Andrea Macko, Dishing It Out
Welcome to the dead of winter. According to Environment Canada, this next week historically sees the coldest temperatures of the year — and this week’s forecast is right in sync. I’m writing this on a chilly, windy Sunday, and temperatures are expected to plummet even further as the week wears on.
We’ve been pretty spoiled this winter in terms of weather, and downright coddled if you consider the non-winter of 2012. So this cold spell is hitting pretty hard, especially if you’re like me, who wipes the woes of winter from my mind as soon as spring arrives. Ignorance may be bliss. I grew up near Chatham, and while I have a few memories of snowdrifts and weather warnings, winter was fairly benevolent. Spending March Breaks at my grandparents’ in Montreal gave a glimpse of what a real Canadian winter was — but it was soon back to southwestern Ontario “Banana Belt” bliss… and usually a spring thaw to boot.
My ignorance came to a screeching halt when I moved to Ottawa for university. Oh, what meteorological misery! I’ll never forget four years of that damp, searing cold cutting through my parka and newly bought winter boots as I waited for the bus or walked home after evening classes, fearing I would freeze to death and no one would find my body until the snow melted come May (yep, May). I skated on the famous Rideau Canal exactly once during my four years in Ottawa, wondering why tourists would subject themselves to snowflakes boring into exposed skin while navigating uneven ice. At least the builders of Carleton University had the foresight to build a terrific tunnel system to spare staff and students from winter’s brunt; residence-dwellers could bypass winter completely, if they resolved to never leave campus for six months.
This tunnel system proved to be a saviour during my freshman year; we students returned from Christmas break only to be thrust into one of the biggest weather stories ever: the ice storm of 1998. Ottawa, plus huge portions of eastern Ontario and western Quebec, were coated in inches of ice, plunging roughly four million people into cold darkness for days if they were lucky, or weeks if they weren’t. The rescue efforts and the rebuilding of the electrical grid cost billions of dollars in Quebec and Ontario alone. Thirty people died, mostly due to hypothermia.
Carleton’s tunnels not only housed cold-fearing students; they also housed and protected the school’s electrical and heating system from the storm that began early on Jan. 5, what would have been the first day back to class after Christmas break. Classes were cancelled for what felt like an entire week because the bulk of students and staff couldn’t travel to campus. But 2,000 or so students living in “res” (plus staff who camped out in offices) enjoyed an extra week of vacation, complete with a fully stocked cafeteria and on-campus pubs ready to serve.
You can imagine the adultescent debauchery that ensued. I trekked to the nearby mall with some floormates — the 20-minute walk tripled by treacherous sidewalks — arriving just prior to its days-long closing. We met members of the Canadian Forces removing ice-laden tree branches from hydro wires on our hike back to campus, and they admonished us for being outside. But we were greeted as heroes when we returned with a supply of junk food and libations from a ransacked LCBO. This must have been Jan. 8, the day a state of emergency was called, after three days of freezing rain (two more were yet to come).
You’ll have to pardon my hazy memory. The ice storm was a shamefully fun couple of days: we just had freshmen’s dumb luck to be living in residence. Only when life returned to normal did we realize the full extent of the storm and just how fortunate we were to experience it from a place with heat and electricity. Fifteen years on, I still firmly believe that winter is best enjoyed from the safety of indoors.
There’s nothing quite like homemade pudding — although waiting for it to chill can be a challenge! When it’s cold outside and spiced just right, warm chocolate pudding is a perfect winter comfort.
Andrea’s warm chocolate pudding
(Apologies to Betty Crocker)
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
Cinnamon to taste
Dash cayenne pepper
In two-quart saucepan, mix sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch and salt. Gradually stir in milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute. Gradually stir at least half of the hot mixture into egg yolks, then stir back into hot mixture in saucepan. Boil and stir 1 minute; remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and spices.
Divide pudding into four dessert bowls and cool in refrigerator for 15 minutes.