I have to tell you something a little silly, but it seems the right time, now that we’ve walked through the wardrobe into the off-season of the Vineyard. (Not quite Narnia, but certainly magical – and a bit otherworldly this year.) And now that my gratitude for living in this place year-round has grown so big I really can’t get my arms around it.

So this is the silly thing: my job here at the Vineyard Gazette Media Group is to be cheery. Seriously. I work for both the magazine – writing this column, editing cookthevineyard.com, and producing the Martha’s Vineyard Island Guide – and the newspaper – editing The Vine and writing about food and farming from time to time. I’m a writer and an editor, not a hard news reporter, and I stubbornly refuse to write about anything I don’t absolutely love.

Subsequently, when the pandemic hit in March, the paper asked me to jump in earlier in the year than I normally would and write about, well, anything other than the pandemic. The reporters had all quickly pivoted to cover Covid, and lest the paper be overwhelmed by pandemicity, someone had to write about normal, everyday stuff. Clearly, I was elected rodeo clown. And that was just fine with me. I wrote about how to cook from the pantry, about starting a vegetable garden, about flowers and chocolate, about farm stands and baby animals. Shameless.

All this is a long way of saying that I don’t ever intend to stop doing this, not here, and especially not now. I will always look for comfort and beauty and joy to write about, because I have to.

While I can stand the social distancing and the mask wearing, knowing it’s the right thing to do, I can’t endure life without good food, without a vase of fresh flowers on the dining room table, without the morning light that streams into the breakfast room, finding a spot on the floor where the dog lies, basking. Building a fire, curling up in the needs-to-be-reupholstered armchair with a good book, taking a trail walk on a cold blue-sky day – these are things I must do.

One of the greatest pleasures I know this time of year is spending a few hours in the kitchen making a beef stew, especially on one of those days when the weather gives us permission to stay inside. I love the creative act of making the stew, as it completely distracts me from the noise in my head. I even like gathering the ingredients – bacon and mushrooms from an Island farm, a nice piece of chuck roast from Cronig’s Market in Vineyard Haven, herbs from the garden, wine from friends. I like hauling my cherry-red enameled cast iron pot up from the basement. Once the pot goes in the oven, I love the way the house smells all afternoon, the aromas intensifying as the sauce reduces. Knowing that dinner is now cooking itself, I revel in a bit of found time, puttering around the house doing mundane chores such as watering the house plants and organizing my collection of cookbooks.

And sitting down to eat the stew with my pod is intensely gratifying. It’s hard to compare the depth of flavor of a long-cooked meat dish to just about anything else. In reality, my stews are not really stews, at least not in the brothy sense. Mine are the happy marriage of an Italian ragù and a French daube; both tomatoes and red wine are welcomed, cured pork and mushrooms must both be present in some form, and the final dish must be thick and rich – just as easily served on rigatoni as on mashed potatoes or polenta. A garnish of Parmigiano-Reggiano carries over from a traditional Neapolitan meat ragù, and a smattering of steamed fresh peas is a sweet contrast to the salty and tangy flavors in the dish – and a reminder that a ragù is just as satisfying on a cool spring night as it is in the dead of winter.

After all, the important thing is not when you make the stew, just that you do it – if it is something you will find pleasure in. I mentioned that armload of gratitude I have, and most of that is all about opportunity: the chance I’ve been given to live on this beautiful Island, to walk on the beach or on a path through the woods any time I like, to have access to healthy, locally grown food at farm stands and markets within a few miles of where I live. To live in a place that honors cooking and gardening, fishing and farming; to have a life that allows time for taking advantage of these things, pandemic or not. Living on the Vineyard in the off-season can be hard (and decidedly short on daylight), but there are reams of ways to find comfort and joy and making stew (or ragù) is just one of them. The rest I leave up to you.