Monday, February 22, 2010

Cherries in Winter

When magazine writer Suzan Colon lost her job as the economic crisis came to a head, she found something even more wonderful to replace it: a beautiful life, and a brilliant and thoughtful idea for a book:Cherries in Winter: My Family's Recipe for Hope in Hard Times.

The book--a quick read with print large enough even for those of us who just might be starting to need bifocals--revolves around how Colon's family history sustains her and inspires her through times of trouble.  While they cook classic family recipes, Colon's mother tells her stories about her family's past.  And then Suzan finds the writings and recipes of her "Nana" Matilda, who created a life during the Great Depression and WWII years with strength and verve.  The lesson that Suzan Colon uncovers from her family allows her to recognize her own ability to weather the storms occuring in her own life.

Cherries in Winter is a lovely and relaxing book--but it isn't the perfect read in all circumstances.  Clearly, it is not a political or analytical discussion of the economic crisis.  Neither will it make much sense to anyone who has struggled with any real poverty or hunger.  She and her family have plenty to live a comfortable life--just not the upscale life they had led before (of $200 haircuts and fancy meals).  A husband with a job and a substantial savings account protect them. 

But nevertheless, the shock and the changes for Colon's family have been very real.  As the author says, "I used to tell my parents they'd never have to worry about their old age, that I would take care of them.  Can I say that now?"

Of course, many people have weathered  much worse during this crisis--and many had faced more difficult situations even before the recession started.  If you are expecting a guide through any substantial struggle, this is not the book for you.  Instead, it will probably appeal to those of us who have been required to cut back on our luxuries but are still doing OK--and those of us who have chosen a simpler life during this time (or before the economic crisis began).

There are several recipes in addition to the gentle storytelling.  None really inspired me to cook them, but they did make me think of the foods that had been passed down to me in the history of my own family.

The title of the book, Cherries in Winter, is the author's articulation, handed down from the matriarchs of her family, of the idea that very occasional and very special treats can help us maintain a sense of balance: the importance of "spending extra, just once in a while, where there is no extra to be spent.  Because."  Why?  "It's a deep breath reminding us not to become miserly in spirit.  We may be broke but we're not poor."

What is your extravagance, your "cherries in winter"?

In the end, Colon recognizes her bounty: "It wasn't at all bad--sometimes what looked at first like more rotten luck turned out to be fate's little crooked smile."

I highly recommend this light but thoughtful book as the thing to pick up as you relax with a cup of tea in front of the fire--or as you sit in your garden on a warm summer day (a day I am dreaming about through this cold and snowy winter).

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

One Small Change: Staying Home

Last month, my "one small change" was to take reusable containers with us when we were out of the house.  We were very good about making sure we had not only our stainless steel water bottles or coffee cups as well as cloth bags with us--perhaps because these have been habits for years.  But this month we were much more consistent about bringing utensils, cloth napkins, and even tiffins or lunchbots with us when we went to restaurants, so we could pack away our leftovers.

This month, inspired by the Conscious Shopper, our goal is to avoid going out to restaurants at all.  For a long time we've been committed to spending the majority of our restaurant dollars at locally-owned places--but for this month, every dinner will be cooked and served at home.

This one small change will dramatically reduce our wastes, potentially reduce our waists as well, definitely lead to healthier meals, lead to a healthier pocketbook, save a bit of gasoline, and give us some extra family time to boot.

I'm a bit late getting this post up--but that simply means I've already had a week on this challenge.  Although I did have one evening where I was craving pizza and a movie, we survived on leftovers and a movie instead.  One of the keys to success seems to be to have the makings for both easy throw-together meals and meals that satisfy the foodie in me.

Although many people swear by having a fixed menu plan, I really like having a list of meals for the week, then stocking the fridge and pantry with those ingredients so we can have the flexibility to choose each afternoon or evening what we would like to prepare.

Things have been really easy for the last few days--since we've been snowed in!

We've set ourselves this challenge just for the short month of February.  We have no intention to keep ourselves completely out of restaurants after the month is over--but I want us to learn from this one small change to keep eating out special--to always be conscious of the choice rather than have it as a default when we're tired.

Monday, February 08, 2010


Here in the Mid-Atlantic, we've been buried with more snow than I have ever seen:

Our house

Our street

Out the front door

Out the back door

A path!

But where do we put it?


*  *  *

The forecast calls for a new storm to begin tomorrow afternoon--and bring us 5-10 inches more snow...

5pm UPDATE:  The National Weather Service is now saying 10 to 20 inches of additional snow.  Yikes.


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