Saturday, January 03, 2009

Preserving the Seasons: January, Week 1

When the holidays have finally passed and been tucked away in tissue-paper-lined boxes, I am more than happy to return to whatever semblance of a routine I may have had before the whirlwind of December began.

January always seems to me to be the time to take a deep breath and to relax, doing away with the frills and furbelows that round out the year, and reaching for the cozy simplicity of comfort foods. It's a time for a fresh start, with new dreams and new plans, and I usually begin the year with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

When January arrives, however, it also brings a cold hard reality check in its wake. Though the truly cold weather made its first appearance before winter officially arrived a couple weeks ago, up until January 1, recurring warm spells and the bustle of the holidays kept us from worrying too much about the weather.

No more. With the end of our holiday revels, we look out the window and find a world deprived of color: heavy gray skies bearing snow and ice, faded grass, bleached fields, and barren trees. Some days, of course, sparkle in the brilliant light of rare sunshine, blue skies, and new-fallen snow. But mostly, here in northern Ohio, the frigid wind chills of January slice us to the bone and cause us to dream of tropical getaways -- or at least a 50-degree day when a brave soul might just venture outside without a coat.

Usually by mid-month, winter will relent and offer us a quick, heady sip of spring. For one, maybe two days, air and soil both warm, filling the senses with the rich smell of earth. Gardeners feel their fingers twitch, eager to plant a few seeds yet knowing that the worst is yet to come, and so we clutch our seed catalogs, resisting the temptation to head outside and dig. And soon enough, the temperatures fall again, the ground re-freezes, and we bundle up once more with a heavy sigh, returning to semi-hibernation in our centrally-heated caves.

It's a difficult time to be a faithful locavore. In most northern cities and towns, farmers' markets rarely stay open past December (if that), and many farm stands and orchards have closed after the holidays. (After all, they need a break, too!)

The limits of fresh, local, seasonal produce become readily apparent to those people not living in California or Florida, since most of the local produce available by now consists of starchy, often high-glycemic foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, apples, and root vegetables, with the occasional cabbage or dark leafy green vegetable. Beyond that, though, you're either dependent on the food you preserved throughout the summer and fall, or you grit your teeth and accept that not everything on your plate originated in your own foodshed.

And that's okay!

Surprised? Think about it: unless you're an absolutist when it comes to local eating, you're already using food and ingredients that have traveled long distances. Many of these items, like spices, tea, coffee, and olive oil, are long-time staples of food trade, frequently and (comparatively) inexpensively shipped around the world. These goods add variety to our homegrown or locally-harvested meals, helping us stave off the boredom that can come with monotonous winter menus.

The other incentive to bend on local-eating "rules" in the winter depends on your health. Lacking a well-stocked pantry or freezer, your body will likely end up craving nutrients that are easily supplied by fresh produce from far away. And in this case, variety is not only the spice of life but the essence of health!

Nutritional guidelines exhort us to eat a selection of different fruits and vegetables each day in order to cover the spectrum of vitamins and minerals our bodies need. If that means that not only a locally-grown apple but also a well-traveled orange is what you need to keep the doctor away, so be it.

We can, however, find other ways to boost our nutritional intake. A handful of recently published books, especially Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, tout the health benefits of fermenting foods. Even some of your boring winter produce can become satisfying, health-giving supplements to the usual winter comfort food.

The snow hasn't yet piled up outside my door, but it will. I'm already starting to eat from my pantry and freezer, and yes, I'm already starting to miss fresh salads and greens. But I'm hoping to try some new things (and some familiar things) this month to liven up my menus and to keep me healthy in the face of cold and flu season.

It's a new year, time to try something new. Join me!

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At 1/05/2009 3:27 PM, Anonymous Janet said...

I've already been into my frozen goods...but still have one CSA turnip in the crisper drawer! I'll get to it before it rots, though. :)

At 1/05/2009 3:38 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

I just broke into my cooler full of potatoes over the weekend. They're starting to sprout, but at least they're still solid and taste good. And I've got LOTS of garlic left, surprisingly... might need to roast some soon. :-)

Don't feel bad, Janet, I'm already working through the freezer, AND the canned goods. Figured I'd better get started!

At 1/05/2009 4:08 PM, Blogger Tara said...

I was thrilled to stumble across four extra bags of soup made with CSA produce when I was shifting things around in the freezer this weekend.
I'm not sure if it's "cool" to say this or not, but I'm going to do it anyway: I've known many people with an interest in local and organic foods that come off as, well, food snobs. I'd like to hope they don't mean to sound that way. I love your attitude about doing the best you can, encouraging others who are at a different point in the journey and remaining very accessible. It's refreshing and inspiring and makes me look forward to reading your blog.

At 1/06/2009 7:09 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Great find, Tara! :-)

I remember reading somewhere this fall (maybe in In Defense of Food?) that food is an area that we've made a morality play. We've labeled some things bad and some good, and we judge people on whether they choose good or "evil." (Yeah, even me. I try to catch myself!)

I try to remember that food is about nourishing our bodies (and our souls), and that all our bodies are different, so our needs and desires will be different. So my saying that this particular food or way of eating is right for me does NOT necessarily mean that I can apply that to other people -- whether for physical, spiritual, moral, economic, environmental, or any other reasons.

Would I like to see more people eat more healthy food? Sure! Would I like to see our food system turned into something that offers nothing but healthy, nourishing food to everyone at a reasonable cost? Absolutely! Do I have my own ideas about how that should happen? You betcha. ;-) But I'll try not to go overboard!

I'd rather set the table and invite people in -- and I hope you'll all keep me honest about that! :-)


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