Dressing and cooking for cold times

It’s always amazing on a frosty morning how it can be just as much work to get properly dressed for my ranch chores as it is to do the actual work.

I start off with a base layer that’s basically my running outfit — loose tights and some sort of T-shirt. Over this goes a pair of Carhartt work pants, a quilted pullover shirt that was a gift from a friend who worked at Nike back in the 80s and is essentially a sleeping back with sleeves, and a Carhartt canvas vest. At the extremities I wear a pair of lightweight insulated snowboots and fleece gloves with waterproof overgloves. This is all topped off by an Outback fleece-lined oilskin cap, a gift from Amy Finger.

Dress too lightly and you’ll simply freeze your arse off. Trick or treat horses as Michelin Man and you’ll not be able to jump out of the way when equines do the things they inevitably do — launch themselves sideways for no apparent reason, kick at one another, or simply try to run you over.

This morning after feeding the cows and breaking the ice on the stream so they could drink, I saw a band of ravens hassling a big red-tailed hawk on the warming breeze, a sign of better weather on the way. The sight made putting on all those clothes worthwhile.

Speaking of rugged activity, it always warms my heart to read about a man doing real man’s work, like cooking. Stan, over at The Nightsider offers a recipe for a hearty cold-weather chowder, and it sounded pretty darned good.

Despite Stan’s kind words, I’m really what writer and food expert Jim Harrison might call a “fey hash-slinger.” But Stan’s recipe got me to thinking  . . . and the next thing I knew I was driving to town for ingredients. Here’s my rendition of Stan’s Broccoli-Mushroom Chowder, which I made tonight.


Chicken-Broccoli-Mushroom-Carrot-Leek-Garlic Chowder

1 whole chicken breast, skinless and boneless

1 quart chicken broth

1 pound fresh broccoli

8 ounces fresh mushrooms

4 carrots

½ leek, properly cleaned and sliced

3 cloves garlic, pressed

2 sticks butter

1½ cups arrowroot powder

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon white pepper

¼ teaspoon tarragon

The instructions are similar to Stan’s chowder, only you’ll need two pots. Start by putting the broth and the chicken breast in one and bringing it quickly to a simmer. While you’re doing this you can chop up all the vegetables and steam them using a colander and about 3 cups water. Don’t steam them too much and hold onto that water (there are nutrients in there and we’ll need more liquid later).

When you think the chicken is thoroughly cooked, pull the breast out and set it aside on a cutting board. Now you can make a roux by melting the butter in the other pot over medium heat and adding the arrowroot powder. When the roux is suitably thick, quickly stir in all the broth. Do this quickly or bad things will happen. And once it bubbles and thickens, turn the heat down as low as it will go.

This will form a thick gravy, and when it is smooth, you can add the cream, vegetables, seasonings and the vegetable water. Mix up thoroughly.

Cut the chicken breast into chunks and add them to the chowder.

My thanks to Stan for the inspiration. Just like his chowder, this one’s suitable for the cold evenings we’ve had lately. Keep it warm but don’t let it boil.

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