For the past seven years, we’ve greeted the New Year by throwing makeshift curling rocks across the icy lake that surrounds our home west of Saskatoon. The lake arrived in spring 2011, eight months after we’d taken up residence on what has been my family’s farm for decades.
Following the flood, we used a neighbour’s ATV to reach our yard – fields and our half-kilometer driveway underwater; poplar groves, garden and the barn and its contents all drowned. Water came to within fifty feet of the house. Within a year, we’d have a berm and a causeway, and we’d recognize all the nesting shorebirds and water fowl. But when that first winter rolled in, we looked on the icy expanse surrounding our home, and we planned a bonspiel.
This greeting of the sublimely inalterable, making it welcome, surrendering, became the only reasonable response. Surrender is more graceful than giving up, less adrenaline-laced than going to futile war. Surrender allows you to raise your head and assess the situation, then look your oppressor in the eye. “Quietly endure… patiently wait… your ability to overcome unfavourable situations will provide you with time to demonstrate your true strength and determination,” said Martin Luther King, Jr.
Of course King was talking about a people surviving a flood of hatred, not a farm surviving a flood of water, but the lesson holds. You can’t fight Mother Nature, but you can outwait – and maybe outwit – her. So that first winter we curled with a group of friends, using vinegar jugs filled with water as our rocks. We scraped the ice clear, marked rings, lit a fire and heated cider. The ice was crystal-clear, and some people brought skates. Others strapped on skis or snowshoes. Our dogs played too, pursuing errant rocks, nosing them back to the sidelines or carrying them off as trophies. The sky was that vast arc of endless blue bordering on infinity.
When our hands got cold, we ceded the rink to the wildlife and went indoors. What else to do? I’d made bread and chili. Our friends brought pies, salads, squares, tortillas, cookies, chocolates, wine and high spirits. We filled our bowls and glasses and held up winter as a toast.
This year, our seventh with the water, the lake has receded to slough status. The cat tails and bulrushes have retreated as well. Today, on 2017’s final day, I’ve marked the rings and set out the firewood. I’ve made the chili. Tomorrow, we look the frozen lake in the eye once more.
Thanks to my friends, in particular Amy Jo Ehman, for their love and support since my return to Saskatchewan nearly eight years ago. I wish you and yours a houseful of friends and the faith to carry on in a frozen world.
Next time: a bit about me, just FYI. But first we eat. Today: chili for a crowd.
This chili abets a cook’s resolution to reduce the condiment collection that clutters most fridges. Thanks to my friend Gail Norton, owner of The Cookbook Co. Cooks in Calgary, for this great way to season pulses.
4-8 cups dried beans (black turtle, navy, great northern, lima, pinto, kidney)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bell peppers, diced
6 links Italian sausage, diced, or 3 lb. ground beef or pork (optional)
1 Tbsp. cumin seed
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
4-6 Tbsp. chili powder
3 Tbsp. Spanish or Hungarian sweet paprika
hot chili flakes or cayenne to taste
1 Tbsp. dried basil
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. cracked fennel seed
2-4 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1-28 oz. tin canned tomatoes or tomato sauce
1-5 oz. tin tomato paste
¼ cup molasses, pomegranate molasses or maple syrup
1-2 Tbsp. each of condiments (mustard, pesto, jam or jelly, barbecue sauce, syrup, flavoured honey, ketchup, chilli sauce, chutney, herb paste, marmalade, etc.)
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
salt to taste
minced parsley or cilantro for garnish
yoghurt for garnish
Cook the beans in advance without soaking or salting: soaking strips out nutrients, and salting toughens the proteins and slows the cooking process. Put the beans in a big pot with plenty of water, bring to a boil, then simmer with a lid until tender, about 2 ½ hours; older beans may take longer and require more water.
Sautee the onion, garlic and peppers in the oil. Sautee the chopped sausage or ground meat. Add the cumin, coriander, chili powder, paprika and cayenne. Add all other ingredients, including the cooked beans and any cooking liquid. Simmer until thick, stirring frequently. To serve, garnish with chopped cilantro and yoghurt.