Ah, winter. Here you are. Added to our COVID cabin fever, we now face, well, the usual cabin fever on TOP of the new/old one. We're all somehow together in our isolation, though, sharing survival tips for the cold and quiet days.
Here are a few of my favorite strategies:
1) Enjoying big goblets of bold red wines.
2) Comfort foods. Recently, I've become a serious student of comfort foods, revisiting some of my favorite recipes and seeking out new ones. What exactly makes a food a comfort food? Certainly we all seek out foods which take us to fond places in the past, favorite childhood suppers or winter dinners with friends. Food has such strong emotional elements, keeping us connected to other people and times.
Here are a few of the other elements and ingredients which I've noticed seem to be most prevalent among our family's favorite winter comfort foods:
-Root vegetables. Just about every recipe seems to start with chopping onions, and many start with pans of lusciously sweet roasted root vegetables such as carrots, beets, potatoes, radishes. These underground wonders of energy storage are their own little lessons in hibernation, storing starch, fiber, and nutrients in vibrant and friendly packaging. Herbs such as rosemary and thyme make excellent root vegetable companions.
Some of my favorite root vegetable dishes include beet salads, including one I made recently with goat cheese and arugula, and potatoes with fennel.
Other vegetables which seem to often hit high on the comfort food barometer include all kinds of squashes and cabbages. It's hard not to feel better when a crock of squash soup or big saucepan of red cabbage is simmering.
-Cheese. Cream. Yup. 'Tis the season of macaroni and cheese, of vegetable gratins, of cream of mushroom soup (tonight I really enjoyed the Pioneer Woman's recipe). This time of the year, more than any other, I keep lots of wonderful melty cheeses on hand: Gruyère, Fontina, Parm.
-Ghee and Indian Spices. I'm definitely a sucker for these. I find that substituting ghee for olive oil when sautéing vegetables or enlivening spices can add real warmth to a recipe. For a long time, several of my favorite comfort foods have been varieties of daal--a variety of Indian lentil side dishes. So satisfying!
-Food in Bowls. Lately, it seems like I'm serving just about every one of my daily meals in a big ol' bowl. Why is it that bowls and spoons seem so comforting? I've become obsessed with Gordon Ramsay's scrambled eggs technique, and I love crawling back into bed in the morning with a bowl of these silky soft eggs, topped with a bit of cheddar cheese. Lunches are often soups or grain bowls, and lots of suppers--pastas, stews, curries--are ladled and tucked into big bowls, too. It's fun to curl around food.
-Umami. Much has been made of this soul-satisfying savory element in foods, and for good reason. It really is quite amazing what dimensions umami-rich foods such as Parmesan, mushrooms, balsamic vinegar, sauerkraut, and soy sauce add to a winter comfort-food diet. Of all the comfort foods I've cooked this month, the one which actually made both Carl and me crave more and more and more the most was a twist on a ginger ramen recipe I found on Epicurious. It's a simple and pleasurable recipe base, to which I added bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, carrot matchsticks, and garlic-marinated shrimp. We drizzled Asian chili oil over our bowls of the elevated ramen noodles, and could simply not get enough of it. I love food experiences like this!
So cheers to the comfort brought our way during our cold and quiet seasons, by our wines, foods, and loved ones. Together, we'll make it through.