winter survival guide, part two

perhaps ironically, i have been derailed from finishing my winter survival guide because it’s been so cold in lawrence. temperatures have been in the teens every night & it’s been bumming me out. i ordered cozy slippers on the interwebs last week (see last post: clothes), but they haven’t arrived yet, so my feet have been cold all the time. but our first gas bill since we’ve had the heat on came, & it was quite reasonable, despite jared’s dire predictions that our apartment is poorly insulated. so that was a plus.

anyway…winter survival guide, part two:

i struggle in the cold weather because i don’t want to do anything but stay as still as possible, preferably while wearing nineteen layers & huddled beneath a quilt. but staying engaged is important in the winter, when it is so easy to sink into despair. it’s tough, because it’s not as much fun to go out & do things when it’s freezing & icy out, so i have to find things to do around the house. luckily, i am great at hanging out alone & i never get bored (my parents started the whole “only boring people are bored” thing with me when i was like two years old, & i don’t ever want to be a boring person, although i have an admittedly boring life).

my favorite things to do are reading & writing, & luckily, those are great winter activities. i love my local library so much. it’s only a few blocks away from my house, & i have only looked for a few books there that they didn’t have. & i have found so many more interesting books just by browsing the shelves. when i read a (non-fiction) book i liked, i go to the stacks where it’s shelved & look for other books on a similar topic that seem interesting. this is how i have become an amateur expert on all kinds of weird shit, like himalayan mountaineering disasters, fundamentalist mormons inflicting blood atonement upon one another, & the unique smugness of eco-stunt memoirs. i am also a little less than halfway through my big project of re-reading every single babysitters club book in chronological order (& reviewing them all on goodreads–see sidebar for link). i also sometimes check out back issues of “writer’s digest,” which helps inspire me to take on writing projects.

& boy, do i ever have a lot of writing projects. i review every book i read, i keep this blog, i have a five-year diary in which i write up the highlights & lowlights of my day (about two years in), i have a more wide-ranging catch-all journal, & i have my fiction projects. my main fiction project right now is (embarrassingly, yet awesomely) a babysitters club fan fiction novel. i aged all the characters i am using ten years & am putting them into life situations that are interesting to me (ie, no babysitting). they are punks & radicals. i try to write a couple of 2000-word “chapters” per week, & i’m hoping to eventually have a continuous story of about 75,000 words. at which point, i fantasize that i’ll edit out all the obvious babysitters club references, change all the names, do some editing, & pretend like i wrote an original novel. i am amused by the idea of scoring an agent who will sell this novel to a publisher, & no one will ever know it was originally about the babysitters club. then, after it’s published & on the “new york times” bestseller list, i’ll admit the truth in an interview…& never publish a book again. because surely no one would let me after a stunt like that. or i’ll become an irreverent superstar & when i do my own interview about my “process” with “writer’s digest,” i’ll be all, “yeah, what i do is i just write stories about characters from the babysitters club & then i change all the names once i’ve hit my word count.”

i also think knitting would be a nice winter hobby, but i’ve never been able to force myself to take it up. i worry that it will stress my arthritic hands too much, & i also have big issues committing to hobbies that don’t actively engage my mind in cognitive tasks. i am really bad at just spacing out & letting my mind wander. but i think a great piece of winter survival clothing gear would be a voluminous, cozy, knitted shawl…so i am torn. maybe next year.

winter is also good for catching up on all the TV & movies i missed when i was out having fun in the sun during the summer. last winter, i watched the entire series to-date of “the wire,” “dexter,” & “lost”. & i re-watched every episode of “friends” (perhaps my favorite TV show of all time). the winter before that, i watched every episode of “the simpsons”. a few winters before that, i got hooked on “america’s next top model” & “project runway”. all of these shows are readily available on DVD or youtube (for “top model”). i also try to watch one or two movies a week during the winter. winter sucks. you have to treat yourself to a little downtime.

people get sick in the winter a lot. i’m sure scientists have done studies that explain why, but i don’t know what their findings are. maybe it’s all the changes in temperature, from being in the freezing outdoors, & then entering a warm apartment or coffeeshop or place of employment or whatever. maybe it’s all the running noses from the cold & people touching their noses all the time. to avoid getting sick, i try not to run in & out of the house all the time, & i try to wash my hands a lot. if i’m smoking & i feel my throat getting scratchy, i cut back on the smoking. i am not a big fan of fruits & vegetables, but i try to make sure i eat them every day anyway. & i make sure to drink lots of water, even though it’s not all that appealing in cold weather. it’s easy to drink tons of water when it’s 96 degrees outside. it’s less fun when it’s 18 degrees.

jared has a theory that the wintertime seems less cold if you go outside & expose yourself to the cold every single day. so i try to do that, even if it just entails standing on the balcony for ten minutes. i think it does help a little.

when i do get sick, i try to force myself to drink lots of water, orange juice, & ginger ale. if i feel really dehydrated, i bust out the pedialyte. it tastes gross, but it’s really helpful with hydration. i am a big advocate of using cloth handkerchiefs instead of tissues, for environmental reasons. seriously, there is no need to keep tissues & paper towels in your home. it’s just wasteful. use handkerchiefs & dish towels. they can be thrown in with the rest of the laundry & it’s no big deal. hot baths are also good for things like chest congestion. it’s also good to eat what you can. buttered toast, ritz crackers, broth-based soup. once when i was really sick (like, REALLY sick–i think i had swine flu), i made jared read a choose-your-own adventure book to me. that was awesome. i also like to watch old episodes of “roseanne” & “the golden girls” on youtube when i am sick.

the one good thing about winter is that it’s the perfect weather for all my favorite foods. & sometimes i feel motivated to experiment with new recipes because being in a warm kitchen actually feels nice. i have learned a lot about cooking, thanks to jared’s patient tutelage, so i will share some of my favorite winter recipes.

chicken in sour cream wine sauce
some chicken (i like chicken breasts best)
1 cup sour cream
half-cup white wine
half-cup chicken broth
half an onion
1 tsp. paprika
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
some mushrooms (optional)
2 cloves garlic

melt the butter in a saucepan. stir in the flour until it’s smooth. stir in the wine & chicken broth, along with the chopped up onions & garlic (i like it really fine, but that’s a judgment call). wait until it’s bubbling & then turn down the heat & mix in the sour cream & paprika. this will create a nice creamy orange sauce. put the chicken in a baking pan & cover it with the sauce. bake it for about half an hour at 350 degrees. feeds two people quite well. really yummy over mashed potatoes (which are always better when made with heavy cream instead of milk).

pork loin in wine sauce
boneless pork loin
half-cup flour
spices of your choosing (i mostly just like oregano)
1 tbsp. butter
half-cup wine
half an onion
some mushrooms (like maybe five)
cut the pork loin into medallions. four or five is good for two people. mix the flour with the spices (it should be more flour than spices–we’re talking maybe a teaspoon or two of spices). dredge the pork in the flour (this means, roll the pork around in the flour until it has a nice flour coating). melt the butter in a saucepan. saute the onions until they are looking translucent. throw in the pork & cook on either side until it seems fairly brown. pour in the wine & chopped up mushrooms (mushrooms are kind of optional, but so delicious). turn the heat down to medium-low & cover the saucepan. let everything cook for half an hour. delicious with mashed potatoes! use the extra wine in the pan as a thin gravy.

cheesy chicken
chicken (whatever cuts you like)
about half a block of grated cheddar (i like extra-sharp best)
about a quarter-cup of bread crumbs, but you can use more if you want
2 tbsp. of butter
cover a cookie sheet in tinfoil. do this. you will thank me later. melt the butter. grate the cheese & mix it up with the bread crumbs. dip the chicken pieces in butter & then roll them in the cheese-bread crumb mixture until they are nicely breaded & cheesed. put them on the baking sheet & bake them at 350 until they are done. for breast tenderloins, this takes about 20 minutes. for thighs, 45 minutes. for anything else, i don’t know because that’s all we eat here. if you have leftover cheese-&-bread crumbs after you’ve rolled the chicken, just dump them over the chicken before baking. the cheese will bake on to the tinfoil, so you can throw it out, which is a lot better than trying to scrape baked-on cheese off a cookie sheet. i am not going to kid you: this recipe is pretty much not healthy at all. but it is delicious. just remind yourself that at least it’s white meat, not red. i like to serve this with steamed broccoli in an effort to pretend to be healthy.

some meat (ground beef or stew meat)
tri-color bean blend or kidney beans or whatever kind of beans you like–easiest from a can
diced tomatoes–easiest from a can
half an onion
a few cloves of garlic
some spices like oregano, chili powder, paprika–whatever you like
3 tbsp. olive oil
okay, if you can’t figure this out, i don’t know how to help you. chop the onion up & saute it & the beef in the olive oil, in a saucepan. meanwhile, open the cans of beans & tomatoes & dump them into a pot. jared also likes to add this tomato-chilies thing that is all spicy, but i tend to forgo that step because i’m a chili wimp. i like mild chili. when the beef is browned, toss it in with the beans & tomatoes. throw in whatever spices you like. cover the pot & cook on low heat (seriously, you don’t want to scorch the pan) for an hour.

chili is delicious & everything, but i consider it a mere excuse to also make custard cornbread, which is the most delicious thing ever. i am not a fan of regular cornbread because it’s so dry. custard cornbread is totally different.

custard cornbread
2 tbsp. butter
one cup of flour
3/4 cup of cornmeal
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs
3 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups of milk
1 1/2 tsp. vinegar (apple cider vinegar is fine)
1 cup of cream
butter a small baking pan (like 9-inch square) & stick it in an oven while it heats up to 350 degrees. melt the butter. mix the eggs into the melted butter. add sugar, salt, milk, & vinegar. all of this should be in a big bowl. in a smaller bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, & baking soda. slowly mix the flour mixture into the wet mixture. the finished batter will be pretty thin. pour this into the heated baking pan & then pour the cream into the middle of the pan. don’t mix the cream in with everything. just put it carefully (not sloshing everything together) into the oven & bake for an hour–maybe a little less if it’s looking pretty golden at 50 minutes. let it cool a little & you will have this amazing cornbread with a layer of custard baked into the middle. i don’t know how it works but it is delicious. eat it slathered in honey after your chili, & again for breakfast the next morning. this is the best.

flourless chocolate cake
6 tbsp. butter
12 oz. package of semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 eggs
1/2 cup of sugar
melt the butter & the chocolate chips together. separate the six eggs (egg separators rule). mix the yolks into the butter/chocolate. whip the egg whites until they form “stiff peaks” (or are just majorly frothy–i recommend an electric mixer for this or else it will take you like an hour). whip the sugar in with the egg whites. mix the chocolate into the egg whites & then pour everything into a circular cake pan (or a springform pan if you have it) & bake it at 275 for 45 minutes. let it cool for like an hour before you start eating, or else it will be gloppy & fall apart. tip: the frothier you get your egg whites, the bigger your cake will be. & this shit is delicious, so you want it to be big.

& lastly, one for the vegetarians:
cheese lasagna
one box of lasagna noodles
one big container of ricotta
about 3/4 lb. of mozarella
about 1/2 cup romano or parmesean or whatever hard italian cheese you like
one jar of whatever pasta sauce you like best (i’m partial to newman’s own marinara for flavor combined with cost)
2 eggs
whatever spices you like–again, i mostly just go for oregano, or some fresh crumbled basil
boil the lasagna noodles until they are soft. mix the ricotta with the eggs, spices, & a little splash of sauce. whipping in a few tablespoons of soft butter is also delicious, as is maybe throwing in some chopped garlic, but it’s all a matter of preference. i will tell you now that one of the secrets of great lasagna is making the ricotta yummy, because it’s totally bland on its own. give it some flavor. in a big baking dish, lay down a thin layer of sauce (this helps prevent sticking). add a layer of noodles, topped with a layer of ricotta, topped with a layer of sauce, topped with a layer of mozzarella, topped with a layer of grated hard cheese. start over again with the noodles & repeat until you’re either out of ingredients or out of space in your pan. it takes a little trial & error to figure out how much ricotta/sauce/mozzarella to use to keep the layers even without running out before you’re done. i find about three wooden spoonfuls of ricotta & sauce per layer get the job done. i really recommend using the hard cheese & using it generously because it’s the most flavorful cheese in the recipe. throw your spices on top & don’t listen to anyone that gasps when you serve it & asks if the cheese is moldy. they are idiots. bake it for half an hour at 350 degrees.

i am not including any vegan recipes because that shit is ridiculous. enjoy!

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

13 thoughts on “winter survival guide, part two

  1. I’m loving these winter posts, and am in pretty heavy agreement with what you’re saying. I will throw in my two cents and add that if you do take up knitting, larger needles and circular rather than straight needles are way better on the hands and wrists. And knitting is pretty perfect accompaniment to TV marathons and audiobooks. I mean, I know I don’t talk about it much, but I really like knitting.

    1. thanks for the tips! if i ever do take up knitting, i will probably have a lot of questions for you.

      i have never in my life listened to an audiobook. maybe that will change now that i have a car, but in general, i have a strange antipathy against just sitting around & listening to stuff. i go for months at a time without even listening to music (my record is about seventeen months). i guess i’m a weirdo.

      1. I also listen to music very very rarely. I really enjoy listening to talking, whether it’s news or a story or whatever else. It’s engaging for me to listen to in a way that music usually isn’t. But yeah, sitting and listening without doing anything with my hands is torture. I feel like that’s why knitting and the audiobook (or podcast, etc.) are so good together. I don’t feel guilty about looking at my knitting instead of a movie, and I still get to listen to something interesting while I work. And yeah, any crafty/knitterly questions, you can always send ’em my way!

  2. Hi, We don’t know each other but I guess we were in this WNYBAC zine show together,,, anyway,what I came to say is, a cold-weather, doctor-recommended strategy is topping off on vitamin D (and possibly B), because you don’t get as much sunlight, so your body is not making the vitamin (D). it helps prevent sickness!
    feel warmer 🙂

    1. new studies indicate that most people actually get enough vitamin D even they only get five minutes of sunlight a day. apparently the body has other ways of making vitamin D & is able to store it better than scientists previously thought. it’s also not a concern for me because i drink so much milk. my addiction to milk is totally out of control. i probably get way too much vitamin D!

      1. I heard about that on NPR — it’s cool you like milk! I was deficient in both last winter, but that was by, like, March, or something. Anyways, nice blog! Am enjoying the entries. Thanks 🙂

  3. I am Australian so do not really understand the snow and temperatures you describe, however I do get the library thing. My purse was stolen yesterday and the first thing I replaced was my library card.

    1. 93 degrees fahrenheit is about 34 degrees celsius. 18 degrees fahrenheit is about 8 degrees celsius. my pocketbook was stolen about a year & a half ago, & the first thing i did (after closing my bank account) was replace my library card. can’t live without it!

  4. I think it’s also dry air both outside and inside the house that causes colds. And while I’m not sure if this is true, there’s been a small panic around the two offices I work in about germs being spread through the central heat systems. I have a humidifier in my bedroom to help with the dry air and to help keep my room warm, but it doesn’t seem to be working as well this year so far, as I still have mornings where I wake up and my skin is dried out. And I moisturize every night and in the morning.

    I agree with Jared about spending time outside makes it feel less cold. I used to walk 2 miles a day between my apartment and campus, even in the winter and in the bad snow Richmond had earlier this year. I’m sad that I can’t do that this year because I work two jobs everyday and leave one at one university to go almost immediately to the other.

    1. oh yeah. the dry air. i forgot about that. jared & i have a humidifer too, which we keep in the bedroom. i feel like it makes the room colder, but i don’t feel excessively dry, so i guess it does something helpful.

  5. I am so stealing every single one of these recipes! I actually have a pork loin in my freezer that I need to use, so that’s probably the first one I will use.

    I’m needing this cold-weather survival guide info now, even though our version of cold weather in Florida is low temps in the high 30s. But seriously, that’s cold! For us, at least. (I know, we are wimptastic. But still! Cold!) My skin has dried out so much that I feel like a friggin’ lizard, and no matter how much moisturizer I use and water I drink, I feel like my entire body is coated in sandpaper.

  6. Oh! And hot water bottles. One of my own favourite winter helpers. By the way, lingo question – what is a pocketbook? Not, I assume, a pocket sized book? Is it like a filofax?

    1. a pocketbook is like a large wallet. like a cross between a wallet & a clutch. pretty much only ladies use them. i don’t like to call mine a “wallet,” because to me, that brings to mind something small that you can stuff in your back pocket, but my “wallet” is bigger than that. but it’s not as big as a clutch, which can fit all kinds of stuff, like lipstick & a little notebook, etc etc. mine is made my queen bee, & they call it the “maximo wallet,” which i obviously don’t do because that name sucks. but you can see what i have here:

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