Sunday, February 16, 2014

Snow, the Village, and Black Eyed Pea and Rice Soup

I understand now why Eskimos have so many words for snow.*  Sure, I understood before, but that was purely academic.  Now, my understanding is visceral: I've shoveled at least five kinds of the stuff this winter.  Fast-falling medium weight snow that sticks to your eyelashes, making it impossible to see your shovel.  Snow so light and fluffy that it's like powdered sugar.  Heavy, wet snow that immediately bonds to whatever is beneath it, like crazy glue, making innocuous-looking death traps on our driveway.  Snow with a crust of ice which keeps re-crusting as it continues to fall.  Snow that falls sideways, in biting little knives that fly back at you just as you've tossed the last shovelful to the wind.

February and I haven't been on good terms for years; I lost my pregnancies in Februaries, my father died from complications of advanced stage cancer in February, my college RA died from brain cancer in February, and then there's this series of relentless storms that make me feel like the shortest month has been, by far, the cruelest.

The houses on our street are occupied by a diverse range of families, some young, some old.  We try to take care of each other, to the extent possible for both of us: we bring casseroles, we watch children, we play poker, we shovel in the winter.  One of our next door neighbors died this winter, leaving behind his ninety-some year old wife and sixty-some year old possibly autistic daughter.  He'd been a surrogate great-grandparent to our children, and a generous member of our community, and we were sad to say goodbye.  While we did our best to be good neighbors before, his passing made me more attentive to their needs, more aware that I need to be looking out for them.  Part of this involves snow.

A few years ago, my husband went in on a snowblower with this neighbor and another old farmer across the street; the deal was that they would maintain it (tinkerers that they were), we would house it in the barn, and we'd take turns using it (mostly with my husband at the helm) when the weather was bad.  Of course, that was all fine until the snowblower stopped working last year, and they didn't fix it, and we felt sort of like we ought to be shoveling them out, because really, it's not a good idea to let your ninety year old neighbors with heart conditions attempt to throw six inches of sleet over their shoulders.

Since then we've been shoveling them out, feeling more and less grumpy about it, depending on the quality of the snow.  Finally, after L. died, the second old farmer fixed the snowblower; it was sort of like an homage to his spirit, I guess.

But we've still been shoveling when the snowblower isn't warranted, or won't work well because of the snow conditions.  Once, I confess, I thought about my own mother, and people shoveling her snow, and feeling a little like I ought to work harder at moving her out of her house.  The word "burden" may have crossed my mind.  And it's gotten me thinking about the village.  We talk a lot about how it takes a village to raise children.  We're always grateful for the people who step in and help us take care of ours, and I hope that we return the favor.  We make meals for people who are sick or who have had new babies.  But it also takes a village to care for the elderly.  Sometimes people say: "why can't their families take care of them? why are they still living alone?"  It's a difficult negotiation to make.  And I'm not sure what to do with the fact that I feel a little differently about the village, depending on whom the village is caring for.

Who lives in your "village"?  And how many words do you know for "snow"?

*(Though not, according to this linguist, as many as people say; he demands that we cease exaggerating.)

Black Eyed Pea and Rice Soup
I make a lot of soup in the winter.  It feels like the right thing to be eating when you've come in from shoveling for the fifth time.

1/4 c. olive oil
2 leeks, chopped
1/2 c. carrots, chopped
1/2 c. celery, chopped
1 15 oz. can black eyed peas
7 c. broth
2/3 c. rice
salt and pepper to taste
1 bay leaf
6 T. lemon juice
pinch cumin
1/3 c. fresh parsley, minced

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add the leeks, carrots, and celery and saute for 3-4 minutes, until they begin to soften.  Add the cumin and saute for a minute, until fragrant.

Add the peas, broth, rice, salt, pepper, and bay leaf and bring to a boil.   Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and simmer slowly for 30 minutes.

Add lemon juice and stir.  Sit, covered for 5 minutes, remove bay leaf and serve sprinkled with fresh parsley.
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