The Commons
Food and Drink

Keeping the (body’s) home fires burning

Food is your body’s fuel — and you need to tend to it in the winter month’s, however many days the groundhog says are left

Susie Crowther is the author of The No Recipe Cookbook: A Beginner’s Guide to the Art of Cooking, through Skyhorse Publishing (

Originally published in The Commons issue #240 (Wednesday, February 5, 2014). This story appeared on page C4.

WEST BRATTLEBORO—Growing up in Vermont, I never understood the myth of Groundhog Day.

According to Bill Anderson, who wrote a book on the subject (and as quoted by the Punxsutawney [Penn.] Groundhog Club), the Feb. 2 tradition is “a popular tradition in the United States. It is also a legend that traverses centuries, its origins clouded in the mists of time with ethnic cultures and animals awakening on specific dates.”

Groundhog Day, as the tradition goes, is “the day that the Groundhog comes out of his hole after a long winter sleep to look for his shadow.”

“If he sees it, he regards it as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather and returns to his hole.

“If the day is cloudy and, hence, shadowless, he takes it as a sign of spring and stays above ground.”

The part that always confounded was the “six more weeks of bad weather.”

Only six more weeks? If only! Around these parts, that would be blessing.

Imagine if we could start tilling our gardens around mid-March instead of purchasing that new shovel at Brown and Roberts because the weight of New England spring snow snapped another fine shovel head. Honestly.

But shucks. It doesn’t take a romantic rodent to offer us signs that winter’s on its way out.

* * *

As a young girl, my father introduced me to Vermont’s tender pre-spring signs. He’d point out the melting snow around the bases of trees.

It’s something a tween would never have noticed on her own. Like, OMG — nature? Whatever. I’m so sure. However, when I now walk around our woods, I peek playfully, like a young girl again, and I celebrate the gap widening between trunks and snowy beds.

The other hopeful sign of spring is the sugaring! More wood smoke fills the air, like smoky Christmas lights in the sky, signaling the boiling of the sap. Our neighbors Dan and Gail MacArthur (anyone on one’s ridge is a neighbor, yes?) invite us to drop off empty jugs. It’s a February ritual that always sparks happy hope in my heart.

* * *

The boiling of sap reminds me of our own fires burning. We are living beings, and as such, require fuel. The fuel we burn, like the sap bubbling, is sugar.

Our primary source of sugar comes through complex carbohydrates from whole foods. “Complex” means long chains of sugar or starch molecules in these foods. These long chains could be compared to big logs for our body’s wood stove.

The body stores these big logs — complex chains — in our muscles, like a woodpile. To keep the fire burning at a steady pace, our stoves need smaller pieces of wood. The body must convert long chains into shorter, or “simple” chains — by chopping the big logs into smaller, stove-length pieces.

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