Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Winter Room

Let's establish an important fact from the start: I despise the cold. Loathe the cold. Abhor the cold. Disdain the cold. Okay, you get it; the cold and I do not share a mutual understanding. As soon as the thermostat dips below 70 you will find me wearing flannel, drinking hot chocolate, and flat-out refusing to step outdoors. Yes, I'm well aware of the names you are calling me right now (sissy, pansy, weirdo, etc.) but I don't care. I'm a cold wimp and I'm proud of it.

Now, you're probably wondering why, if I'm so prone to red noses and frozen snot, that I would choose to read a book with the word "winter" in the title. Here's my answer: I like the idea of winter. Snuggling up with a warm blanket, smoke rising in the chimney, sleigh rides through a fresh coat of snow, big pots of steaming hot soup, that sort of thing. I just don't like winter itself. Does that make sense? Bah. Didn't think so.

Gary Paulson's The Winter Room isn't just about winter, although the winter plays more than a supporting role. It's about spring, summer, and fall, too, and how each season is both celebrated and scorned by a Minnesota farming family. Although the exact date was not printed, Paulson writes about a time in the past where families churned their own butter, plowed their fields with a team of horses, and did not rely on electricity for light or warmth. The story is narrated by eleven-year-old Eldon, who lives with his mother, father, brother, and two great-uncles, and depicts the daily routine of his family's life on the farm. Beginning in the spring, Eldon describes in great detail his malodorous chores (piling manure and milking cows, ugh) and farm activities with his brother, Wayne. One particular amusing scene comes to mind when Wayne (having read his fair share of Black Ranger Westerns) attempts to jump from the hayloft and land on one of the horses.

I'm not sure how he figured the drop from the hayloft to Stacker. I
know that when Jed did it in the book he jumped out of the window and landed
perfectly in the saddle and rode away just as clean and as nice as you could
hope for and not a rustler knew he was leaving.
It didn't work out that way for

The book gracefully transitions from spring to summer to fall and finally to it's namesake: winter. Winter on the farm brings layers of snow and a new set of chores, but the early night fall leads to a family gathering in the winter room where Uncle David tells stories about the "old country." Each of the four sections of the book are so beautifully written that I frequently lost all recognition of my location and surroundings. While reading the "Winter," I happily floated away to a warm spot in front of a roasting fire, sitting next to Wayne, and leaning in listening eagerly to every word of Uncle David's stories. My reverie was unfortunately dashed as soon as my cell phone rang, bringing me quickly back to the modern comforts of my Florida living room where it was a balmy 79 degrees outside.
The writing is that good. In fact, it's so good that I may give winter a second chance.
But only until November rolls around again...
*Disclaimer: This book is not recommended for the squeamish type. If you are a vegetarian, cry when passing roadkill, or still get teary-eyed after reading Stone Fox for the bazillionth time, then this book may not be for you.
Recipe to Read By: Baked Apples
When the thermostat reads something unbearably cold (read: 75 degrees or below) pull out the last of the fall apples and bake something so simple and delicious that you'll forget your nose is running.
4 apples
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Scoop out the core from top of the apple, leaving a well. (Ask a parent to help you with this--it's not as easy as it looks!)
Do not cut all the way through. Stuff each apple with 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 1 tablespoon butter. Place in a shallow baking dish and sprinkle with cinnamon.
Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes, until sugar begins to caramelize and apples are tender.
Try adding raisins, unwrapped caramels, or chocolate chips--the variations are endless!
(Hint for the lazy: You can always throw your apple in the microwave to cook, but you won't get that I'm-surviving-a-blistery-cold-winter-without-modern-conveniences feel. But it's your call.)

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