Snow-idled lives give time for cooking and each other


January 17, 1996|By ROB KASPER

ONE OF THE FEW benign effects of the recent batch of rotten weather is that being snowbound forced us to spend more time cooking.

What else was there to do for enjoyment? You could straighten out your closets. But if you are like me, you get more of a kick from eating a loaf of homemade bread, than from staring at a rearranged shoe rack.

At our house the snow even gave us time to finish making the Christmas fruitcake. We had completed most of the hard work before Christmas, including candying our own lemon and orange rinds. Man was that a pain!

As the household's major orange eater, I volunteered to prepare the orange rinds. I thought I had done a very good job "zesting" the peel so there was a lot of orange rind and not much of the white pulp. But when the veteran zester of the household, my wife, looked at my peelings, she shook her head with disapproval.

There was too much white pulp on the peelings, she said. Pulp was bitter, she said. We had to cut the pulp off the slivers of peeling. This we did by hand, with little sharp knives, as we watched television on a Monday night. It was tedious. We "zested" through "Murphy Brown," all the way into "Late Night With David Letterman."

Eventually the rinds, along with raisins, currants, apricots and pieces of pineapple, were soaked in brandy and Grand Marnier and closed in tightly sealed jars.

The fruit sat in those jars right through the holiday. Christmas came and went. The house shook as partygoers celebrated New Year's Eve. The fruit remained calm -- and in the jars.

It wasn't until last week, when the snow hit, that we got around to making the cake that the fruit was supposed to be mixed with.

I slogged to the store and found two dozen eggs, an act that I considered bordering on the heroic. I carried the prized eggs home. Then, midway through the batter-making process, my wife announced we had run out of molasses, a crucial ingredient. Could I, she asked, go back to the store?

I told my wife I loved her and her fruitcake very much, but my ardor had its limits. Making a return trip to a grocery store jammed with snow-crazed shoppers was one of them. My wife said maybe she could borrow molasses from a neighbor.

Soon she had found a molasses-toting neighbor and struck a deal. We got a cup of molasses, the neighbor got some of the finished fruitcake.

The batter was made, and the fruitcakes were baked for five hours. Sometimes it is difficult to stay home that long. There can be so much to do, so many places to go. That was not a problem last week. The heavy snow meant we were going nowhere.

So late one night last week as I watched yet another weather report saying "a winter storm watch is in effect," the Christmas fruitcakes emerged from the oven. I had four delicious slices, bright moments in an otherwise dark time.

Another benefit of the bad weather was that supper time slowed down. Often supper has to be squeezed in between homework and practice sessions for piano and basketball. There is little time to linger at the table.

But last week, thanks to the snow, the only evening item on the family agenda was eating. There was time to bake dessert, homemade brownies.

And when one plate of brownies was polished off and the kids clamored for more, there was even time to teach them how they could bake their own.

The big snow was a hassle. It made usually routine acts, like driving a car and buying groceries, very difficult. It made us suffer.

But it also slowed us down and let us spend extra hours in the kitchen. For that I am thankful. I will be even more grateful when the snow is gone.

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