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  • Michael

#0057: Warmth In Winter

As I blink away the night, I notice that the pale, winter light filtering in through the skylight is much dimmer than it should be.

But even before I opened my eyes, I knew something was different. It’s always quiet here but this morning, as I slowly wake, wriggling my toes under my heavy duvet, it’s almost silent.

I hear the muted pip of a solitary robin, instead of the usual chorus of birdsong.

The burn gurgling through the garden sounds muffled and distant.

No people.

No cars.

Just me, in my bed, hunkered safe and snug under a thick blanket of white.

Snow day.

Pulling on clothes and boots, I step into a bleached-out world of dark lines etched on stark, white surfaces, all that remains after the colours of the glen were stolen away in the night.

I look to the west, where the first light of day gilds the very tops of the snow dusted spruce trees. Slowly it trickles down through the woods, gathering pace in a chromatic swell which washes the hillside, bringing the frozen landscape to life.

It pools around a flock of oblivious sheep, sparkling in their ice-matted fleeces as they scrape at the cold earth, beneath a pale, blue sky, bruised with streaks of peach.

Beyond them, the river cuts a slow, meandering path. A still, silver ribbon unraveled across the flat valley floor and twisted around copses of winter bare trees, casting long, dark shadows on the glistening ground.

I start the slow climb uphill, soft powder creaking beneath my feet as I follow a trail of arrows left by an inquisitive heron where it explored the white landscape, picking its way through a chaotic scrawl of tracks.

An enthusiastic dog.

A timid deer.

The unmistakable prints of a bounding red squirrel.

I watch as spindrift dances across the frozen surface of a small pool. It reaches for the limpid blue sky, and twists away toward the looming pine trees where, at the forests edge, it loses the wind and scatters to nothing in the shadows.

I follow its path, and step into the woods.

And then, as I pick my way between the moss covered trunks, and feel a pinch of cold on my cheek, something magical happens.

Above my head, a small blizzard swirls between the trees, a murmuration of crystalline flakes, shaken loose from the towering canopy and set free to soar through the woodland, shimmering with a thousand shards of rainbow where they catch the broad blades of golden light which slice between the trees.

It’s a perfect, cloudless day, but deep in the forest, it’s snowing.

It’s getting late by the time I get home and kick the snow from my boots. The sun has slipped behind those hills to the west which this morning were awash with early light, and a soft mist has started to rise from the valley bottom and gently shroud the glen.

It’s time to shut out the cold, and get myself warm.

After a day out exploring in the snow, you deserve a good meal to warm yourself up. For me, chickpea masala always does the trick. It’s really quick and easy to make after a long adventure, has a spicy kick to it and, scooped up with flatbread, is perfect for bringing frozen fingers back to life.

Start by combining 100g each of white and wholemeal bread flour, a quarter of a teaspoon of salt, two tablespoons of olive oil and 100g of warm water in a large mixing bowl, and knead for about five minutes. Once you have a soft dough, cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and set it aside until later.

Next, grate a thumb sized piece of ginger, and blitz it together in a blender with six cloves of garlic, three green chillies, including their seeds, and a generous handful of coriander. Once you have a thick paste, set it aside until later, and finely chop a medium sized onion.

Sauté the onion for a few minutes, with a good sprinkle of salt and a heaped tablespoon of crushed cumin seeds, in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan on a medium heat. Once the onion has started to turn translucent, stir in the garlic and ginger paste, and continue to sauté for another couple of minutes, then add a heaped tablespoon of ground coriander seeds and one heaped teaspoon each of mild chilli powder and turmeric, and continue to stir for another minute or so.

Now, add two tins each of chickpeas and chopped tomatoes, and give it a good stir, adding a little of the chickpea water, if needed, to loosen the mixture up a little. Then bring it to the boil and leave to simmer, uncovered, over a low heat for about twenty minutes.

Whilst the masala is gently bubbling away, split the dough into four evenly-sized balls and roll them out into thin circles. Wipe a large, non-stick frying pan with a little olive oil, and bring it to a medium to high heat, then cook the flatbreads, one at a time, turning after about two minutes, until they gently puff out, turn lighter in colour, and start to go brown in places. Keep the flatbreads warm by wrapping them in a tea towel until the masala is ready.

Once the masala has thickened, add a little sugar if you need to temper the chilli, then stir in half the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon, and one heaped teaspoon of garam masala, before garnishing with finely chopped coriander and the rest of the lemon juice, and serving with the warm flatbreads.

Then dig in, warm up, and get ready for another snow day tomorrow.

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