A Day in the Life: Wintern Edition

One frequent wintern task: bread baking.  Turns out it's just as easy to bake 13 loaves as a 3.

One frequent wintern task: bread baking. Turns out it’s just as easy to bake 13 loaves as a 3.

January 2, 2013

My work day started fourteen hours ago. In some respects, it still continues. In others, it ended a mere twelve hours after it started. Thus is the life of a winter intern (or “wintern”) at Homeplace. I’m beginning to think that it is the best job–and life–in the world.

I finally woke to my roommate Caroline saying, “Rachel, it’s time get up.” We were scheduled together for dog chores this morning, and she’d agreed to make sure I was awake with sufficient time to dress in warm clothes and meet by 7 am. I checked the temperature, threw on my warmest long underwear beneath Carhartts, and followed her to the dog room. I commute only about 100 yards each morning, but they are enough to test whether I’ve correctly constructed my layering system. Yesterday, the -18* thermometer reading scared me into wearing too many clothes; I’d sweated through two layers of shirts before I’d even reached the dog room. Today, however, I was right on the money.

I arrived as Caroline poured pre-soaked kibble into a 28-gallon plastic tub on a sled with runner skis. She added hot water until the tub was about third full. We call the hot water and high performance kibble concoction “soup,” and we only had to soup 32 dogs today. When all of our dogs return from trail tomorrow, the yard will again be home to 65 dogs. We’ll need to make more soup.

Dawn gathered gradually as we scooped poop, measured out kibble, ladled soup into bowls, and scooped more poop. The human-poop relationship in the dog yard is very different than it would be on a city street. In the yard, we use hoes and shovels spattered with frozen days’ old shit to scoop the new stuff. At least once a day, I catch myself before I use the toe of my boot to help a frozen turdlet onto the hoe blade. Hoeing frozen poop itself keeps me on my toes, as I can never be exactly sure which direction the bits will fly. I’ve taken to wearing the same set of outer clothes whenever I venture into the yard, preferring to concentrate the poop rather than spread it throughout my wardrobe. It goes without saying that we are barred from wearing our dog boots in the kitchen.

Dogs fed, souped, scooped, petted, and baby-talked, we left the yard an hour after we arrived. I switched dog clothes for jeans and an Outward Bound t-shirt. I chose “professional” clothes in honor of the students who would be arriving on base later in the day. It’s fine to wear nothing but long underwear, work pants, and puffy vests among staff, but I get the urge to look presentable about once or twice a week.

Caroline and I reported to the kitchen at 9 am after feeding and souping ourselves with Finnish pancakes and coffee. Our kitchen manager and Jill-of-many-trades handed us menus and recipes for lunch and set us loose. Three and a half hours, four and a half cups of Crisco, fourteen quarts of frozen vegetables, and many questions later, we served steaming veggie pot pie, homemade bread, and peanut butter cookies to twenty-four people. We cleaned up the mess amid many thanks and reveled briefly in flaky golden crust and hearty vegetables.

At 1 pm, another wintern, Gratia, and I started all over again. Jennie’s marching orders required chicken breasts, a starch, a veggie side, French bread, a vegetarian entree option, salad, and brownies. I started bread while Gratia whipped up a tray of brownies. I added twelve cups of flour a half cup at a time while Gratia chopped vegetables. I kneaded dough in the great standing mixer while Gratia spun romaine lettuce. We coasted merrily along, prepped everything we could, and slowed our pace around 3 pm. I decided to start a technically unnecessary project–cardomom coffee cake for tomorrow’s breakfast–to fill the lull. Somehow the lull filled itself, and the coffee cake ingredients sat untouched on the stainless steel table in the center of the kitchen.

By 6:30, everything was ready. The banquet serving table held herbed chicken breasts with tomato and mozzarella, quinoa stuffed bell peppers, pasta, steamed veggies, cut bread, salad, and three salad dressings. The kitchen was still a mess and my coffee cake was only creamed butter. Still, we felt successful. Two student groups and assorted staff were eating a meal we had orchestrated and prepared.

We plated brownies and scooped vanilla ice cream on top of them, knowing the excitement they’d trigger. Twelve hours had passed since I’d begun my day in the dog yard, and I suppose some would consider it work. The only stressful moment, however, was when Gratia interrupted me at 5:40 pm and exclaimed, “We forgot the starch!” She raced to boil water to cook the pasta. Her realization shifted our day from fun experimenting in the kitchen to deadline-based production. With the exception of the fifteen minutes when it seemed the pasta might delay the whole banquet, I could have been winding down a marathon cooking day on my day off. Even at 9 pm, when my coffee cake was finally cooling on a rack, I felt fulfilled by the long day. I had started the day outside, but had not left the building since entering it to begin cooking. I was wholly invested in providing two wonderful first meals to the community on base, and didn’t mind what it entailed. Tomorrow, I get to do it all again.

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