Sunday, January 27, 2008

Weather and Beans (and Truculence)

I am going to interrupt myself.

Rather than delve into my anticipated topic (that being Cousin Deirdre and the ever fabulous Mike snowmaching over Mission Lake, and across Chief Eddie Hoffman Highway, to Pat's house in Alligator Acres to meet Hugh Neff's dog team), I'm going to talk about the weather. And beans. And truculence. Why, you may be asking, would I interrupt the photographic tale of two Massachusett's kids coming all the way out to our little hovel on stilts to talk about weather and beans and truculence? I suppose there is no better answer to that very reasonable question than to simply say because the weather is crazy these days and the beans are delicious. (I'll let you mosey-on down to the bottom of this post, if you'd like an explanation for the truculence part.)

Seriously (and aren't I always serious?). It's been a crazy roller-coaster of weather out here. A string of craziness. Go back a few weeks - even just 2 - and we were stuck in a seriously cold snap - weeks of it - at 30 below. Indeed, it felt like months at 30 below, and it was so stubbornly and persistantly below 30 that our truck finally refused to turn over. The ultimate temper tantrum. It refused to run. It didn't give up the ghost, mind you. Rather, it refused to turn on until the weather warmed up. We waited a week for things to warm-up naturally. But such easy solutions did not come. The temperature remained below 30. Our patience was tested. Our optimism wilted. Forgive us - there are only so many times that you wanted to be walking to and from the A.C., in the 30 below, to bring home the necessary gallons of drinking water.

Eventually, we had to resort to diesel means. This is a picture taken of dramatic - and successful! - efforts initated by our neighbor to thaw-out our pick-up two Sundays ago:

As only the Fates would have it, within a few days of all that effort, the temperature suddenly spirited up to the 20 Aboves. Snow started falling. All the wires and poles and shrubs around town were sparkling with a thick overlay of snow clinging to the white frost that originally covered them. Folks were giddy with the beauty of it all, and exuberant about the warmth. And I, myself, was even giddier with the thought that Cousin Deirdre and Mike were going to go back telling all my cousins that J. and I live in a veritable winter wonderland populated with ebulliently happy people. But it wasn't just perfect for my ulterior motives of persuading those cousins to come out and visit. We were also looking at perfect trail conditions for the K300.

If only we could have frozen still that temperature.

The temperature started increasing the day of the race start. Even so, the snow remained relatively solid, if not a bit more packed down into itself and less fluffy. We even had a flurry of snow as the mushers were making their way to the starting chute. (Why yes, I do have some pictures of Cousin Deirdre and the Ever Fabulous Mike, under the falling snow, at the starting chute, that I could post.......) There was no foreshadowing, at least to me, of what would come. But it kept getting warmer, until - finally - it rested at what I can only call a tropical blast. We were in the High 30 Aboves. Ominously, we occassionally tipped up towards the 40 Aboves. The snow started to get punchy. Then it just started to melt. The tundra started draining onto the frozen river. By late Saturday night (and growing worse with each minute into the wee hours of Sunday morning), the K300 trail conditions deteriorated, leaving us with puddles the size of Lower 48 lakes. I don't know this personally, of course. I was here in town. On the river, but in town. But I heard about it. If your curious for a first-hand description, you should click here for an audio clip in which the 2008 K300 champion gives a pretty good description of the chaos that a sudden 60 degree increase in temperature can inflict on trail conditions.

Suffice it to say, the 2008 Kuskokwim-300 will be going down in the annuals of history as the Kusko-Swim.

By Wednesday, however, we were back to Below 30's. The lakes atop the frozen river began freezing-up. And, since Thursday, we've been in blizzard conditions. I might go so far as to say that we've gained over a foot of snow this weekend.

I'm sure it says something about me, though I haven't had much time to thoroughly introspect it: I greeted the Below 30 temperature with more glee and exuberance, and sheer relief, than ever I thanked the Fates for a 30 Above. For many reasons. And then, as I mentioned above, we entered into a week of blizzard conditions. Frozen again. Covered, again, with snow. All in all, perfect conditions for scenic dog walks.

To truly ensure a bucolic dog walk in blizzard conditions, I made sure to have a pot of my favorite (delicious!) bean stew waiting for me when we returned:

Cannellini, Butternut, Kale and Kalamat Stew
adapted from epicurious

I discovered this recipe over a decade ago, while living in Seattle and struggling with the financial realities of one's first formal job after college. For those who knew me during those days(or may still hold me accountable for that time that I'd do such things as lame myself by walking across Seattle in Italian boots with 3 inch heels in pursuit of farm fresh, organic chicken eggs, or nearly getting my roommate and I evicted from our Magnolia apartment for getting the scent of a tropical brewery stuck in the building's air-system as a result of my decision to try my hand at making a Peep's Poptart Porter....) I promise - it is more aromatically-pleasing than my experiments with Peeps Poptart Porter, much easier to shop for than a true crema inglese, and much easier to clean-up than a pasta-making party. To all, I promise that it will feed a surprised-to-be-so-happy crowd. And it's even better the day after.

1/4 cup olive oil
3 large onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 3 1/4- to 3 1/2-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
3 red bell peppers, seeded, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups canned chicken broth
1 1/2 large bunches of available winter greens (kale, chard, etc.- the important thing is that you cut the leaves crosswise into 2-inch strips; I tend not to add the ribs)
1 tablespoon dried rubbed sage
5 15-ounce cans cannellini (white kidney beans), rinsed, drained
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted, halved
Freshly grated Romano cheese (if you have it - I didn't)

Heat oil in heavy large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic; sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add squash; sauté Add bell peppers and stir to coat with onion mixture. Add broth. Cover and simmer until squash is just tender, about 10 minutes.

Mix the winter greens and sage into stew. Cover and cook until the greens wilt, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add beans and olives and stir until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer stew to large shallow bowl. Sprinkle generously with cheese.

Postscript: As for talking about "truculence", I must confess that this subject in this post is a bald excuse to share with you this picture of Puck cuddling-up with me while I - settled into a luxuriously leisurely post-K300 Sunday morning - flipped open the ever-used American Heritage to research a word found in Profiles in Courage:

In case you are curious, truculence has the following meaning in the American Heritage Dictionary: A disposition or apparent disposition to fight, especially fiercely; Ferociously cruel actions or behavior.


Team Wilco said...

Oh we are looking forward to this one. Perhaps tomorrow's dinner. The only question being should I half the recipe, tinker with the number of red peppers or just splurge on 3 red peppers? This is tundra/island cooking at it's best. The answer to that question has to be weighed against the fact that the kalamata olives will also be a splurge and I don't happen to have sage so that will set me back too. Plus there's the cheese and the winter greens to be purchased. But of course I should probably just be happy that there aren't any tomatoes needed (currently $7/ about Bethel?).

Does this have anything to do with Truculence? I already forgot what it means....

Team Wilco said...

OK, I re-read it. Nothing to do with truculence.