Winter can be a drag for some people unless we make it enjoyable.  I found winters to be long during my college and graduate school years until I took up skiing, winter camping, ice-fishing and cooking good food.

Long nights and gray days contribute to seasonal affective disorder in people prone to the blues, but outdoor activities can reduce winter’s dreary effects.  Probably that’s why outdoor winter chores on the farm diminished my occasional melancholy. 

Winters were somber during my first three years at Conception College in Northwest Missouri except when I played guitar and sang in a musical group that toured the Midwest.  There were few opportunities for outdoor activities. 

While attending the University of Colorado at Boulder during my last year of college I began downhill skiing on nearby slopes.  I relished outings to ski resorts in Utah and Wyoming during six years of graduate school at the University of Utah.  

After Marilyn and I met during my third winter in Utah we took up cross country skiing.  It became a favorite winter activity that we continued as a family while I taught at the University of Virginia and after 1979 when farming in Iowa until my knees became too decrepit to ski well.

We carried drinks and dinners of hamburger, potatoes and veggies wrapped in foil in our backpacks for day-trips to trek up and down snowy hills in nearby parks and on our farm.  At mid-day we built a bonfire and roasted our dinners on hot coals.

Winter weekend stays at state recreation areas and visits to ice-fishing lakes also have become much anticipated activities.  We usually plan one or two trips with our kids and their families or with other friends to a selected location that has a large rental cabin or private home. 

Rousing song fests, board games and challenges to see who can cook the best meal add to the fun.  The food and the drinks always taste better after hours of vigorous skiing, snowshoeing, ice-fishing and hunting waterfowl or upland game that are still in season.

We have concocted really good recipes.  Our son Jon makes the best quail, pheasant or grouse breast rolls.  Here is his recipe.

Cut a pound of gamebird breasts into strips about a half inch wide by two inches long.  Pat the strips dry with paper towels and rub in a mixture of brown sugar, onion powder, garlic salt and fresh ground black peppercorns.  While the meat absorbs the spices, cut three dozen thin slices of fresh jalapeno peppers about two inches long. 

Press enough cream cheese onto two or three jalapeno strips and one or two strips of breast meat to form a roll about the size of a farm man’s thumb.  To hold these ingredients together, wrap the roll with a strip of bacon about six inches long and stick a toothpick through the entire roll to keep the bacon from unwinding.  

Roast the rolls on a medium hot smoky grill for about 10-12 minutes, turning them at least once, until the bacon has cooked sufficiently to be almost crispy.  Add a touch of pepper jelly or sriracha chili sauce to the roll and munch.  Yum!

One of my favorite dishes is chili made with goose breasts or venison.   Soak about a cup and a half of kidney or black beans in a large cast-iron Dutch oven or stainless steel pan overnight and pour off the unabsorbed water–it contains much of the volatile methane that can interfere with good relations.  

Cut two pounds of fresh or thawed goose breast or venison into inch cubes and fry in a large cast-iron skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil, several diced scallions and garlic and one large diced onion until the onions are soft.

Add a pound of seasoned pork sausage to the skillet and fry until the meat is brown.  Soak up the accumulated fat with paper towels and then add various chili powders and plenty of ground cumin to taste. 

Add the meat to the beans.  Also add two 10 ounce cans of diced tomatoes or a quart jar of your own canned tomatoes. 

Throw in diced fresh or frozen peppers of all sorts.  I freeze whole peppers of several types (jalapeno, serrano, poblano, banana, chili, sweet bell or any sort of pepper from my garden) and thaw the ones I need whenever I cook up something that requires a variety of peppers.  

Add a diced carrot, two large bay leaves, a large uncured pork, beef or lamb bone and salt to taste.  Cover with water, a lid and cook for at least five hours in an oven at 350 degrees.  Taste occasionally and add what’s needed (usually more chili powder and cumin); keep all the ingredients barely covered with liquid. 

Your chili will probably be the best you’ve ever eaten.  It’s okay to eat as much as you want, because your chili won’t offend anyone!

Dr. Mike lives near Harlan, Iowa.  Contact him at: [email protected]