On the Winter Blues

Estimated read time... 4 minutes

Euonymus Europeanus, France

It is February, we’ve had snow here in NYC, bitterly cold days, and some unseasonably warm ones as well.  Needless to say, we are in the deepest depths of winter and some of us are faring better than others.  Even though the days are slowly creeping towards spring, if you are struggling to get through winter, you can support yourself and nurse yourself through the rest of the dark, cold months into the brightness and warmth of spring.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), winter is the Water time of year, the time where our energy comes from the depths of our bodies since the Yin is most predominant (dark, cold, female, heavy) and the Yang is most in retreat (hot, light, male.)  The organ systems associated with Water, in TCM, are the Kidneys and Urinary Bladder.  The taste/flavor that is associated with this time of year is salty. No wonder shellfish taste so exceptional this time of year!  There is nothing like a salty oyster with a fiery shallot mignonette on a winter night.  Nor is there anything like clam chowder on a rainy cold day, or a homemade salty pickle, kimchi or sauerkraut, carrot and ginger soup, I could go on and on about some of the delights of winter foods.  But, you say, I am craving all sorts of sweet foods!  Well, I have a great recipe for you below!

We need more time for rest, have to eat more warming foods to keep our energy up, and take care to keep ourselves warm especially on those minus 10F windchill days!

Some ideas to help propel you into spring:

– Wear a haramaki (belly warmer) around your torso
– Take walks in the sunshine.  Yes, even on those blustery cold days, and especially without SPF.  I like to be in the sunshine until I feel the warmth of the sun, it may take a while on a blustery day, but it will happen.
– Consider a 10,000 lux light box (here is one that I can personally recommend: http://www.alaskanorthernlights.com/specs.php).  A light box has been my personal savior for the past 6 winters, I even use it when it has been raining for several days in a row in the spring and summer.  Read more about light boxes here.
– Try do do as much of your work during the daytime near a window as possible
– Resist the temptation to wear head to toe dark colors – choose brighter colors when you are feeling blue.
– Ensure you are eating high quality food, in appropriate amounts.
– If you are craving something sweet, ask yourself if you’ve been getting enough protein in your diet and enough water.
– Consider taking a vitamin D3 supplement after getting your blood levels checked by your MD.  Many of us are deficient in the winter months in the northern latitudes.
– Consider taking St. John’s Wort or Albizzia mimosa bark/flower tincture, if you are not taking prescription medications (including birth control pills and aspirin.)
– Go do something fun, act like a kid, draw pictures with crayons, dance like nobody’s watching

Here are two of my favorite winter “pick me up” recipes:

Sunny Tea
6 slices fresh ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon (or one cinnamon stick)
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1 pinch saffron threads
2 2″x1/2″ long pieces of grapefruit peel (organic)

Place all but the cardamom and saffron in a pot, cover with 3 cups of water
Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 mins
Turn burner off, add saffron and cardamom to the pot, recover and steep for 10 mins
Strain and add honey to taste

Rice Pilaf with Lamb and Cherries

2.5c. white basmati rice – rinsed in cool water until the water is clear
1lb ground lamb (I am sure you could use another meat, but lamb is very very warming, and is perfect for the winter months and goes beautifully with the cherries)
1 large onion – grated (or put through the food processor to finely chop)
2c dried pitted cherries (preferably sour, but regular bing is fine) – soaked in water overnight, then strained
1tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
salt and pepper “to taste”
1/4c chopped pistachios
fresh mint and parsley
1 pinch saffron
Sesame oil or butter

Combine the lamb, onion, cinnamon, salt and pepper to make a smooth paste.  Roll into meatballs the size of walnuts, bake on a sheetpan in the oven for about 20mins.  Set aside to cool.

Par-boil the rice for 10 mins, strain.

Set a sautee pan on the stovetop.  Add about 2TB of oil/butter to the bottom of the pan, and a small amount of water – heat through and add the saffron.  Turn the heat off.

Then, add 1/3 of the rice to the bottom of the pan.

Place half of the meatballs and 1/3 of the soaked cherries on top of the rice in a single layer.

Cover the meatballs and cherries with half of the rice that is left in your strainer.

Place the remaining meatballs and half of the cherries that are left on top of that rice layer.

Cover the meatballs and cherries with the remaining rice.

Put a tight-fitting lid on the pan, and turn the flame on to simmer.  When the rice is cooked (about 20 mins), place the bottom of the pan in some cold water to release the rice that may have stuck to the sides.  Remove the lid, and very carefully, invert the pan onto a serving dish.  If all goes well, you will have a “rice meatball cake” – with the different layers, and a nice crusty yellow top.

Serve with mint and parsley, the remaining soaked cherries*, and chopped pistachios.

*you can cook the remaining soaked cherries with the soaking liquid and turn them into a syrup/fruit compote if you are inclined to do so!