing the clear surface of my driveway for the last time until April.  And last night was, in all likelihood, the last night for the next four months when parking my car and Roy’s in the driveway was completely uncomplicated.  And Huey’s farrier is coming out on Wednesday to pull his shoes off for the winter, but right now, things are just a little on the slick side for him, which strikes a little arrow of fear that he’s going to injury himself AGAIN horsing around in his already snow-covered paddock.

Then, of course, there’s the grocery store.

Now, I’m from Texas.  Houston, in specific, but I spend plenty of time in Austin, San Antonio, and College Station.

In Texas-speak, “flurry” means that someone on the freeway saw four things that they thought might be snowflakes.

In New England-speak, “flurry” means that it isn’t snowing hard enough to make it impossible to drive.  It’s been “flurrying” like this pretty much all week up at the ski hill.  On Tuesday morning, we had “flurries” that put an inch and a half of snow on the car in the space of a few hours.  Yesterday, it was “flurrying” all morning long, making it impossible to ski without goggles.  Not that I want to ski without goggles – cold air, contact lenses, stray tree branches, and stuff – but my goggles fogged up on the chair lift despite the anti-fog coating, and started raining inside, so I had to take them off for the rest of the run in order to be able to see anything at all.  But I then had to stop every couple of minutes and scrape the “flurry” out of my eyelashes.  And the plows were out, treating the roads on the way home.  That’s a New England “flurry” for you.

In Texas, a weatherman using the word “Flurry”, or “Sleet” is a Sign of the Apocalypse.  It’s the signal for everyone in town to get in a car or board a bus, and stampede to the grocery store/Costco/Sam’s/Walmart/package store and empty it out.  I’ve seen desperate people brawling in the aisles over the last case of Pellegrino.  You can’t find a can of beenie-weenie, chili, or soup anywhere in the territory covered by the weather station.    Parking lots become a madhouse, but that’s nothing to compare to the violent rodeo of the checkout line.  Panic reigns supreme.

In New England, no one pays any attention at all until the weatherman starts using the words “winter storm warning.”  A watch?  Pshaw.  If it’s not a “warning” it’s not happening.  The weather in New England is inherently unpredictable, according to my Harvard Physicist Buddy who knows about these things.  She says that it’s the density of the mountain range, which makes them act more like a big tall range than the short one they are, and the proximity to the ocean, and the proximity to the giant plains of Canada.  No one here with two brain cells to rub together pays any attention to the long term forecasts, and by “long-term” I mean “more than 18 hours out”.  It was different in Texas, and Wisconsin, for that matter.  The weathermen there could forecast the approximate half-hour when some weather system was going to roll in.  Here in New England, we’re lucky to get accurate forecasting for what’s going to happen in the next six hours.  Both of the days I went skiing the week, for example, had forecasted “mix of clouds and sunshine” and “precipitation 0%” at 8am when I left the house, when what we actually got was a total of 4 inches of snow.

So they don’t use the words “winter storm warning” here unless 1) the storm isn’t on the doorstep, but it’s been sighted walking up the path to the front door, and 2) it’s going to drop truckloads of snow, and maybe some ice.  Or, in the wrong time of year, or under evil circumstances, truckloads of ice, and maybe some snow.

The thing is, even when the forecasters do use the words “winter storm warning” what happens is that some people go check the woodshed to make sure it’s still full, some people double-check to make sure the storm windows are in place, and all the people who planned to do the weekly grocery shopping tomorrow decide to do it today instead.  No panics, no raids, no fights breaking out anywhere.  It’s really quite dull.

Now, what you also have are a pile of skiers paying very close attention to those forecasts, and you might wind up with a minor traffic jam on some country road in the Vermont mountains as a critical mass of people flee into the storm … just to be certain of being a skip and a hop away from the base area and chairlifts when the weather kicks in – or for the saner of us – when the wind starts to die down a bit.  That kind of excitement I can absolutely get behind.  Roy and I were part of one of those epic junkets last winter, as a matter of fact.  I wouldn’t want to be traveling up Vermont 100 right now.  Not because of the snow, but because of the massive exodus of sport utes from New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.  With any luck, the Massachusetts State Police Operation Ski Trap is in full swing, lining our coffers and engaging wealth transfers to pay for roads, state parks, and essential social services.

Anyway, there’s nothing that makes me feel quite as Festive as a mid-December snowfall.  It’s feeling like time for a mug of hot chocolate.  I might even have a candy cane to stir it with.    I need to go say “goodbye” to my driveway.  See you next spring, you gleaming asphalt strip!  Au revoir, curbs!  Two-way streets, later alligator!  Catch you when the seasons turn again, and hopefully, that won’t be until April!

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Coming really soon, I hope!

It’s Mid-November And All Is Well…

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This is a great time of the year. Of course, my perspective on it is likely colored by the fact that my ski hill opened up for the weekend.  It’s all man-made snow, of course, but no one blows better snow than Mount Snow.  That’s why they call it that.  Mount Snow.  For snow, get it?  hehehe

Anyway, they’d been issuing threats via Facebook for days that they would open on Friday.  I know, I can hear you saying, “But you love to ski! Why would it be a threat to open a ski hill?  Wouldn’t you be happy about this?”

And to this I say, “Well, kind of.  But kind of not. And it frightens me.”

The translation here is that, as they say, any day with skiing in it is a better day than the one without skiing in it.  So in that sense, opening the hill is kind of good.  Because it means a day with skiing instead of a day with not.

But then…one must ask the crucial question about Conditions.  Because not all skiing is created equal.  Just ask my buddy Russell, who learned (day 1!) last year on lovely soft slow spring snow, only to be confronted on day 2 by a hill that had melted and then frozen as hard as a rock, and on day 3, it was raining.  He got three of the four Ski Seasons all rolled into one long weekend.

There’s a phenomenon known among Skiers as the White Ribbon of Death.  When a mountain opens absurdly early, as all of the ones in Vermont are doing this year, and there has not been snow from the sky, what “opening” means is not “opening the mountain! yay!” but “opening one run”.  The One Run that gets opened before any other run on the mountain.  The one where the snowmaking is focused.  The one white strip of a run out of an entire mountain of runs.  The only white one.  The white ribbon making its way from the top of the hill all the way down to the base.  The one run that every single desperate ski-starved junkie is planning to drift down, on legs that haven’t seen the like in seven or eight months.  The one extremely crowded and over-skied run.  The one crowded, over-skied white ribbon from the top of the hill to the base.

The White Ribbon of Death.

I’m very conflicted about the WROD.  On one hand, any day with skiing… On the other hand, of Death.

I tried to hold it off.  I really did.  Because, you know, it’s just not a Good Idea.  Of Death, and all.  I even appealed to my Online Ski Support Group for assistance in helping me keep the demons from the door.  A fat lot of good they were, too.  I mean, Ski Support Group, you’re thinking they’re going to be providing support for managing the problem. Right?  No.  They just provide Support for Skiing.  Trying to talk yourself out of buying new skis or boots?  The Ski Divas will make sure that this purchase goes through.  Thinking that it’s not such a great idea to go Heli-Skiing?  The Ski Divas will fix that for you.  By the time the Ski Divas finish with you, you’re going to have your own private ski waxing and grinding salon set up in the basement.  Don’t have a basement?  Get one by moving!  As someone said earlier this week, you don’t have “too many skis” unless they won’t all fit in your garage.  That’s a paraphrase, but the gist is accurate.  So when I appealed to them for support on my decision not to ski the WROD this year, you can imagine what happened.

Yep.  Saturday morning, nice and early, and I’m dropping three pairs of skis off at the shop to get the summer wax scraped off.  I can hear you say “Three pairs?!?!”  And to this I say, “Yes, because I couldn’t fit all six into the car at once. Besides, one of them belongs to Roy.”

I spent the entire trip up to the hill preparing myself for Truly Awful Conditions.  Rocks.  Ice.  Bare spots.  Crowds.  Everything but Yellow Snow.

To my vast and unequaled surprise, what I got instead was an (admittedly narrow) strip of pure white packed powder,  charming, friendly, soft, and accepting of turns and edges.  Not quite Hero Snow.  But not too far from it, either.

The other shocker was that there weren’t crowds, at least, not at 8:45AM.  What there were was a generous handful of Ski Freaks, like myself, who just had to get in some turns.  I had the rare, possibly unrepeatable, experience of seeing the run occupied by nothing but competent, experienced skiers.  Usually, at least 10% of the people on the run have absolutely no business venturing off the bunny hill.  They go there because they don’t know about the bunny hill, and this run is the obvious run to take.  It’s the White Ribbon of Death for a reason.  Or maybe they are there because Experience Ski Boyfriend has talked them into it, assuring them they can do it, without regard to actual skills development.  Or maybe they’re just full of beans.  But the fact is, they’re out there, trashing the surface of the run, getting frightened, stopping and standing still in the traffic, or sitting on their snowboards and having a picnic right under the lip of a drop where you can’t see them until you’re ten feet above them and moving fast.  Just the experience of skiing on a run where everyone was competent and experienced was worth the trip alone.

I’d like to say that I skied until my legs fell off.  Well, I did.  But that was only four (4) runs.  I don’t know what happened to my ski muscles.  I’d be willing to swear it was only a week or so since I went last.  But man alive, were my thighs burning after those four (4) runs.  My brain was all “WOO-HOO!! LET’S DO SOME MORE!!” but my thighs were all “Hell, no.” and somewhere in between I had a small, very small, Voice of Sanity saying that it was much better to stop one run too early than one run too late, and that everything would be crappy if I skied too long and wiped out and got some kind of orthopedic injury…on the White Ribbon of Death.

And so I stopped.  But everything is just groovy as hell right now, because I skied.   I give this another 3, maybe 4 days before my mood turns foul because, well, because I haven’t skied since Saturday.  That’s why I was afraid of the WROD: because I knew it would Unleash The Beast.  The beast that I keep locked up where it can’t haunt me over the summer.  It stays locked up – although all those warnings about the imminent opening were really rattling the bars on its cage – until my feet hit the boots and the boots hit the ski and the ski hits the snow.  After that, it’s all over.  I’ve had Ski Dreams every night this week.  Now they’re OK. but if I have to go for a week or more between skiing, they will turn into torture.  God forbid, sprinkle salt, spit, and make that Gypsy Sign to Avert The Evil Eye with my fingers, it won’t be like last year where the snow wasn’t decent until nigh on to Christmas.  phht. phht.  finger flicks.

So here we are, it’s mid-November, Thanksgiving is around the corner, my stash of winter squash is holding up, the skies are clear, I’m still riding The Wonder Horse, and I’ve already gone skiing.  How could it get any better?

It could get better with this amazing dish that I made last week.  Holy jamoly.  I thought it would be good when I saw the recipe wherever it was that I saw it.  But I didn’t have any idea until I tasted it on my plate.  Even during preparation I didn’t realize.  And while the first time I ate it was good, the second time, for lunch the next day, was heavenly.  I bring you a Chicken Cassoulet.

6 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin-on
1 t salt
½ t pepper
3 T olive oil
1 lb garlic and herb chicken sausage, cut into chunks
1 large onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 19 oz cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
14 oz can diced tomatoes with herbs
½ C chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 T dried thyme
1½ C breadcrumbs. I used cornbread crumbs and they were brilliant. I wouldn’t recommend panko.

Preheat oven to 300.  Sprinkle chicken all over with salt and pepper.  In large skillet over medium high heat brown meat in 2 T olive oil, on both sides.  Remove from skillet and set aside.  Brown sausage in skillet, remove and set aside.  Add remaining oil to skillet.  Add onion and garlic, and cook until translucent.  Return chicken and sausage to skillet.  Add beans, tomatoes, broth, bay leaf, and thyme.  Give it a good stir to blend. Bring to boil. Take from heat and sprinkle with a cup of the crumbs. Cover and bake for 2 hours.  Uncover and sprinkle with remaining breadcrumbs and bake 20 minutes longer.  Remove bay leaf before serving.

Theoretically feeds 6, but only if they’re all on a diet. Otherwise, feeds 2 with leftovers for tomorrow, or 5 tonight.

Bird House