The first snow of the season greeted us this morning, blanketing our mountain town under a thin, cold and icy film. Grey clouds hung low against the hills, revealing the peaks only by the fleeting whims of a chilly autumn breeze. Each year when the snows first arrive, we celebrate – last year they arrived on the last day of summer, and we poured ourselves mugs of mulled wine. This year, the snow seems late, but the snow gods are unpredictable, even capricious. And late as the first snow seems this year, this morning was cold, dark and utterly perfect.
When you live in the mountains your life and livelihood are inextricably linked to the turning of the seasons – it reaches down to your soul. The days grow dark and the snows will continue to fall for another eight long months. We embrace the ice here.
I rose early this morning, turned on the heat and began preparing a celebratory breakfast: buckwheat sourdough donuts, a frittata of local Swiss chard and red potatoes, fresh Gala apples on sticks and warm milk sweetened by a touch of molasses and a sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg – warming foods, foods that fill. By the time my little boy woke up and my husband made his way downstairs, our bag would be packed full of nourishing, wholesome foods and we’d be out the door – ready to celebrate the first of many snows to greet us this winter.
I finished packing our breakfast, wrapping slices of Swiss chard and potato frittata in parchment paper – they’d be easier to eat with mittens, sliding the still-warm sourdough buckwheat doughnuts into a cloth satchel, and pouring the warm, molasses-sweetened milk into a mason jar and settling it in the picnic bag so it might keep the frittata warm. These are the flavors of a coming winter: potatoes and dark leafy greens, molasses and nutmeg, whole grains and apples.
We walked down to the river, our favorite place for picnics – perhaps because the definition of the seasons is so clear there: green buds in spring, wildflowers in summer, fallen leafs in autumn and ice in winter. A visit to the river is a constant reminder of the earth’s cyclic nature. Everything has its season, and its place. It’s a story of death, rebirth and renewal played again and again every year.
We caught snowflakes on our tongues, then warmed our bellies with milk, molasses and nutmeg. We counted the bluebirds who perched on the barbed wire fence, tweeted a song and flew off immediately on approach. We rolled the early season wet and sticky snow, so unlike the powdery stuff skiers love – that comes later, and built a snowman – a totem to winter.
Rustic and satisfying, our meal provided both sustenance and heat while we celebrated the snow. Each bit and bite could be eaten with gloved fingers – slices of Swiss chard and potato frittata wrapped in unbleached parchment paper, sourdough buckwheat doughnuts with their dense crumb (see the recipe below), and fresh gala apples on sticks. Even those bluebirds would be able to join in once we picked up and went home, for we left a few crumbs of grain sprinkled on the snowman – an offering, if you will, to satisfy the hunger of the wilds.
Buckwheat Sourdough Donuts
- Stir one cup proofed sourdough starter with one-half cup milk kefir, two and one-half cups white wheat flour and a half cup buckwheat flour until it forms a ball. Allow the dough to ferment at room temperature overnight or up to twelve hours. Punch down the dough, flour your hands and working surface then knead in one-half cup butter. Allow the dough to rise again until doubled in bulk. Roll out the dough on a floured work surface until it’s about one-half to three-quarters of an inch thick, then cut out the doughnuts.
- Heat enough coconut oil, lard or tallow in a cast-iron skillet to fill it by one-inch.
- While the fat is heating, prepare the cinnamon-sugar topping by pouring one-half cup unrefined cane sugar and one-quarter cup ground cinnamon in the basin of food processor. Process the cinnamon and sugar until it forms a fine powder, then pour the powdered cinnamon-sugar into a wide bowl and set it aside until the doughnuts are finished frying.
- When the fat has reached about 350 degrees Fahrenheit, place doughnuts into the skillet – without overcrowding – and fry them about one to two minutes on each side. Remove the doughnuts from the skillet and allow them to cool slightly before rolling them in powdered cinnamon-sugar.