It’s cold. Not as cold as it is at my sister’s, with a wind chill in single digits and 49 mph gusts of other-people’s-trash, and not as cold as it is for friends in Edmonton, Alberta, due to hit -25 on Wednesday, and certainly not as cold as the -80 recorded in Alaska in 1971. We won’t even talk about Antarctica, because no one is intended to live in that sort of frozen perpetuity. But I am cold, nonetheless, and it’s the sort of cold that triggers the hunched-shoulder-body-tensing daylong headaches. Unpleasant for me and a bitchiness-breeder that haunts my husband, but cured rather nicely by hot tea with honey, languid baths, and browsing wildflower catalogues. However, there’s one winter reflex that I find more difficult to control.
No tail, no arboreal agility, no penchant for darting back and forth across streets, but suddenly I’ve triggered the squirrel syndrome. I can’t stop eating. And I’m not even picky; though I haven’t yet stooped to scooping acorns, pretty much anything else is fair game. Something in my brain is craving the feeling of fullness, the defense against winter and sparsity.
I hear that creeping age lowers the appetite, and I’ve seen mothers and grandmothers who ate like birds, and great grandmothers who refused food of any kind. I’m old enough to witness the skin begin to sag beneath my jawline, but apparently young enough to eat like, well, a squirrel. Saggy skin does not pair well with bulging midriffs, and I expect to sprout bristly hair across my chubby cheeks at any moment.
We have a gargantuan turkey, fluffy white bread (a must), Spoons barbecue, fennel slaw, caramelized butternut squash, a huge tin of sugar-molested pecans, boxes of mint cookies, sweet pomegranate seeds, sugared cranberries, lots of prosecco, those smashable dark chocolate oranges, and a 10X-dusted pear clafouti, which is some sort of French Kiss made by pouring heavy cream and butter over a few sliced pears and cooking it into a 2000 calorie romp through the Jardin des Tuileries. Scratch that — I finished it off last night. Heading back in for some barbecue now.
When I was a little girl, my father once came in from the garden muttering blasphemous un-niceties after the crusty man-over-the-fence grinningly brandished his .22 and a handful of dead squirrels dangling by the tails from his fist. We were not a “gun” family, and were even less enamored of the idea that a crotchety old man was shooting in our city neighborhood full of young children. My dad probably figured he shot them because they dropped nuts on his car. My mom probably thought it was the ticks, fleas, chiggers and mites. At the time, I just thought he was crazy. Now I know why.
But seriously, what’s the deal with binging? I don’t need the extra food for energy and I don’t need the extra fat for warmth. I’m blessed to have heat, fire, a stove, warm water, sweaters, coats, scarves, and ear muffs, and it rarely dips below freezing here. There’s food in the pantry and I can still use a can opener. No twitchy tail, no pointy black toenails, and no visible mites, but, apparently, a generous set of expandable cheeks.