There’s no escaping it: winter’s here. Between cancelled buses, closed roads and chilly temperatures, no other news was more on the lips of our community last week.
It is easy to complain about the chill in the air, but let’s be positive. I look at photos from a year ago, when snow piled up into the limbs of our trees and remember that months-long polar vortex. I also look at the calendar; it’s already mid-January. There are potentially two, maybe three months of winter remaining. We’ve been fortunate in the weather department thus far.
It’s no secret I’m no fan of winter. But I’m trying to make the most of it, if only to scrape by until spring and ensure Charlotte doesn’t turn out as weather-wimpy as me. Also, in the interest of ensuring that she is prepared for that eventual “skating day” at school, blades were bought for the entire family and we’ve hit up the rink a few times. We’re trying to teach her how to skate, and brushing off our own basic skills… and trying to figure out how to stop other than slamming into the boards.
I’ve told anyone who’ll listen about my last time on skates. It was in my first or second year of university, and a dear friend dragged me out to Dow’s Lake, part of Ottawa’s famed canal system, ancient skates and flask of hot chocolate (tempered with other ingredients) in tow. The wind whipped as I struggled to stay upright — nay, even on — the bumpy surface as my pal tried to provide instruction. Under-dressed and under-talented, the experience scared and scarred me for winters to come.
But just as she does in the summer, the mighty Thames beckons. Laps at the Pyramid Centre are one thing, but skating in the wind-shielded great outdoors will certainly be another. I think we’ll be ready, and not relegated to the riverbanks. After almost requiring traction from holding Charlotte up during our first outing, we’ve invested in one of those bright-orange skating aids. It pains us all to see children mere months older than Charlotte whip around the ice speedily, but we’re pleased with our progress nonetheless.
We are even more pleased, naturally, by something that requires no talent at all, for Charlotte is now old enough to go tube sliding! Andrew and I have long been fans of River Valley’s thrills and near-spills, and we whetted Charlotte’s appetite with lots of tobogganing last year. There was surely enough snow this past Sunday, and the temperatures, finally near the freezing mark, could not have been better for this first foray.
As ever, Charlotte proved fearless. She chose the faster hill and wanted one of the staff’s infamous “spins” on her first slide. When we finally came to a stop in the hay bales, the first words out of her mouth were “can we do that again?” And we did, lasting the full two hours of our tickets (quick naps, while Andrew and I trudged back up the hill with her in tow, likely helped). The only distraction from the fun at hand was the promise of hot chocolate with her cousins in the lodge.
So, it seems, I am coming around a bit on winter. I will always prefer sandals to boots and sun to snow, but our girl — and some body-heat-building activity — goes a long way in helping make the most of what amounts of a third of the year around here. Think positive, right?
One of my favourite aspects of winter is making soup: it’s so simple, and the results are so comforting. Soup recipes are often open to interpretation; you can always add more veggies, starches or spices to suit. The classic Minestrone soup hails from Italy; this version is from the Italian cucina bible The Silver Spoon.
¼ cup lardons (or any kind of fatty salted pork)
½ garlic clove
1 fresh flat-leaf parsley spring
1 celery stalk
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
2 carrots, chopped
3 potatoes, chopped
2 zucchini, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 ¾ cups peas
½ Savoy cabbage, shredded
¾ cup Cannellini beans
½ cup long-grain rice
4 fresh sage leaves, chopped
6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
Fresh grated Parmesan cheese
Finely chop lardons with garlic and onion. When mixtures if quite fine, add parsley and celery and chop. Put mixture into a pan, add tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, zucchini and oil and pour in 8 ¼ cups water. Season with salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and cook for at least two hours. Add peas and cabbage, simmer for 15 minutes, then add rice and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 18 minutes until rice is tender. Stir in herbs and serve with plenty of Parmesan. Serves 4-8.