Homefull 2.5: Winter Stock

The Muse does most of the holiday cooking. She roasts the goose, bakes the pies, concocts the stuffings, and slaves over the stollen, but I’m responsible for delivering the winter stock that will anchor the formal dinner. I started that work yesterday.

This last week of Autumn provides plenty of ugly veg: odd outside cabbage leaves, parsnip peelings, rabe stalk butts, leek tops, and onions on the edge. Stock thrives on ugly veg. Four pounds of fine veal bones, roasted in a hot-hot oven for an hour before adding the rough-chopped veg, then roasted for another hot-hot hour before immersion into the stock pot. There, in the largest pot in the place, the whole mess simmers until long after the windows steam over.

The place seems wrapped in that kind of warmth only Winter brings, even though I have doors open when The Muse returns from work. The cats, coming and going as they please, seem to make deep, rattling purrs as they pass through the simmering kitchen. My head’s clearer than it’s been in months.

This weary Fall slows through its shortest days. The move seems nearly complete. Time to take stock by making stock. Winter Stock. Time never really slows, but my perception of it can. What atmosphere better encourages renewing rumination? The weather outside might seem frightful, but I can make the weather inside delightful, whatever the capricious winds bring.

And the winds brought plenty this past year. My grandson blew in last February, bringing joy and deeper purpose. I finished long-unfinished business through the Spring. I taught and consulted and wrote my fool ass off into June. We lost our home, then our car, renewing our connection to what might really matter. What we lost, we found again but better. My publisher wants a book if I can find the humbling courage to assemble it.

The universe seems welcoming when the house fills with Winter Stock smell. I rise early to restart the fire. I’d left the pot cooling overnight on the back stoop, and soon that faint tinkle of roiling bones reminds me just how much power even I hold. If I can transform a bag filled with frozen bones into the very essence of life, if I can steam over even all these windows, what could I not do?

Anyone can buy their stock ready-made, but that stuff costs more than money can pay. No spirit-strengthening scent overtakes their kitchen. No stock gets taken when popping open the little plastic pour spout. The end result matters, sure, but less than it might seem. We make that fine dinner, not to gorge ourselves by eating it, but to renew ourselves in the making.

Winter Stock reminds me that small things matter most. My lofty aspirations need small rituals to find any meaning at all. The ugly veg becomes even uglier under fire. The bones will lick themselves clean. I’ll discard everything I threw into my pot and retain only the liquid I started with, enlivened by a few steamy hours over fire.

This coming winter will leave little behind, like this passing year carries most of itself away. I passed through, like that water in the stock pot, little changed but utterly transformed by my passage. The chunks of indeterminate veg strain out. The old bones, worthless to even the most disreputable hound dog, thrown away. I’ll retain a few Mason jars of goopy golden liquor, which I’ll carefully measure into almost everything I create.

No one need notice that the stuffing has a soul. I’ll know. I’ll know my Winter Stock brought purpose to the darkest nights of my year, and meaningful cheer to whatever might pass for suppers around here.

©2012 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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