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It’s not the (lack of) heat, it’s the humidity

Andrea Macko, Dishing It Out

Don’t tell my husband, but I really wish it would snow!

He’s our resident snow-shoveller and has come to despise the fluffy white stuff, and rightfully so. But as much as I appreciate the esthetics of a fresh snowfall, I love snow for a vastly different reason.

If given the choice between plus 5 degrees and rain, or minus 5 and snow, I’ll take the negative every time: that positive feels downright negative thanks to dampness. Forget the cold: humidity is the condition that goes right through me. I think of it as a reverse humidex factor: instead of feeling hotter on humid summer days, I’m colder on dreary days… and it sure feels like we’ve had a lot of them lately.

If I’m stuck in one place — say, at the computer, writing a column — in cold, damp weather, it’s likely that my feet and fingertips will go numb. And while I wouldn’t dare remove my slippers and socks to check my toes, I can tell you that my fingers will also look eerily white or blue, as if the blood has made a run back to my heart in the hopes of finding warmth.

I visited the doctor during a particularly numb winter a few years back to quell my fears of amputation. Turns out I suffer from Raynaud’s Disease: the arteries in my extremities narrow when I’m cold or stressed. There’s no real cause for it, although it tends to be common in young women (webmd.com’s words, not mine) and those who frequently get migraines. Raynaud’s can also occur as a symptom in those who have a vascular disease or eating disorder, for example, and can develop in workers whose jobs involve a lot of vibration, such as construction.

But for more people than you’d think, the condition is more of a nuisance than a disability, says the Mayo Clinic’s website. If it’s not treated immediately, skin ulcers and gangrene can occur, but provided that you warm the area gently and slowly via movement or gradual heat — much like treating frostbite — you’ll survive unscathed. Sticking your hands in your armpits provides great relief, as is holding a warm beverage.

Unsurprisingly, the best prevention is to stay warm in the first place. Wool and technical fabrics like polar fleece are good choices for heat-seekers, and layer clothes in order to trap your body’s warmth. Stay away from cotton as the material doesn’t wick moisture, something I find especially noticeable with socks. Keeping your neck covered can do wonders, and I’ve learned that there’s no shame in wearing a stylish, warm hat while indoors if it means I’ll be able to feel my fingers.

Will the weather cooperate this winter, however, to keep our extremities nice and toasty? As you might predict, forecasts are all over the map. The Canadian Farmer’s Almanac, based on its “unbiased mathematical and astronomical formula” says that Eastern Canada will see plenty of cold and snow. Environment Canada, in its current three-month forecast, foresees warmer and possibly wetter for this region – although the agency admits that it’s only been half accurate on temperatures, and much less so on precipitation. The Weather Network is the most specific, saying that Toronto (the nearest city for which the forecast is given) will be near normal on temperature and precipitation, with normal being a high of -1°C and roughly 150 mm of precipitation – 15 cm of snow. Of course, all bets are off here in the snow belt!

What else can warm your toes? A stiff drink is traditionally believed to do the trick: there will still be a few glasses’ worth left in the bottle after trying this decadent treat!

Chocolate Red Wine Cake
(From Colchester Ridge Estate Winery)

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup dry red wine
Icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan. In a bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt together.
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat each until incorporated. Add vanilla and beat for two minutes longer. Alternately fold in dry ingredients and wine, just until incorporated.

Scrape batter into pan and bake for 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and let cool completely before dusting with icing sugar.

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