Yesterday, I wrote about the spiritual comfort that books can bring to us during hard times. Today, my mind is on creature comforts, and no wonder because in Maine, we are in deep winter. The days might be getting longer—it doesn’t get dark now until 5:30—but they are cold, clear, and crisp. Unless it is snowing, of course.
This morning when Clif took the dog for a walk, it was dead calm and zero degrees. (Fahrenheit). At that temperature, the snow squeaks underfoot, and the warmest of winter clothes is needed—heavy coat, heavy gloves, hat, scarf—or neck warmer—thick boots. In deep winter, all sense of fashion is abandoned. The chief thing is to stay warm.
In the house this morning, the temperature was just below 60 degrees. We heat with a wood furnace, and in February it doesn’t quite make it through the night. This is why we sleep with piles of blankets pulled up to our noses so that we have a little tent for warmth.
This cold morning, it was very hard to get out of our warm bed. When we did get up and raised the shades, we found that the windows were frosted.
But soon Clif had the furnace going, and it wasn’t long before the house was a balmy sixty-four degrees. Throughout the day, the wood and the sun will raise the inside temperature to a little under seventy degrees, which is plenty cozy for us.
For this time of year, chicken soup is just the thing. One day, I cook a chicken, and we eat some of the meat. The next day, I make chicken stock using onion, garlic, carrots, whole cloves, peppercorns, a bay leaf, salt, thyme, and sage. Into the stock pot go the bones with the leftover meat. I cover them with water, add the other ingredients, and bring everything to a gentle simmer. I let the stock bubble for hours, until the house is fragrant with the smell, and Clif and I can hardly wait until dinner.
After the stock has simmered for hours, I strain the stock into a big pot, and let the bones cool before picking the meat. More carrots go into the stock, and because we are Mainers, potatoes often go in, too. The vegetables simmer until they are tender, and then I add the picked meat. A variation on this is to leave out the potatoes and instead go with pasta or rice. The pasta and rice and are never simmered into the soup because if they are, whatever is leftover will swell into alarming proportions. Instead, we cook pasta and rice separately, put them into the bottom of our bowls, and ladle the hot soup on top.
What to serve with chicken soup? Homemade bread is good, as are biscuits, but Clif and I seem to prefer cornbread, which from beginning to end takes about thirty minutes to make and bake.
When the soup is ready, when the cornbread is done, we settle into the evening with our steaming bowls of comfort. “Pretty darned good,” Clif pronounces, and he always goes back for seconds.
However, the last word of comfort must go to Sherlock because no creature knows comfort the way a cat does. Unless, of course, it’s a hobbit.