I thought the worst cold I would ever endure was a damp Christmas in a tiny Victorian two up two down, “heated” by a little fireplace with no flue. Then recently I set out on a walk I make several times a week. Unbidden my subconscious said to me, “Talk of your cold! Through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.”
This sort of thing happens to me all the time, because I was lucky enough to have a poetry loving mother, to which I added a “useless” degree in English. Threads of poetry manifest themselves like wraiths drawn by a situation to which they are sympathetic. They whisper, like a reassuring friend, that I am not alone; the heartbreaking, the funny and the frigid are all shared experiences.
The Cremation of Sam McGee is a masterpiece blending high Boys’ Own ideals “Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code” - I remember my mother pausing to remark that that was very good - and low comedy: “I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I looked.”
Back to my frosty walk. My wind stung eyes watered and the tears froze to my lashes. I was en route to my first experience of frostbite. Luckily I had the wind at my back on my return trip, so it wasn’t serious. What was serious was the resulting need for carbs. I decided to make my first attempt at potato and cheddar perogies.
I have loved these Ukrainian dumplings since I was first introduced to them, draped in caramelized onions, my first year at university. They are readily available frozen, but those are what a sun lamp is to Caribbean beach. I studied up by watching this Cook’s Country video.
I knew the filling would be easy, but the embracing dough worried me. It needn’t have. It is wonderfully stretchy. I followed the recipe to the letter, or so I thought, but I used up my filling, made 28 dumplings and had quite a bit of surplus dough. I let it rest over night in the fridge before making another batch with a fresh round of filling.
They were marvellous. So good, the store bought ones I had in the freezer have been consigned to the bin. Only homemade for me from now on!
If that evening my door you’d opened wide, you’d have seen, I wore a smile you could see a mile and I’d have said, please pass the sour cream. Perogies and poetry, I hope I have persuaded you to indulge in both.
Speaking of ghosts
At the risk of boring you with tales of my mother, she, who had no particular liking for the great outdoors, had an abiding interest in mountain climbing, which I’ve never been able to go and figure. She would have loved Wade Davis’s Into the Silence, If you have read that or share my mother’s fascination with Alpine pursuits, I think you will enjoy Michelle Paver’s Thin Air.
Set in 1935, it follows a fictional attempt on the real, Kangchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak. It alludes to the Mallory expedition which is the subject of Into the Silence, and makes vivid the physical and psychological strain of these climbs. I can’t help wondering if she took some inspiration from the phenomenon that Shackelton’s men experienced in the Antarctic “of the delusion that there was one more member (of the crew) than could actually be counted.” I only know of this because of the footnotes to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. A poem. Just sayin’.