It happens every year. Every year by this time, we get a cold snap. Usually, the first one happens in November or December. This year it waited until late January.
Today temperatures reached the -40s. Yep. That’s our cold snaps here in Fairbanks. Minus thirty is chilly, but it’s when the minus forties are reached that Fairbanksians start acting like it’s actually cold. Residents idle their cars in the parking lots, wear hats, gloves, snow pants, snow boots, just for the short walk from the car to the grocery store. The gas pumps are full, since no one wants to run out of gas on a day like today.
The windowsills freeze over, reminding you of the temperature outside despite the warmth inside. But get too close to a door or window, and a cold draft betrays the penetrating chill.
Looking ahead, the forecast doesn’t warm up for awhile. In fact, Thursday will be our highlight with highs of minus fifteen.
I guess there will be a lot of playing by the fire and baking in the kitchen this week.
Speaking of which, I think I finally got my sourdough starter to work. After months of nurturing it, feeding it countless cups of flour and water, lovingly mixing it and putting it in my proofing box to keep it at optimal temperatures, it would appear that I have a lively starter! In fact, I am proofing a loaf overnight in the fridge because I didn’t have time to finish & bake it tonight. I’m excited to take it out tomorrow morning, let it warm up, finish rising, and then bake it! I am hoping that this will (finally) be a successful sourdough excursion for me!
Regardless of the frigid air that burns your lungs and freezes your fingers within seconds, it’s still beautiful. Somehow, it almost seems more beautiful in its danger.
So stay warm, and stay prepared. Winter has arrived.
A long, subzero run is different from other runs. Challenging for different reasons. Instead of focusing on the stitch in your side, you focus on the way your eyelashes are freezing shut so that you can’t see the road or cars approaching. You try to breathe less so that your breath doesn’t add icicles to your lashes, so that your face warmer doesn’t condense and harden. Your nose runs like a faucet, but you only notice when it starts to slick the fabric in front of your mouth. Then you can taste it. It tastes like hard work, like sweat.
You’re running in goose down. No, seriously. You have so many layers on that you shouldn’t be able to move, yet they’re thin layers, and you can’t just move–you can run. And it feels good. It feels like freedom, like nothing can keep you down, nothing can stop you. Because instead of being curled up under a blanket, on a couch, like others who let the weather win, you’re out there running.
The snow crunches underneath your winter running shoes. You wear two pairs of socks, three shirts, three pairs of pants, plus a down jacket, two neck warmers, a hat, and thick down mittens. You want to be prepared. You can always take layers off, but can’t put them on once you start. Once you’re five miles from home, there’s nothing you can do.
And once you start, it’s cold. Once you start to sweat, a chill sets in. Your body isn’t used to this. It’s not natural, it’s not expected. How do you train for this? But still, you run. You trick yourself into completing the entire run, running out away from home to as close a halfway point as possible so that you can’t cheat and end before it’s time.
It works. That technique always works. You can’t stop or else you’re stranded. But today the temptation to call for a rescue ride runs through your mind. Today’s run is uncomfortable.
So you put one foot in front of the other, pausing only to step into the soft shoulder for lines of cars to pass you safely. You run because you’re an Alaskan. And Alaskans don’t let the weather stop them from doing much.
So 2014 was a good cranberry year. After putting my cranberries in the freezer for a couple of months, I finally got around to making some cranberry sauce over the past few weeks. I spent a couple of hours measuring out the berries, boiling them until they burst, running them through a food mill to get rid of the seeds and skins, and then boiling them down with spices and onion until they reached the consistency I wanted.
It was a fun way to spend an afternoon, a simple recipe to follow, and quick to can.
One word of warning to those unfamiliar with these berries: High-bush cranberries are smelly.
When you boil them, crush them, and boil them again, it smells up the ENTIRE house. And your husband may come home and ask why the house smells like a man’s locker room.
Spiced Cranberry Sauce
12 cups fresh high-bush cranberries
3 cups onion, minced
1 cup water
2 cups white vinegar
4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon celery salt or celery seed
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1. Cook the cranberries in the water until soft, then put through a food mill or a sieve. Discard the seeds.
2. If you haven’t already, prepare enough jars for 3 pints of sauce by sterilizing them in hot water for at least 10 minutes.
3. In a large pot, combine the onions, vinegar, sugar, spices, celery salt/seed, salt, and pepper with the cranberries and boil until the mixture thickens to the desired consistency.
4. Once the cranberries and spices have been boiled down, pour the sauce into sterilized jars and seal fingertip-tight.
5. Process the sealed jars in a water bath for 15 minutes, or adjusted for altitude.
Even though these berries, raw, have the odor of sweaty socks, with these ingredients, the berries become a wonderful complement to red meats.
The strong flavor complements game meat excellently, but also accompanies steak quite well. Even our friends who don’t like steak sauces loved this sauce!
“How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December’s bareness every where!
And yet this time remov’d was summer’s time,
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burden of the prime,
Like widowed wombs after their lords’ decease:
Yet this abundant issue seem’d to me
But hope of orphans and unfathered fruit,
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And thou away, the very birds are mute;
Or if they sing, ’tis with so dull a cheer
That leaves look pale, dreading the winter’s near.”
Sonnet 97, Shakespeare