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This is how I’m surviving winter in Belgium
The clocks going forward and dipping temperatures mean only one thing: winter is definitely around the corner. In my home in Wallonia, one or other of our two wood burners is constantly stoked – we’re parsimonious about switching on the central heating in this fuel-guzzling damp grey stone abode.
A crisp sun on the horizon helps make the onset of winter weather bearable, illuminating the surrounding trees that are reticent to relinquish their slowly-russeting foliage. It’s also tolerable for the harvest of autumn produce on offer and a perfect excuse to up the calories. There may no longer be a risk of going short of food over the cold stretch ahead, but the return to comfort food is the ultimate seasonal pleasure.
In my kitchen, there’s pumpkin and squash waiting to be streamed and roasted for a post-Halloween family gathering, while supper last night was a sinus-busting chicken curry with a Thai-inspired concoction of chili, lemon grass, ginger and kaffir lime leaves. Ill-assorted, but home-made naans were thrown in for extra fodder.
If that’s the inner fuel taken care of, I’m typically diffident – alright, lazy – in sorting out my winter wardrobe. It somehow seems more appropriate to layer up than dig out the well-worn staple of thick-soled boots and chunky knits. Procrastination could be explained by the knowledge that this more restricted closet will become tiresome over the long months ahead, but I’ll surely concede defeat as the long weekend beckons.
There’s plenty of advice around on coping with the arrival of cool, damp days and the human body’s capacity at acclimatisation. From cold showers and the gradual donning of pullovers and coats, we apparently should all embrace our inner polar bear and resist the temptation to raise the thermostat.
The theory sounds good, but with our trusty wood stoves, there are only two settings in the house – toasty or cool. The living room burner may lack an ambient flame-viewing side window, but the practical Ardennes beast - nicknamed Puffing Billy - renders the room decidedly tropical. An overnight log and shut vent ensure there are a minimum of fire-lighting skills required in the morning.
Keeping it supplied from the outdoor log pile is no hardship when the sun shines, particularly with the thought that soaking up any rays can alleviate seasonal adjustment disorder. We’re all supposed to head outdoors during daylight hours, but industrial estate office life is not conducive to following this sensible advice.
So the passage from autumn to winter is bittersweet. There are sufficient pleasures and feast days ahead to distract from the gnarled reality that spring is even too far ahead to contemplate. It’s those dogged lackluster days at the beginning of the year that require all my survival skills. In the meantime, I’m ordering some extra steres of wood. Whether I choose to hibernate or not, keeping cosy is my mantra.
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