Winter itself comes with its own bedfellows as well. They are not necessarily strange bedfellows, because some are expected and widely recognized. However, others may be less anticipated.
The first hallmark of the cold season that we shall consider is dirty cars. Car washing is a common practice in the warmer months, but quickly falls by the wayside as soon as it becomes cold enough out that water will freeze and/or people don't want to stand outside a enclosed space with a perfectly good heater for any old reason. Interestingly, it is the winter months that lead to cars being their dirtiest because of all the grimy slush and salt that gets flung onto the sides of cars making their way through the snowy streets. With this in mind, people eagerly flock to car washes as soon as a rare warm day comes along, with the goal of getting their car clean and preserving the life of its exterior by a little bit. Some go the route of the "manual" car wash, where the driver actually gets out of the car, puts some quarters in a receptacle, and proceeds to use the ever-popular "foaming brush" to clean their vehicle, which is really akin to a person using a washcloth that has already been rubbed all over the bodies of thousands of other bodies previously. And people say they love their cars!
Anyway, another route to take is the gas station car wash, which is like super-sizing the extra value meal that is your standard fuel fill-up. And this really is an appropriate parallel, because just as you can Biggie Size It, Really Biggie Size It, or "Biggie" Is Really A Kind Description Size It here in 'Merica, you can select the extensiveness of your car cleaning when utilizing the gas station drive-thru wash. I decided to use the car wash at the local Marathon station on a recent warm-ish day, and have to say that I was perplexed when presented with my car wash options. They were as follows: Buckeye, The Schott, The Horseshoe, and St. John. All appropriately "Ohio Statey" for a business close to campus, but utterly devoid of useful information, including the price for each option. Was Buckeye a more extensive wash than The Horseshoe? What was the price difference between St. John and The Schott? None of this seemingly important detail was provided. Buckeye was the first on the list, and seemed to be the most generically named of the bunch, so it got my vote with the thought that it was probably the least extensive and least expensive. Of course, I was wrong. Buckeye was the most extensive and most expensive wash, and probably the gas station owners put it at the top of the list thinking that unsuspecting customers would fall prey, just as I did. And just let me say, if Buckeye was the best wash available, I'd hate to see St. John. For St. John they probably pump in the slush water from the street and spray it on your car, and then use the dryers to bake it on. Yeesh. Buckeye didn't even have any octopus strips.
A second hallmark of winter is stews. Few things are as glorious as a nice stew, stewed for at least an hour to fill the kitchen with a pleasing stewy aroma before being consumed in belly-warming delight. Preferably with some crusty bread. The interesting thing about stews is that they can be either purposeful or inadvertent, but both varieties are usually wonderful.
For a Christmas gift, both Nate and I received a couple cookbooks, and so I decided that it would be a good habit to make at least one dinner each week trying out a new recipe from the cookbooks, to give them some use and to increase my culinary knowledge. For the first recipe choice from the cookbooks, I decided to choose at random. My finger landed on Brunswick Stew, which would have been totally welcome and appropriate had Nate not made it the previous night, un-prompted by the cookbook. I took another random stab and came up with Onion Rings. Despite my increased running mileage, I figured that a dinner of nothing but onion rings was a bad idea, and the search for an agreeable recipe continued. My next attempt landed on Crawfish Etouffee (pronounced ay-too-FAY), and it was thus delegated as the recipe for the night without further ceremony.
The first step to preparing the dinner was to obtain the necessary ingredients. Unfortunately, Giant Eagle did not have a number of the ingredients, so numerous substitutions were made. For example, shrimp stock was not to be found, so chicken stock was used instead. Giant Eagle was also sold out of French bread (there was a sale), so a similar non-French bread was purchased. Finally, there was no crawfish tail-meat available, which would seem to be an essential ingredient for Crawfish Etouffee, but I determined that some other sea-dwelling creature would suffice. I didn't want to go for a standard bag of shrimp, because this was supposed to be somewhat experimental after all, so instead I picked up a bag of "Seafood Medley." I admit that I was both unsure and intrigued by the Seafood Medley, because by all appearances it looked like someone had taken a magical underwater lawnmower and run it over the coral reef. It really was unclear what was included in the various chunks and giblets in the package. Blue whale? Great white shark? Ariel? Anything was possible. It was the kind of food item that looked so heinously prepared that you expected to see a label on the outside that said "No tuna was harmed in the making of this product."
The dinner preparations got underway, and in typical Parry fashion I didn't hesitate to cut down on some of the less health-oriented ingredients. The recipe called for both Old Bay Seasoning and Creole Seasoning, but I made the executive decision to use just a pinch of salt and pepper rather than quintupling the sodium content of the meal. Of course, my nutritionally conscious motivations were rather negated when Nate pointed out that I had used double the amount of butter needed. This was an honest mistake, and I lay all the blame on Trader Joe's for their stupid packaging. You see, Trader Joe's has to be "special" and "unique" and "fun," and the way they achieve this is by using atypical packaging. When you buy sticks of butter at Giant Eagle, you get four sticks in the package, and if you were to look at the end of the package you would see a square made up of four smaller squares. Follow? Well, at Trader Joe's they also sell sticks of butter in four's, but they make them short and fat, and they are packaged in one flat layer, two sticks deep. If you were to look at the end of the package, you would see a rectangle made up of two squares. Follow? Okay, so I was aware of none of this, and I just pulled out one of these short, fat, stupid sticks of butter and figured it was a half stick, because naturally I wasn't going to get out my tape measure and see if it was a uniform thickness with other normal sticks of butter. The result is that we had a low sodium, double-fat meal. Increasing mileage.
To get back to the original point, the "Crawfish" Etouffee came out rather good, but we ate it like a soup rather than using it as a sauce, which I think is perfectly acceptable given the description of true etouffee. In fact, it was quite similar to a claw chowder, and chowder is quite similar to a stew, and stew is quite delicious in winter, and now you see how this is all relevant.
A third bedfellow of dropping temperatures is swearing. Yes, hanging out with Old Man Winter will give you a potty mouth. Fear not, the swearing is not directed at other persons, and is not done in anger. Rather, it comes out as the only possible way to express oneself when oneself is freezing. Common exclamations include "D*mn it's cold!," or "Sh*t it's cold!," or "It's really f*cking cold in here!" This is typically followed by blowing on your hands and some more family-friendly phrasing like "Brrrrr." Lest you think that my fingers mistyped in their frostbitten state, let me confirm that the words "in here" were used intentionally. Nate, being the good Christian soldier that he is, dutifully keeps track of our finances related to the house, including the monthly bills. He not only makes sure that the bills are paid on time, but he also looks over the history of our bills to see how the current month's expenses compare to the previous month's, and how the current month's expenses compare to the same month in the previous year. And it's really quite interesting at times.
As I've noted on numerous occasions, our old house is rather chilly in the winter, and so part of our remodeling efforts has been to add insulation whenever possible. With this in mind, my hope has been building for three years now in anticipation of the day when everything is insulated and the house becomes a warm and cozy haven from the cold. However, a gaping hole in my logic was revealed when Nate tallied up the monthly bills recently and did his analysis. You see, we keep the thermostat and at a fairly conservative 60 degrees. Originally this was done out of a true cost consciousness, as the house really didn't have much insulation and therefore the heat ran constantly just to keep things at a reasonable level of warmth. All along I've been thinking that as we added insulation, the house would get warmer. But the huge fallacy in this thinking was that we would actually nudge up the thermostat as we added insulation! Haha! Yes, for some crazy reason I was thinking that the house would get warmer as we added insulation even though we never increased the controlled temperature of the house above 60 degrees! I am mere weeks away from my Master's degree!
If you couldn't guess, the lightbulb flickered on when Nate informed me (with a smile) that our heating bill has gone down remarkably year-by-year. We're keeping the house at the same temperature, but we're paying less to do it. The thing is, despite this revelation, I'm not going to bump up the temperature. At this point it's like a pride thing, and our insulation investments are going to pay for themselves, several times over darn it. As Nate aptly said, "Our greed warms us."
|With the money we save on heating costs, maybe we can get some stylish padlock and cash-box accessories|