The warmth of winter

And he said, “I choose to live here.”

The day was brutally cold with the temperature in the minus teens and a howling northwest wind. I had just returned home and was walking down the driveway to get our day’s mail.

I got the mail and was walking back to the house when a young old friend came walking across our yard. He works for the city and was reading meters on this very cold winter day.

Our family has known, let’s call him Jess, since he was a little boy and he was a classmate to one of our sons. Over the years, we’ve seen Jess grow up, graduate from high school, get married and start a family and start new careers.

During all those past encounters with him, he was always the steady one. After talking to him, you frequently walked away with a warm feeling and somehow knew things would be alright. He’s not a saint but he’s a darn good fellow.

So on that recent very cold day, we greeted each other with steaming breaths and smiles. I noted how lucky he was to get to walk around the neighborhood on this cold winter day and his response surprised me.

He smiled and with his usual good nature said, “I choose to live here.”

What did he mean? Perhaps something like this: despite the cold day, he found warmth in talking to a less young old friend just as I found warmth in talking to a young old friend.

As we well know, we live in Minnesota and, most of us, choose to do so. We know summers are going to be hot and humid, then there are the welcoming cool breezes of fall which are followed by the bitter cold (and beauty) of winter which leads us to the warming breezes (and beauty) of spring.

We know that seasonal sequence, complain about it but yet choose to live here because we know there are ways to find warmth even in the cold of winter. For instance, we can start by warming our insides with a nice hot beverage.

The quintessential winter hot beverage is the hot toddy. I believe this concoction exists to warm a person’s body, mind and spirit. It’s easy to make, tastes heavenly and can be a warming kindred spirit. That sounds a bit poetic but the hot toddy really feels good on a cold winter’s day.

The first thing you do is warm a six-ounce mug and pour an ounce of single malt scotch into it. The you can use whatever is your favorite spirit — bourbon, rum or brandy. Add an ounce of honey (to taste), a couple teaspoons of lemon juice and top off the mug with hot water. Stir to dissolve the honey and if you desire, sprinkle a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg on top of the beverage.

Then find a good comfy chair, relax and let the warming begin!

If you are going to host a party, a bowl of mulled wine is a winner. Mulled wine is basically the wine lovers’ version of the hot toddy. In the Scandinavian countries it’s called Glögg and in Germany it’s called Glügwein but in any language, your guests will love it and the mulled wine bowl will be a center piece for conversation.

An easy recipe is to place a bottle of red wine (your choice but a Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon or a Marquette work very well) in a slow cooker. Zest an orange and add the zest to the wine, throw in about eight cloves, three cinnamon sticks, two teaspoons of ginger along with a quarter cup of brandy and a third of a cup of honey.

Heat the mixture on low for about 20 minutes or until the liquid begins to steam, stir and serve.

If your mulled wine is too sweet, reduce the amount of honey to meet your sense of taste.

But what if you only enjoy a beer? I expect you can find some sort of warming beer mixture but I would just let the beer warm a bit and then enjoy it. Sometimes it’s not about the physical warming but about the mental and spiritual warming. Therefore, if you love beer, take it out of the fridge and let it warm for a few minutes before you are warmed by the beer experience.

During these cold winter months, we can find warmth in many ways. There’s always the good old blanket, the fireplace, a good book, your favorite beverage or the warmth of a young old friend.

Because he reminded me of the warmth of long lasting friendships, I’m happy he chooses to live here.

Next week, which is better?

As always, eat and drink in moderation but laugh with reckless abandon!