Fire Up the Mastodon

Back in the days when men were men, women were women and everyone was named “Og,” surviving the winter meant making sure there was enough mastodon for everyone to have seconds. When the blizzard was blowing into the mouth of the cave, absolutely nobody gave the group a supercilious look and said, “I’ll just have some salad, thanks. No dressing.”

And because we are a mere blink, chronologically speaking, away from Og, our hindbrains haven’t had time to catch on to supermarkets and fast food restaurants, and this, my friends, is why, when it snows, we all try to eat a mastodon.

Last week, for instance, I was awakened on four consecutive mornings by the happy little bingley-beep of my cell phone telling me that higher education would not be happening on campus today. I could just roll over and go back to sleep. But something in the back of my brain starts kicking me and muttering about the hunt. Next thing I know, I’m in the kitchen stirring up pumpkin waffles and cooking sausage.

I’m not alone in this, either. One of our closest friends basically has the same attitude to kitchens that an archaeologist has about finding the lost tomb of Queen Hootsupspit — wonder what they used these pointy things to do? What are those little knobs for? But when it snows, this person becomes a bread-baking, casserole-cooking, salad-spinning maniac. By Thursday, she had prepared enough food to nourish the Green Bay Packers defensive line until June. Too bad there’s only two of them in that house, plus a dog, cat and fish. Perhaps the fish likes tuna salad.

Another friend solves the mastodon problem differently — she just has everyone over, and I can say from experience that her country-style steak is worth getting stuck in her driveway for, which happened. Country-style steak is not an entrée that occurs to me most days, but when the high temperature for the day is in single digits, it seems like a fantastic idea. Gravy? Why, yes. Mashed potatoes? Bring ‘em on. Say, are those cupcakes? Wow. I haven’t had a cupcake since I saw you on Tuesday.

My Beloved made chili, an all-afternoon affair that included beef, sausage, kidney beans, black beans, tomatoes, green chilies, adobo sauce, Anaheim chilies, pasilla powder and a bunch of other things I forgot. It cooked for hours, perfuming the house with its chili-ness. By the time it was done, the tribe would have bitten a wooden spoon in half to get to it.

This sort of thing went on all week, in houses all over town. People who normally have a cup of coffee for breakfast, were up and making biscuits and gravy. People whose usual lunch consists of a package of crackers eaten at their desks, were making grilled cheese sandwiches and potato soup. Dinners were variations on the theme of “Hunks of Meat,” with some vegetable trimmings. The cold is no place for vegetarians, shivering in their paleo T-shirts.

And this explains the phenomenon that everyone talks about with disdain, but secretly does — going to the grocery store before it snows. Our civilized forebrains know that the roads will be clear tomorrow, and we do not need three gallons of milk and two loaves of bread. But that little part of us that still has a vestigial tail and is not completely sure of its position on the food chain, overrides it all. That part says that it’s going to snow, and we’d better go get us a mastodon and start roasting it over the fire. And while we’re at it, we’ll need Doritos, peanut butter, grape jelly, Pop Tarts, Raisin Bran, three kinds of cheese, bologna, bacon, brownie mix, spaghetti sauce…

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