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Past Perfect

11 Oct

Do you remember which emotion you woke up feeling on October 5th, 1987?

Third Avenue Festival, Bay Ridge

If you lived anywhere within 100 miles of Albany, you probably woke up feeling awed. That was the night upstate New York was hit by the earliest blizzard in its history.

When you’re a kid in snow country there’s certain aural clues that alert you to the possibility of a snow day. Hushed whisperings between your parents, the grinding of the snow plow on pavement, the whimpering of the dog who doesn’t want to go out to do his business in belly-high snow.

But on that Sunday I remember waking up and thinking, something’s up, everything’s too quiet.

I looked at my clock’s blank face, that meant no power. No power means a lot of snow. I sat up in bed and peered out the window and looked upon the most glorious winter scene I’ve ever seen. It looked like the world had been iced. Every surface was covered by an inches thick layer of wet, glittery snow.

The Midway

The house was still a little warm even though the furnace had quit working when the lights went out, and since we relied on a well with an electric pump there was also no water. My dad dragged the kerosene heater in from the garage and got it lit, at least the living room and kitchen would be warm.

It didn’t seem like a big deal, snow in October, until it became apparent that the DOT had made a huge booboo. All the plows were still snoozing away their summer siesta and each and every grain of salt sat giggling in a crystalline warehouse under lock and key, just waiting for someone to say “open sesame.”

Win A Fish! Or A Turtle!

All the roads in the county were closed and since no one expected a blizzard (didn’t they learn anything from Monty Python?) the usual pre-blizzard panic shopping hadn’t occurred. What you had in the pantry was what you ate. Refrigerated things had to be chucked and frozen things went out back into the snow on the porch, but with an electric stove and no electricity there was no way to eat them anyway.

I’m sure that there were other edible things in the house, but I only remember eating one thing the whole week: Spam.

I decided, in all my 12 year old wisdom, that Spam was going to be what I cooked on top of the kerosene heater to keep my family alive and nourished. I folded up some tin foil, sliced off some slabs of Spam, cooked them until they were sizzling and served them in a pool of A-1.

Or A Parakeet!

The roads eventually opened, the power came back and by the end of the week I was back at school, but those few days live on in my memory as the most magical days ever.

I made a makeshift harness for my dog who pulled me all over the neighborhood in an orange plastic tobaggon, picking up friends as we went (don’t worry, he was huge and he loved it). There were sleepovers and no baths, maple syrup candy made on snow just like in Little House In The Big Woods and lots of games of Life. It was amazing.

Karaoke at the Salty Dog

My freshman year of college I fractured a vertebra sledding. It was a long, boring recuperation during which I read many, many books. My favorite was one given to me by my stepdad, Mark Helprin‘s Winter’s Tale. I devoured it. It was about upstate, the Hudson and New York City, it was about love and fidelity and awe and the past and the present and every big, weighty, delicious theme ever worth writing about.  And the winter scenes in Lake of the Coheeries reminded me of that blizzard.

So many bouncy castles

It’s all of these things I was thinking about last week when the weather in New York City was more appropriate to July than October. We set a new record on Saturday the 8th. 87°F! On the 20th anniversary of the blizzard? 83°F. I don’t know if it’s global warming or living near the water or just a decision made by the weather gods, but I miss “normal” weather. Crisp in October, snowy in December, rainy in April, hot in August.

Sunshine On Sprouts

And so I decided to say chuck it all and cook something autumnal, even though it felt like summer (this happened last year too). I braised a blade roast of pork rubbed with ground ginger, pimenton de la vera, brown sugar and lemon juice from Flying Pigs Farm in grape juice and roasted Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes.

Roasty, Toasty

The roast was disappointing. It was riddled with fat, in a bad way. We ate a few pieces and then pulled the rest for leftovers.

A few days later I arrived home starving and stressed. I looked in the fridge. All that stared back was the pork, eggs and a world of condiments. So I fried the pork in shatta and added two whisked eggs, cooking them until they clung to the pork. The final touch? A drizzle of sherry vinegar and a sprinkling of sea salt. I don’t know if it was hunger, desperation or skill, but this was the best off-the-cuff cooking I’ve done in years.

Rosated, Shredded Pork

That said, I’d give it up for 2 feet of snow, a kerosene heater and a slab of Spam coated in A-1 in a heartbeat.

P.S. The pictures are from Bay Ridge’s Third Avenue Festival. Due to some much needed running of errands, we missed the Ragamuffin Parade, which I’m kind of sad about. Next year for sure!