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Snow Day

Of snowmen and cakes, and the simple things that comfort us when storms swirl around our doors and dreams

By Laura Leon

The other day I read an obituary for a former boyfriend. He was in his mid 40s, and left behind a wife and children. I scanned his picture, looking for a trace of the dashing young man with whom I had once spent a wild and crazy night, for the sly humor that propelled me into peals of laughter on his weekly visits to see me when I was bartending. I’d spent much of junior high and then high school looking up to him, following the details of his romance with a mutual friend, a real stunner, like kids today devour tidbits about J.Lo and her latest husband. His friendship conveyed to me a special kind of acceptance among the cooler kids in school. I think I just imagined it, but believing in something is often more real than, well, reality. Other school friends have died in the past year or two, but this one lingered on my mind late at night, crowded among worries about this stupid war, my sons’ futures, global warming, the squirrels who rumble in the eaves of my old house, how much I drank at dinner.

Recently, we had a snow day. Schools were closed, roads were impassable, time stood still. Ironically, my children rise nimbly from bed on such mornings, because one needs to check out the TV or Internet to find out about the closings. Still in bed, weary from all that nocturnal musing, I missed the days in Great Barrington when a snow day was signaled by the local fire whistle blowing two long toots at 7:10 AM, to my mind still a much more sensible (if impractical for Albany) way of getting the news out. We slowly got going, and I descended to the kitchen, to the place I feel most at home and in control. On a day like this, pancakes were called for, and not something from a mix, but genuine, heartwarming (heartstopping?) griddle cakes made golden from the inclusion of four egg yolks, buttermilk, heavy cream. With pancakes like these, you don’t need butter or bacon on the side, although some of my kids insist, and they remind me of Robert Coffin’s indelible essay on the proper breakfast for working men in Maine. I figure, a snow day, like working the woods or rivers of Maine, requires heavy nourishment, the better to make that snowman or coast down hills.

As the day progressed, I barely noticed that I was still in my pajamas. The kids bundled up in layers of fleece, wool and down, and headed out the door. I rummaged through the fridge and pantry, scrounging for tidbits that could be turned into a pot of soup, a frittata, a casserole, food that would warm up the house, feed kids coming and going between backyard and street. I chopped onions, red peppers and carrots, and sautéed them in butter in a large soup pot. As I poured in broth and a few spoonfuls of rice, I thought about the time that has passed, remembered friends and special moments, other snow days. I whisked together eggs and sliced tomatoes and herbs in order to make frittatas. I hydrated dried mushrooms in broth, and chopped fresh ones, to add to sliced potatoes in a polenta-based gratin. I prepared several bowls of batter for loaves of pumpkin or cranberry or banana-and-chocolate bread that we give to friends and family throughout the holiday season.

The motions of cutting and slicing, of moving from stove to oven to sink, are like a ballet, one that makes me lose myself in the sensuality of aromas and touch. As I worked, worries about the economy evaporated with the steam from the tea kettle, and even concerns about my boys faded away. They were out playing, yelling like savages, sweating beneath the bulk of their outerwear and in spite of the frigid air. This is what kids are supposed to be doing, playing unsupervised in the great outdoors, instead of being stuck inside with an electronic gizmo. I mused that, in some ways, this—puttering around a kitchen—is also what I should be doing, instead of the crazy balancing act that is working professionally, raising children, trying to stay alert, stay fit, active, involved. The snow covered up the windows so that I couldn’t quite see the kids in the backyard, and it bolstered my impression of being cocooned in my snug warm kitchen, protected against the elements of weather, world and memory.

The oven timer went off and I took out trays of miniature loaves of bread, this time sweet potato and orange, their tops a crisp light brown, a few cracks displaying rich coppery grains of yeast. Removed from their individual loaf pans, they took on the heft and warmth of a tiny baby, and I had the urge to hug my littlest one, who, at nearly 2, still retains a smidgen of that kind of cuddliness one associates with helpless infants. The kids came in again, this time asking if they could have one of the loaves, and within seconds, what had been a tidy little rectangle, a symbol of home-baked goodness, was nothing but crumbs on the counter. In my contemplative mood, I could have been expected to equate this with the remains of long-ago dreams and desires, but I’m not that far gone, not yet. For now, it was just another small mess to sweep up before going back to the cupboards to see what else I could dream up from canisters of sugar and flour, jars of spices or bags of nuts.

I still hadn’t done anything with my kids on this day, but they seemed quite all right with that—in fact, happier than usual. This snow day was beneficial to us all, providing us a level of comfort in the present, in building snowmen or baking cakes, the things that sustain us through long wakeful nights, when the brutalities of the world seem just outside one’s bedroom door, and the memories of lost loves cut to the quick.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


It’s pretty much Christmas from now till the end of the year, a good time to enjoy a holiday wine dinner at Parisi’s Steakhouse (11 N. Broadway, Schenectady). It’s a five-course dinner that takes place at 7 PM on Monday (Dec. 3), and features a collaboration with Cornell’s Restaurant, which is sending chef Armondo Cioccke to join Parisi’s chef Steve Morgan to craft a meal paired with an appropriate selection of wines. Courses include sliced tenderloin crostini with roasted-tomato vinaigrette, sesame-encrusted salmon served over a bed of spring mix, a surf-and-turf risotto and more. And save room for tiramisu. Dinner is $60 plus tax and tip, and reservations are required— call 374-0100. . . . Champagne will be on tap (so to speak) at a special dinner on Dec. 7, 7 PM, at New World Home Cooking Co. (Route 212, Saugerties), where chef Ric Orlando has created a menu that includes duck broth with Asian greens and scrambled duck egg (paired with Langlois Estate Cremant de Loire), lobster tamale with corn smut crema (Iron Horse Vintage Brut 2002), hot smoked salmon (Taittinger Brut La Francaise), pheasant Kiev (Charles Heidsick Brut Reserve) and more. It’s $85 per person, by reservation only, so call 845-246-0900. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.

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