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Hibernation 101

by Jo Page on January 26, 2011

I don’t know how they do it in Maine or Minnesota or Wisconsin. I don’t know how the people who live in Chicago do it. Deal with winter, that is.

I made an ill-timed visit to Quebec City in the dead of winter many years ago. My room at the splendid Chateau Frontenac was standard-issue, not at all up to par with the rest of the building. But the way I saw it was that we wouldn’t be spending much time there.
I was wrong. I don’t think I made more than a couple forays into the brutal cold. If there are good restaurants in Quebec, I wouldn’t know. If there is culture, if it wasn’t on TV, I didn’t see it. Shopping? Forget it.

I know: We’re just in the middle of a cold snap. A cold snap with a hell of a lot of snow. This, too, shall pass. Or rather, melt.
But in the meantime, we need a game plan to get through the days. We need supplies, diversions and comfort food. This is not the time to diet.

For starters you need to stake out a spot where you won’t notice the winter too much. This means it’s best not to face any windows. My spot is in a room with a lot of windows, but I keep my back to them. This does mean I get some glare on my computer screen, but I’ve learned to deal with that.

Personally, I don’t think your spot should be in your bedroom because that will make you feel that you’re really sick rather than just a hapless victim of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Once you’ve got your spot picked out, you know you can return to it whenever you come indoors, whether you’ve been out at work, out shoveling, out buying groceries. Your spot will not disappoint you.
While there, you’ll need something to snuggle under. Actually, layers of things to snuggle under are nice. A down comforter and a wool blanket. A chenille bathrobe and an old quilt. A Snuggie and an afghan. The combinations are limitless. I used a horsehair buggy blanket I bought last summer at a house sale (thinking I’d never use anything that heavy) and a shawl. Just like grandma.

You’ll need comfort foods, of course. This means, unless you have a personal chef, that you will have to leave your spot and enter the kitchen. That’s not so bad, though, because you can crank up the oven and in no time flat the room will be warm.

Chili is, of course, the all-time favorite cold weather food. Chili and hot chocolate, though not together. Macaroni and cheese. Chicken soup. But don’t be too boring. Expand your repertoire of comfort foods—there’s still a lot of winter ahead of us. Cook up a pot of kale and linguica soup. Make a blanquette de veau (you can make it with chicken) and serve it over buttermilk-mashed potatoes. Or make something that reminds you of summer. Pesto, for example. Last night I made a salsa of pineapple, avocado, sweet onion and parsley and served it with spice-rubbed pork tenderloin. I could almost smell the citronella candles.

Once you’ve got your plate or bowl and a glass of wine or a big mug of chai, settle back into your spot and prepare for your diversions. Yes, you were diverted last week by President Obama’s speech at GE. And yes, watching the Steelers pull a Lance Armstrong over the Jets was diverting. And President Obama’s State of the Union address kept your mind occupied, too.

But the best diversions are ones that don’t require too much thinking, nail-biting, cheering or groaning. The best diversions are ones that don’t necessarily enrich your mind all that much—except that reading The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy is both educational and easy because the entries are so short. Forgot who Hephaestus was? How many theses did Martin Luther nail to the church door at Wittenberg? And what’s Mendelian inheritance again? In no time, you’ll have a basic grasp of the facts of the matter.

But let’s face it: there’s no substitute for the mind-numbing comfort of television re-runs. If you’re like me and rarely watch TV at all, now is the time to catch up on all the dramas and the comedies that everybody talks about at cocktail parties and family gatherings. Just think—by the time winter ends, you, too, will be able to dish about the Kardashians and trade plot lines from Glee.

So good luck. And stay warm.