Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Tune with the Seasons

Something dramatic happened to me this year when we moved to day light savings. Up to that point, I was happily cooking, roasting, baking and making salads with the end-of-summer tomatoes, lettuces, and basil. And loving them. I just couldn’t get enough. And then it happened. Like someone threw a switch. I awoke on November 1 changed. I no longer wanted summer veggies. I wanted winter squash: butternut, delicata, kabocha. I wanted that warm mouth feel. The sweet full rich flavor even without maple syrup or brown sugar or butter. And I wanted Brussels sprouts and cranberries and hearty pastas. Baked apples. Bacon. Why this year, I ask myself. Why?

Maybe I have fully absorbed the messages urging me to be ecologically responsible, to eat seasonally and locally to decrease my carbon footprint. It’s true that when I walk to The Patch down the street to buy my fall vegetables, grown on the adjacent land, or stroll into my backyard to pick herbs and apples and watch persimmons, Meyer lemons and navel oranges ripening on the trees, I couldn’t get much more seasonal and local. And my awareness of eating as a political act has been growing for the last couple of years, thanks to Michael Pollan and others.

Or maybe I’ve been frequenting Farmers Markets more regularly and hence have seen the tomatoes dwindling and the squashes increasing week by week. Like the fashion in hems going up and down and up and down, perhaps the visual images of squashes have imprinted themselves on my brain. “You don’t want those old out-of-season tomatoes,” my brain says. “You want a nice juicy butternut.” It is true that over the last few years I have noticed seasonal changes with much more awareness and delight than in the past. Whether it’s asparagus in the spring or pomegranates in the fall.

Or maybe at this time of the year my body is done with acid and needs more carbohydrates to wrap me up for the cold times ahead. Like a bear preparing to hibernate, perhaps I am experiencing an ancient reality that calls for a layer of fat to stave off winter’s scarcity even though mine is not a scarce reality. I won’t freeze; I will have sufficient food. It is true, however, that my body seems to be demanding I eat what is in season. I want squash. I want cooked apples. I want stuff that is coming out of the dirt right now. And I  don’t want tomatoes.

There is an additional and very important piece: maybe my spirit needs these foods. Less and less daylight. More and more darkness. Sunset at 5:00pm today. I find myself a little vulnerable and depressed as I anticipate the cold and rain lasting until March. My spirit shivers in anticipation of the gray gloom of it all. I want comfort. I need comfort food. So I’ve been trying to provide it for myself. For lunch I ate some warm Apple Crisp. For dinner I’m having a pasta dish with Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and bacon. Butternut Squash Soup tomorrow night. These foods give my spirit what it desires most: nourishment, soft mushy warmth, and gentle sweetness.

Perhaps my awareness of the importance of seasonal cooking and eating has been on the increase for some time. Maybe I’ve been moving my way towards this new approach season by season, making all the above speculations accurate to some extent. The dramatic event on November 1, my seasonal epiphany, while stunning, was readying itself for some time. I had simply reached the tipping point. The real insight is this: I don’t just want to eat in tune with the seasons, I need to eat in tune with the seasons. My physical and spiritual well-being demands it.
What about you?


Dante Noto said...

I have recently reconnected with that vestige of the 60s and bane of the new bride: the crockpot. What an absolute treat it is, both as a vehicle for great home-cooked meals for a single guy with not a lot of time for cooking and as a way of reconnecting with winter vegetables and the farmers market!

I've made some wonderful "stews" (or ragouts, to be more uptown about it) that are one better than the other. Here's my latest:

Throw in the pot:
Sweet Italian chicken sausage (uncooked, Trader Joes), in nice little chunks
Potatoes (I used red, yellow and purple, bagged as a mix from TJs)
Sweet potatoes (white and orange, also at TJs)
Turnips, carrots, celery, parsnip, lima beans, and whatever you like
About 10 oz of chicken broth
Salt, pepper, seasoned salt, thyme, what have you

Slow cook for eight hours. When you get home, remove the foodstuff into a bowl. Make a paste of 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 water. Stir directly into liquid mixture in crockpot to make a nice gravy. Return food to pot, coat with gravy, and let warm a bit longer.

Enjoy a wonderful meal and lunch for days!

This is a HUGE step for me and has given me a new outlook at both Trader Joes and the farmers market! And who knew how beautiful a purple potato is?

Anonymous said...

Nice, Katharine. You capsulized (word?, what the heck) how I feel as the hibernation blues approach. I want carbs, sweets, to sit in the last rays of sun. As I eat closer to the earth, I feel more keenly the tug of its biological imperatives. Can't wait to read about Spring!
Linda (next door in NYC)