Bostonians claim to be incredibly hardy when it comes to winter weather, but the truth is that the massive blizzard we were treated to this past weekend was a rare event in these parts. Yes, we get nor'easters ever few years, and this was a classic one, with wet air from the south merging with cold air in the north to create the huge counterclockwise swirl of wind and snow that dumped two feet on us. But for coastal Massachusetts, winter weather tends toward the drizzly more than the snowy, and the cold more than the frigid, without the lake effect barrage of squalls that harass Syracuse, NY every year, nor the negative temperature values that you see in Little Canada, MN.
I'm OK with snowstorms because I like to ski afterward, but the irony of this and many other winter nor'easters is that precious little snow falls in the mountains where chairlifts tend to be located. Instead, it falls on our driveways and sidewalks, where it needs to be removed, causing a great deal of strain on the backs, necks, arms, and legs of me and my fellow Beantown citizens. Some people choose to leave the freshly fallen snow right there on the walk, hoping that the sun will melt it away, but that scheme can backfire when the snow melts just a little, then freezes overnight. Now the two feet of innocent, fluffy snow is transformed into evil patches of ice. The only people who benefit from that are personal injury lawyers.
My family did our snow removal via shovel, both the push variety, which acts like a plow, and the bent-handled sort, where you pick up large masses of snow and toss it onto your neighbor's driveway. Shoveling is better for the environment than a snowblower since no fossil fuels are burned in the process, but after a few hours my back screams for mercy and I'm tempted to go to the Home Depot to see what's left. I admit that we did get assistance from a neighbor with a screaming two-stroke gas-burner, who creating a narrow alley on the sidewalk for dogs to leave yellow stains in the pristine snow and letter carriers to deliver much needed fast-food flyers.
I was appreciative, of course, and handed over my small can of gasoline for when he ran out of fuel, as well a couple of quarts of homebrew from my keg fridge for when it was time to head back inside and put his feet up. The pandemic is still present and we don't do a lot of entertaining these days, so someone has to help me drink the beer.
I have made it through many calendar months of my hitherto short life without having spooned any broth, consommé, stock, or even hot water into my mouth. This is not that unusual. The warm summer months don't put me into much of a soup mood. I prefer a cold drink on a hot day, believe it or not. Occasionally, I'm treated to a bowl of creamy, cold zucchini soup by my better half, or an amuse bouche of gazpacho at a local eatery.
Recently, it came to my attention that January is National Soup Month. It turns out also to be National Hot Tea Month, National Oatmeal Month, and National Slow Cooking Month. The latter I might refer to as National Braising Month, but efforts to reach wider audiences have caused the National Month Naming Committee to go with phrasing that people can understand without having to reach for a dictionary (which, I imagine, not many people possess these days in a form that one has to "reach for"). On the darker side, January is also Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and National Bath Safety Month, the latter reminding us that not everyone has been careful enough when they draw a bath for their wee-little or aging family members. So, lots of causes to be mindful of in January.
Soup is the one drawing my attention these days. First, because the prepared food section of our local supermarket has inexplicably been unable to keep up the quality of their minestrone. It's either a supply chain problem, or a staff retention problem. Maybe both. But my wife won't eat the stuff any longer. Second, because we had a bone-in ham pre-Christmas, which gave me the opportunity to use the bone for French Canadian split pea soup a few days later.
Now that we're in the middle of National Soup Month, I made a batch of chickpea and harissa soup (a.k.a "lablabi"), a Moroccan concoction (say that 10 times fast) that is far spicier than what us New Englanders are used to but is perfect on a frigid day. I've eaten this stuff three times for lunch this week, as my employer has asked me to work remotely until at least January 24th, and I have a kitchen at my disposal. Then, yesterday, in a bold move, my wife served us sausage and spinach soup for dinner. So, although I am no stranger to soup, yesterday was one of the few days in my life when both lunch and dinner were unquestionably soupy.
The beginning of a new year always renews my interest in what the future holds for us human beings, and as usual I'm turning to my trusty old crystal ball to see what it can tell me about the year ahead.
The first thing I notice when I gaze into my crystal ball is that there is a wrinkle in the space-time continuum, which will cause massive flight cancelations, long lines at pharmacies, and workers calling in sick.
No, wait, sorry! False alarm. That's a hair on my crystal ball, not a wrinkle in the space-time continuum. How embarrassing! That's happened to me before. If you don't use your crystal ball regularly, it can accumulate bits of dust and cobwebs and give you incorrect information about the future. The best way to prevent this is to keep your crystal ball stored in the felt liner that it was packed in at the factory. (If your crystal ball didn't come in a soft felt bag, or if you lost the bag, you can rejuvenate the ball with some polish, but I recommend ordering a felt bag immediately or else you're going to be needing a lot of polish over the years.)
OK, back to the stormy future. It turns out that removing that rogue hair didn't change what I see in my crystal ball. So, what could possibly be wrecking the year ahead if not a wrinkle in the space-time continuum?
Oh no. I see nasal swabs. Paper masks. Rubber gloves. 2022 looks an awful lot like the summer of 2020.
Putting my crystal ball away for another year.
I'm starting to wonder if our neighbor up north decided to throw in the towel. "You guys go ahead without me," says Canada, rooting around in an old metal cooler for an ice-cold Molson's and cracking it open with its teeth. "I've had a nice career, but it's time for me to put up my feet and watch 'Hockey Night in Canada'."
Hockey Night in Canada? It's not even Hockey Week in Canada, thanks to the wicked Coronavirus variant du jour, Omicron.
This bodes not well for my Canadian family. I sent a friendly, personal letter to the maple leaf country in the spring of 2021 asking if it would be a terrible imposition for it to verify that my children were bona fide citizens, able to travel freely across the frozen tundra and maybe attend one of the lower-priced institutes of higher education that Canada has on offer. Alas, no response. I had done the same in the spring of 2020 and waited more than ten months before Canada sent back a terse note rejecting the applications on technical grounds: "Your children's photos aren't dated."
Darned Canada and its bureaucratic red tape!
I didn't whine but sent applications anew with dated photos, knowing that arguing with such a large country would be a waste of time. I've tried to argue with countries in the past, and I always lose. Large nations have lots of lawyers who advise them to stall, and an inbox that no one monitors. Plus, Canada is too busy trying to figure out how to make the best use of newly melting artic ice to respond to my queries. The scheme Canada hatched to fill 2-ounce plastic containers and sell each as "a former chunk of iceberg" that is "refreezable" was thwarted when the original bottlecaps it ordered leaked, undermining the marketing message that "tubes of melted iceberg make perfect stocking stuffers." Canada tried to get replacements before the start of the holiday shopping season but were stymied by supply-chain issues. Meanwhile, the ice keeps retreating and there is no room to store additional water. Serves you right, Canada!
I expect that our wintry pal next door will eventually come to its senses and will send me a response along the lines of, "We reject your applications on the grounds that your children's photos are out of date." Though technically true, this is only because Canada has been rooting around for more beer in the ice-filled cooler instead of processing my application.
I cling to a small measure of hope, given that as Canada is settling into its Barcalounger and reaching for the remote, the NHL is postponing all games for a week. Just enough time to open a few more applications and make good on my request.