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Posts Tagged ‘winter’

March is a fickle friend, isn’t it? On my birthday in 2007, we had a blizzard that left us buried under 18″ of snow. Way back in 1991, I recall it being 67 degrees on my birthday. This year? We had temps in the 40’s, plenty of warm sunshine and slush covering the ground as we made our way out for my celebratory dinner. March, the month that supposedly comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, rarely seems to be able to make up it’s mind as to what it hands us. It’s the month where we officially hang up Winter, and turn to Spring, eyeing our wardrobe and wishing for the right weather to break out the lighter side of ourselves.

With the stretch of days drenched in gorgeous sunshine, and me fingering the short sleeve shirts in longing, there came yet another craving I haven’t known in some time, perhaps a harbinger of the changing season. It was the desire to not only shed the weight of winter clothing but the heavy and comforting draw of it’s food as well, replacing it with those that snap and crunch in their remarkable shades of green. I really wanted a salad.

Likely spurred on by the current issue of Saveur magazine, and it’s ode to the chopped salad- just in time for Spring!- I took one long glance at the Cobb Salad pictured and my mind high-fived my stomach, both in hearty agreement that it was indeed necessary to create. Right away.

The Cobb Salad was named for Robert L. Cobb, credited with inventing it at his famed Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles in 1937, and made up of chicken, bacon, avocado, blue cheese crumbles, tomato, hard cooked egg, chive, watercress, romaine and iceberg lettuces. It’s now a standard on so many menus, often in a wide array of options, most of them a far cry from the original version.

This time of year I tend to get a lot of food fatigue, and indecision about what my body is needing to eat. I’m tired of winter and it’s stews and braises, of it’s root vegetables and tubers, the lack of fresh options and choices. I want to wash the mittens, hats and scarves and then pack them away. I crave berries and peaches, bare skin and white wine. I am beginning to paw through the Spring clothes in my closet, wishing for the warmth to wear just one item, especially those bought on sale last Fall, many with price tags still attached. I think about pedicures and exposing my toes again. I yearn for the Markets to open, bearing tables of new potatoes, spring peas and the first tender bunches of spinach. The buckets of lettuce soon follow, overflowing in green, and mine for just a few dollars. Seed catalogs tempt me. I want summer foods, long warm twilights sipping rosé, a simple sheet thrown over me at night.

So the salad craving was not a surprise, nor pushed aside, even though the greens came from the store and lacked the flavor of the earth. I splurged on good Nueske’s bacon and burned some aromatic candles to freshen the house. Next time Nueske’s and I meet, it likely will be high summer, alongside crimson orbs of fresh garden tomato.

The salad served me well, filling the need for somewhat lighter fare, yet hearty enough to stick with me through the afternoon hours. The bacon doesn’t exactly make this the healthiest option, but it works for an occasional treat, and the mix of flavors just seems to work. I can’t say why the tang of blue cheese, smoky bacon, moist chicken and creamy avocado make for such a pleasing plate of flavor, maybe it’s the carnival of tastes going on at once, a culinary samba that relentlessly entertains your mouth. I sure know that I need waking up from the snow, hearty foods and sweaters, my metaphor of winter. My tastebuds seem to as well. Here’s to more salad, and increasing temperatures, all things Spring and sunshine.

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This time of year it isn’t unusual to find the long winter shadows start to appear around early afternoon. With the swift approach of the Solstice, the darkness seems almost interminable. But the nice thought is, after Monday, the days grow progressively longer. And Spring will be three months away.

Are you one of those, at least those of us in the grasp of a northern hemisphere Winter, that feel the night descend so hard that the 7:00pm darkness can often feel like midnight? Like we need to be going to bed instead of finishing up the dinner dishes and thinking about how to manage the evening ahead? We’ve been plagued with that quite a bit at our house. And I’m never sure how to get past it except to just roll with the changing light and keep in mind that the tilt of the Earth always brings us back to warmer weather, dripping eaves and bare brown patches that miraculously change into green again. And up until recently, I never considered actually embracing that darkness. It was always about trying to get away from it. Then I read this essay by Jeanette Winterson. And I read it again. It struck a chord in me and suddenly the coming darkness that evening didn’t seem so daunting.

Winterson’s essay is all about the enjoyment of darkness for many things considered normal in our lives. She speaks eloquently of the effect of the night on love, cooking, thinking, creativity and all manner of human purpose. Most of it I’ve never considered at all, especially the cooking aspect, at least not in the way that she explains it.

She talks about how our culture has phased out the night, treating it more like failed daylight than a time of slowness and silence, which she urges us to acknowledge as a correction of the day. I especially loved how she talked about the slim hour of time where the day and night meet, where the darkness slowly envelops the light.

City or country, that sundown hour is strange and exhilarating, as ordinary spatial relations are altered: trees rear up in their own shadows, buildings bulk out, pavements stretch forward, the red wrapper of brake lights turns a road into a lava flow.”

In the wintertime, this twilight, or “blue time”, as a friend of mine has coined, is my absolute favorite moment of the otherwise dark and chill that surrounds it.  It’s perfect for reflection, a cup of tea and the rather soothing way that the shadows turn the snow from white to opal to purple and then finally to the deepest blue-black of a December night.

Sometimes, if we’re lucky enough to lift our eyes to the sky, we can be rewarded with sunsets like this:

Which, to my utmost surprise on this particular evening, not only painted the western horizon in this creative and colorful light, but tossed pastel tinted clouds all over the eastern sky as well….

And the sight of it all nearly gave me whiplash as I spun back and forth trying to catch the prime moments happening on both sides of me. With this kind of beauty ushering in our winter darkness, it almost seems a shame to turn on the lights and chase away the winter night. But that’s what we do. Most of the time anyway. For one night, while the guys were gone, I decided to defy that urge and do what Winterson suggests. Sit among the dark, with a fire and candles, and relax in the moment. I actually looked forward to the hours ahead. But I cheated just a little in terms of light though, loving the twinkling look of this bakers rack that resides in the corner of our kitchen.

Fortified after an intense outing on my cross country skis, I made sure that a simple dinner was on hand. A baked sweet potato and a cabbage salad seemed perfect for a solitary night with a few candles and the fireplace. I wished the evening was temperate enough to be out at the fire pit, enjoying the crackling of a true wood fire. Our gas fireplace as all the ambiance of watching a bunsen burner, but the warmth it puts out left the room cozy and comforting. The cats settled on the sofa with me, the contentment seemingly catchy. The flickering candles had a soothing effect on my thoughts, and I found that I had no urge to push through the hours until I could go to bed. It was a nice surprise to find that I really was enjoying myself. With 2010 bearing down on me, and a less than stellar 2009 fading in the rearview mirror, I welcomed the opportunity to reflect and look forward to starting something new again. I enjoyed my simple meal, and more importantly, my own solitary thoughts. I likely will repeat this in the coming months. Anything to break up the monotony of those long, dark hours. I hope it instills in me a new appreciation of these inevitable winter months.

“Food, fire, walks, dreams, cold, sleep, love, slowness, time, quiet, books, seasons – all these things, which are not really things, but moments of life – take on a different quality at night-time, where the moon reflects the light of the sun, and we have time to reflect what life is to us, knowing that it passes, and that every bit of it, in its change and its difference, is the here and now of what we have. Life is too short to be all daylight. Night is not less; it’s more.”

And it was more, for one night anyway.

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I almost feel cheated waking up to a fresh snowfall. After all, watching it come down is the best part.

But then again, I finally got to see this.

And making this trail made my day much better.

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It came on as ferociously as promised and effectively shut down a large portion of the state. What a great metaphor, if you choose to see it that way. The Christmas crazies have taken hold and yet, no matter what your plan, be it a holiday party, a shopping trip, weekly youth group meetings or even dinner out, Mother Nature said ‘Not a chance, bud’ and forced us to stay in, stay warm and just sit, quiet and calmly, during what amounts to some of the nuttiest days of the year. The snow swirled around us, the wind howled and we took a small step away from the frantic pre-holiday race. Honestly, should we be forced to do this every year, I wouldn’t be one to complain.

After a few days of relative inactivity, I bundled myself up to take a chilly hike, ever aware of the need to move, to get the blood flowing and to whittle away not only the pesky excess on the body, but the loud and clamoring voices in my head that I often can’t shut off. I also wanted to see the winter landscape, to find the moments of clarity that come from a fresh snowfall when the hushed silence around us is marked only by the squeak of your boots. I needed the cold, and the cardio output. It helped immensely.

Christmas is having a hard time reaching me this year. Not particularly sure why, but given that the last 12 months have been challenging, it would suffice to say that getting festive may be the last thing on my mind. But a part of me wants to drench myself in the spirit, hauling out the decorations in an attempt to impress my mind with the full blown effects of the holiday. There is still plenty to be happy and excited about this season. We are in high anticipation of a new member imminently joining the already large clan on Mike’s side. This Christmas will be more beautiful when sharing it with someone so brand new and perfect, a simple reminder of the true reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place. Fresh promise. New hope. I should be eagerly awaiting the end of December, the turn of a new calendar page, a fresh start to another 12 month saga. I should, really. And I am. But every year is the same; I fight the despicable commercialism of Christmas, the vapid holiday music that is everywhere, and the rush, rush, rush of everyone thinking that somehow there is perfection wrapped in a package, tied up in a bow. One year when I was in college, my cousin took a trip to Europe over Christmas. I remember thinking she was crazy to go away that time of year, but now, looking back, I almost wish I could do just that. Part of me wants to just jump from here to the 31st.

My kitchen repertoire during this quick cold snap turned towards the warm and comfort angle- thick soups, pastas, a delicious meatloaf. It’s a return to the familiar, like the chill wind outside. I don’t complain about cold. It’s inevitable here in Minnesota. Dress warm, keep moving. You’ll be fine. Filling tummies with comfort and warmth is just another step in the process.

This golden and fragrant Spiced Quinoa made it’s way to our table on a dragging Friday, the end of another long week. With the warming spices of cumin and ginger- easily my favorite duo in the kitchen-  the quinoa was rich in flavor, soothing to look at and warm in the belly. It easily took us from busy day to quiet evening, where all I wanted was my couch, my PJ’s and a good movie to engage my mind. It smelled fabulous. And for those frantic days ahead, this could be the easiest and least demading thing you put your energy towards. I spent more time measuring out the spices than doing anything else.

Spiced Quinoa
from the Taste for Life test kitchens

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 t. each ground ginger, cumin, coriander and turmeric
1 c. quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 c. boiling water
Fresh cilantro or mint, if desired

In a medium saucepan, warm the oil and brown the spices for several minutes, stirring frequently. Add the quinoa and stir to coat with the spices. Pour in the boiling water, make sure it’s simmering and then reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot and allow to simmer, undisturbed, until the water is fully absorbed and little holes appear on the top of the quinoa. Gently pull back the grain to check for any remaining liquid but do not stir. When all the liquid is absorbed, turn off the heat and allow the pan to sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Fluff grain with a fork before serving, and top with fresh cilantro or mint if desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

KATE’S NOTES:
It’s imperative NOT to stir quinoa when it is cooking. Like rice, it will get mushy if disturbed in the cooking process. One cup of the grain cooks in about 15 minutes or so at a gentle simmer. Quinoa is a perfect alternative to a rice side dish. We topped this option with chopped pepitas (pumpkin seeds). Soy nuts are also good with it, as are chopped almonds or cashews.

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This amazing Stollen recipe that I’m posting has been made possible by the good folks who created Facebook and the hundred bajillion people who have made it the most popular (and fun) social networking site available.

Here’s the Stollen to keep you interested while I regale you with my tale of adoration. For the bread…… this love is about the bread, folks.

stollen-003

My love affair with Stollen started at the artisan bakery where I was employed in the office for five years. Every Christmas there would be Stollen, which I coveted heavily. It was rich and buttery, coated with dusty powdered sugar and full of sweet chewy fruit.  After the chocolate cherry bread that was made there, I loved the Stollen the most and would look forward at Christmas to having a loaf or two of it to enjoy. It’s been one item sorely missed since departing that job, and that was almost seven years ago now. That’s a long time to miss bread, but that job introduced me to some of the most stellar breads I have ever had, and cemented a lifelong love affair with those yeasty fragrant loaves. I could never do low-carb; bread is like oxygen to me.

I was able though, through the magic of Facebook friends, to ask my former boss if the bakery was making Stollen this year, as it seemed all I could think about was the sweetness of that bread. He told me it was available at a local gourmet grocery store so I made a trip to find out and came across one gorgeous loaf that was stamped with a $12.00 price tag.

Um, no. And I mean a big ol’   ‘Oh HECK no!’

Even my coveted Stollen was not worthy enough of that amount. Not in these lean financial days. I knew in my culinary mind that I could probably make half a dozen loaves for less than the cost of one of those in that store.

Back home, full of sad face about Stollen, I set about making a pan of Scotcheroos for a party that night and again, with Facebook, I posted a status about wishing I could make Stollen instead and lo and behold, the very next day came a message from one of my distant FB friends (through the magic of networking) with an authentic German Stollen recipe from her grandmother, who brought it with her when she came to this country from Frankfurt.

By this point, I think I can’t get any more crazy about Facebook. There’s a tight community of food bloggers there and not only has it allowed me to reconnect with almost all of my old high school friends, some whom I haven’t spoken to in 20 years or more,  it’s given me a lot of new connections, mostly through food lovers, that have led me to some pretty amazing finds. Like Stollen.

stollen-005

The message and recipe couldn’t have come at a more opportune time as a major winter storm descended on Minnesota yesterday, and there was little to do but hang tight in the domicile and do something to keep busy. I took my cross country skis out in the morning to the convenience store and, much to my surprise, found candied cherries there, but no yeast. Mike was gracious enough to brave the snowy roads to the grocer to get my needed ingredient- bless his kind heart.  So I made Stollen and watched the snow come down, down, down. By dinnertime there were three glistening loaves on the countertop,  my mouth was in the throes of sweet carb overload and there was a thick fresh layer of glorious winter white over everything in sight.

And for this very first official day of Winter ’08-’09, it was a terrific way to start.

(jump for recipe)

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