A glowing fireplace and some warm food were all I was thinking about one night last week when I came home from work. I felt as seized up as the Tin Man with the cold temperatures and couldn’t wait to walk into my warm abode.
But I stopped in my tracks as I exited the barn where I park my Jeep. Involuntarily, the hair on the back of my neck prickled as I dug my face deeper into my jacket. A pack of wolves was howling and they were very, very close.
So close that even the chickens in the coop were squawking with fright at this cacophony and Homey was barking his head off inside the house. This pack’s howls hung in the frigid night air, languishing in eerie echoes over my property. I stood transfixed, feeling that at any moment I could be ambushed.
Needless to say, I made a hasty entrance into the house, where Homey greeted me enthusiastically. I have always been thankful for my home, but never more so than on that particular evening. The wolves howling and the frigid night air were a combination that made me more than ever relish its security and sheltering warmth.
Part of that warmth comes from a little electric fireplace I bought several months ago. I have to say, while it’s a far cry from the real thing, this little appliance has given me a lot of pleasure since the cold weather has settled into the Northwoods. It gives off a chill-cutting warmth and there have been many times when I have watched the fake flames in a sort of mesmerized trance. And it’s got Homey and Crawdad the cat bamboozled, too. Often, I have observed them both lying in front of it, their eyes half closed in contented happiness.
Later that night I walked back out to the barn to check on my chickens with Homey at the end of his leash. All was well and again, when I stepped back outside, I stopped in my tracks, but this time it was for different reason. Looking at my house from the outside in made me thankful all over again. I could see my little fireplace flickering away and the warm glow from a table lamp spilled out into the cold night in a golden flood. It’s a funny feeling when you get this kind of perspective; how you look at a place so familiar, yet in a new way.
For some reason, that experience made me hungry for the beef stew my mom used to make and a pan of her cornbread as a side. I always got excited when I would come into the house after playing out in the cold and smell her stew cooking when I was a kid. I’ve included those recipes for this week.
There’s no doubt my little fireplace will continue to get a lot of use over the next few months, especially with these below-zero temperatures we’ve been experiencing. It has made my home even cozier, especially, it seems, when there are wolves knocking at my door.
Mom’s Beef Stew
3 lbs. boneless chuck roast, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. freshly ground pepper
2 yellow onions, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red wine
3 cups beef broth
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
4 carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch slices
2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch slices
3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut in eighths
On medium-high heat, add the vegetable oil to a large, heavy pot with a lid. When it begins to smoke slightly, add the beef and brown very well. Do in batches if necessary. Add the salt and pepper as the beef browns. Once browned, remove the beef with a slotted spoon set aside. Add the onions and saute for about 5 minutes, until softened. Reduce heat to medium-low, and add the flour and cook for 2 minutes stirring often. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add wine and deglaze the pan, scraping any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. The flour will start to thicken the wine as it comes to a simmer. Simmer wine for 5 minutes, and then add the broth, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary and the beef.
Bring back to a gentle simmer, cover and cook on very low for about 1 hour. Add potatoes, carrots and celery, and simmer covered for another 30 minutes or until the meat and vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust seasoning. Turn off heat and let sit for 15 minutes before serving.
Southern Style Cornbread
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted, plus butter for baking dish
1 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch baking dish. In a large bowl, mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, buttermilk and butter. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the cornmeal mixture and fold together until there are no dry spots (the batter will still be lumpy). Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish.
Bake until the top is golden brown and tester inserted into the middle of the corn bread comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the cornbread from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before serving.