Heartwarming Winter Meals To Share


Seasonal Sorrow And Kindness

Right now, I’m sad and I’m glad. Sad for our weary, beleaguered world and glad for every glimmer of clarity and light. Do you think sad is bad? In the face of enormous social pressure, I claim my right to seasonal sorrow. Though commercial interests have turned winter into a round of food and gifting holidays, our deep nature knows better. As the light drains away and the shadows gather, lots of people struggle with the slow slide into seasonal sadness that’s as ancient as humanity. If many cultures celebrate(d) the winter solstice with fire and music, feasting and dancing, the surrounding weeks and months were quiet times. For most folks, winters brought restricted travel, reduced social interactions, and more solitary chores of mending and making. Apart from that one cheerful party on the darkest night, the season was reflective rather than rowdy.

At heart, I think many of us are troubled by the relentless cultural insistence on upbeat good cheer, on buying and getting, on gorging and excess. Our spirits need the solemn, meditative winter time to balance the busyness of warmer, lighter seasons. For one thing, solemn doesn’t mean sad; it means serious, whole hearted, sincere, honest, and genuine. Solemn times are times to be honest with ourselves, to look clearly at our daily lives and our cultural assumptions. Solemnity used to be associated with ceremony, something we’re gradually losing as a culture. We don’t have much patience for ceremony anymore, and in some ways, that’s probably all to the good.

Claiming Kindness

These days, we’re apt to find ceremonious manners pretentious and annoying, favoring the casual over the punctiliously civil. Surely that’s a step ahead, since “good manners” have masked judgmental, racist, and sexist behavior for generations, if not millennia. Replacing artificial manners with genuine feeling is very revealing, as we see plainly now. Losing the pretense of civility has exposed more serious issues, as displayed in headlines any day of the week. When civil discourse is replaced by braying cruelty and crude rudeness, it’s definitely time for some serious reflection. Who do we want to be as a people, as a nation among nations?

I for one want to stand up for kindness. Even if good manners are out of favor, kindness shines in a dark and dreary world. Though it’s sometimes harder to see, kindness is as essential to human nature as evil. While people in power are tragically apt to get entrapped in selfishness, greed, and cruelty, an impressive catalog of scientific studies reveal that most people are basically kind. It’s fascinating to learn that heroes generally act first and think later. When natural disasters occur, the same people who spout horrible, disrespectful yap about those they see as “other” may be quick to put their early responder skills to use, courageously saving people from those detested categories. There’s good evidence that when there’s no time to think, we intuitively act with kindness and compassion.

Sharing As Equals

It’s heartening to know that our fastest responses honor our common humanity. Let’s hold on to that, since when we overthink things, situations tend to get complicated, and not in a good way. Acting from the heart lets us bring our full selves to the table, sharing from kindness, not just guilt or compunction. I’m reminded of this when I serve at a community dinner; when I first started volunteering, I cooked and served food cheerfully but stayed in the kitchen like a good introvert. Not until I saw more experienced folks sitting down with our neighbors did I realize that the gift of fellowship was at least as valuable as the food itself. Sharing a meal, sharing conversation, making jokes together, all these small acts build community as they build friendships. Instead of playing Lady Bountiful, we come to the same table and share the same food as equals. It seems so obvious now, but when we live and move within our bubble of comfortable life, it’s easy to use that bubble as insulation and fail to make genuine connections with those who don’t enjoy comfortable means or think differently.

In any season, sharing wholesome, sustaining food and fellowship is one of the more joyful things we can do together. In this season of excess, I especially appreciate the way simple, plant-based food links us to the land and the cycles of nature. Dried beans, for instance, have carried countless families through the cold months for thousands of years. Like millions of people before me, I find hearty winter dishes especially comforting when politics and weather seem equally bleak. Here are some satisfying recipes to share or to savor in meditative solitude. To your health!

A Speedy Stir-Fry

When I’m tired and hungry, this quick dish saves me from snacking on junk. Bright and sassy, simple and savory, it’s also healthy and hearty enough to keep us satiated for hours. Vary the seasoning as you please; use chili powder or curry instead of garlic and lemon, add sliced onion, peppers, or mushrooms, or whatever you fancy.

Sizzling Chickpeas With Kale and Garlic

1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
2-3 plump cloves garlic, chopped
1-1/2 cups (1 can) cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 teaspoon herb salt (or any)
2 cups thinly sliced kale
pinch of smoked paprika
2-3 lemon wedges

Combine oil and garlic over medium high heat in a heavy skillet and cook to the fragrance point (about 1 minute). Add chickpeas and salt and cook, stirring often, until chickpeas are a bit crispy but not burned (8-10 minutes). Add kale, cover pan, reduce heat to low and cook until kale is wilted but still bright green (2-3 minutes). Serve hot with a sprinkle of paprika and a wedge of lemon. Serves at least one.

Irresistible Hummus

More or less the same few ingredients can also be transformed into this silky, snappy hummus. There are so many kinds of hummus out there these days that it’s easy to overlook the real thing. Basic yet bodacious, this quickly made recipe garners lots of wow! comments and vanishes fast. Served with pretty pepper strips and cauliflower florets, it’s about as healthy as party food gets yet tastes festive enough for joyful sharing.

Not So Humble Hummus

1-1/2 cups (1 can) cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2-3 plump cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup tahini (fresh if possible)
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 lemon, juiced, rind grated
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika

In a food processor, puree chickpeas and garlic with a few tablespoons of water to get a very smooth texture (3-4 minutes). Add tahini, salt, and lemon juice to taste, thinning with water as needed. Flavor should be big, bright, and clean. Scoop into a serving bowl, top with oil, smoked paprika, and a little lemon zest. Makes about 2 cups. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.



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Gingerbread And Gingersnaps

Holiday Baking With Littles

I’ve always loved to celebrate special events and times but over the years (ok, fine; decades), my ideas about what makes a holiday delightful have changed a much as I have myself. Though glitz and glitter generally leave me chilly, I must admit that receiving an astonishing surprise birthday cake in triple-toned, puffy frosting with edible glitter on top was kind of a game changer. Really, that amazing cake!

My grandkids (now 5 and nearly 3) love to bake, and we make bread of some kind nearly every week. I’ve developed several kid-proof bread recipes that can take over zealous kneading and pummeling or almost no kneading in stride, and we usually make bread dinosaurs and bread bunnies and bread asteroids as well as lots and lots of cinnamon rolls. However, after reading some favorite books about Scandinavian children’s holiday activities this weekend, they decided we should make gingerbread.

Sculptable Gingerfolk

When my kids were little, I developed a recipe for gingerbread that was sort of like play dough; instead of rolling out flat and using cookie cutters, kids could roll balls of dough for heads and bodies and roll little logs for arms and legs. My original recipe used soft butter, but since my granddaughter is dairy sensitive, I swapped for avocado oil, which has a light but subtly butter flavor. I also use a flour blend, because while using whole wheat pastry flour alone gives cookies a very tender crumb, it tends to make for overly dry baked goods. A half-and-half blend works fine and lends a richer flavor to pretty much anything. I imagine this recipe would also work with a gluten-free flour mix but you’d need to add water carefully to get the right consistency.

Decorations can be made with raisins or currents (smaller, thus better for buttons and eyes) as well as various revolting little hard candies which always look better than they taste. You can of course frost these, glaze them with a brushable mixture of lemon juice and powdered sugar, or eat them plain. Alas, I have not yet brought myself to buy edible glitter but I feel sure the day is coming…

Soft (Vegan!) Gingerbread People

1-3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1-3/4 cups unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon each ground ginger, cinnamon and coriander
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup avocado or any cooking oil
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses

Preheat oven to 350 degree F. Sift dry ingredients together, set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine oil, brown sugar and molasses with 1/4 cup boiling water. Add flour in 3 parts, adding a little more water 1 teaspoon at a time as needed to make a firm dough. Roll into a ball and lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet. Divide dough into 10-12 pieces, then use each piece to shape a ginger-person or snow-person. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes; when done, cookies will feel slightly springy to the touch. Cool on a rack before frosting. Makes 10-12 gingerfolk.

Make It Snappy

Most adults of my acquaintance appreciate those thin, very gingery cookies that need to be rolled out and cut. These ginger cookies are quite snappy and have a lively, even zesty flavor but are made by rolling little dough balls between your palms, which is much easier and less messy. Little bits of crystalized ginger add extra zip and a light dusting of flaked sea salt (optional) makes them brighter still. They freeze beautifully if well wrapped and vanish fast if not.

Gingery Snaps

2 cups unbleached white flour
1-3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup minced crystalized ginger
zest from an organic orange
1/2 teaspoon Malden or any finishing salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Sift dry ingredients together, set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar, then stir in eggs, molasses, vinegar, orange zest and crystalized ginger. Add sifted ingredients and blend well. Roll into small balls (under an inch) and place several inches apart on a rimmed baking sheet (they spread quite a bit). Bake for 10-12 minutes, until set and crinkled on top. Makes about 100 cookies. Serves at least one.



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Giving Thanks For All

A Basket of Chanterelles

Sharing Food Joyfully

In this age of instant media alerts about so much that’s awful in this weary world, I am enjoying an increasing sense of gratitude for all that’s better. In part, it’s because my lovely iphone is having issues, so I’m not using it very much. Instead of checking in many times a day, discovering a zillion things to be shocked or horrified or distressed about, I’m severely limiting media access. Some days, I’m not checking in at all. When I do, I’m making a point of looking for good news about advances in public health, public education, human rights, women in politics, strengthened ecological protections, archaeological and astronomical discoveries, fascinating new research and inventions, amazing young people who are changing their worlds and mine.

Balancing the picture helps me remember that in historic terms, the people of this world have never been as well informed, as interconnected, as aware of better possibilities. This is far from the best of times in many ways, yet it’s also valid to say that for more people than ever, this IS the best of times so far in human history. As we sit down to an enormous and indulgent meal, it’s good to remember those who aren’t so fortunate. Thoughts and good wishes are nice, but we can also make a point of supporting local, regional, national and international feeding programs, not just in the winter holidays but all through the year. It’s also good to remind ourselves of just how very fortunate we are by taking turns talking about the things and people and ideas and events that we ourselves are most grateful for this year.

Eating With Joyful Pleasure

Let me be clear; I am not knocking the Thanksgiving feast, especially when we mostly use local and organically raised ingredients. I love the traditional meal; roast turkey and bread stuffing; mashed potatoes and homemade gravy; cranberry orange sauce and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. I always begged to have it on my birthday (also International Toilet Day, no comment), which falls so close to Thanksgiving that my mom refused to indulge me. Personally, I eat turkey quite often, as organically raised, free range turkey and other poultry is locally available. Indeed, one memorable year, I was picking up a bespoke turkey from a neighbor who sheepishly admitted that the smallest of her happy birds weighed around 75 pounds.

That was one expensive turkey and it barely fit in my large oven. It also took a really, really long time to cook, which threw off the timing of everything else. It was gorgeous but took two people to carry it to the table, where it provoked slightly nervous comments about Hansel and Gretel but fed several dozen diners generously with lots left over. Leftovers are one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving dinner, especially now when our family patterns have changed dramatically. Vegans and vegetarians, the gluten- or dairy- intolerant, and other sensitivities must be accommodated if all are to partake freely and joyfully. Thus I offer you my takes and tweaks on that traditional meal as it has evolved over the years.

Tweaks And Takes

Everyone has a favorite way of treating The Bird, so I’ll just note that rosemary, garlic, and lemon peel can all be tucked under poultry skin or tucked into little breast pockets made with a sharp paring knife. You probably have a favorite way to caramelize onions as well, so I’ll skip right to the next most important items: mashed potatoes and gravy. I am not just bragging when I say that the following recipes are just as popular with dairy eaters as with vegans and the dairy intolerant and it’s wise to make a much bigger batch than you think you’ll need. If there are extras, make potato cakes or top a casserole of layered leftovers with mashed potatoes and some crispy fried onions. The secret ingredient is avocado oil, which has a surprisingly buttery flavor. Garlic is optional of course, but most folks appreciate the extra richness of flavor.

Dairy Free Mashed Potatoes

6 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped (optional)
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
1/4-1/3 cup avocado oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Peel and chop potatoes, cover with cold water, set aside. Bring a soup pot of water to a boil, add drained potatoes, garlic (if using), and half the salt and cook until barely fork tender (12-15 minutes). Drain, reserving the last few cups of cooking liquid (the murky part), and mash or put potatoes through a ricer for a fluffier texture. Thin potatoes as desired with avocado oil and reserved potato cooking water and season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes about 12 cups.

Satisfying Vegan Gravy

Vegetarian gravies can be thin, pathetic things, but this one is bolstered by buttery avocado oil and flaked nutritional yeast, which adds significant protein and offers a salty (though salt-free), nut-like flavor as well. Sliced mushrooms make the gravy bold and savory, adding the deep, umami quality that usually comes from meat. Use your favorite mushrooms or a blend of several kinds, from Portobellos or porcini to apricot-scented chanterelles.

Rich Mushroom Gravy

1/4 cup avocado oil
2 large brown or yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/3 cup flour (any kind that will thicken a sauce)
1/2 cup red wine
4 cups fresh vegetable broth
2-3 teaspoons flaked nutritional yeast
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika (hot or sweet)

In a wide, shallow pan, combine oil, onions, and half the salt over medium high heat and cook until soft (10-15 minutes). Add mushrooms, cover pan, reduce heat to low and cook until wilted (10-15 minutes). Stir in flour and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Add wine and broth a little at a time, stirring to prevent lumps, then simmer until mushrooms are very tender (20-30 minutes). Serve as is or puree with an immersion blender to desired consistency and serve hot. Makes about 5 cups.

Palate Refreshing Salad

This sparkling, briskly flavorful salad provides a pleasing counterpoint to any heavy, rich meal. Vary it as you please, but

Beautiful Winter Salad

1 bulb Florence fennel, finely sliced
1 Cara Cara orange, peeled and chopped
1 Jazz or Opal apple, chopped
4 cups Savoy cabbage, finely chopped
4 cups Napa cabbage, finely shredded
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup stemmed cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped roasted hazelnuts
1 lime, juiced
1-2 teaspoons maple syrup
pinch of kosher or sea salt

In a serving bowl, combine first eight ingredients and season with fresh lime juice, maple syrup and salt to taste. Serves 8-10.

Roasted Cauliflower & Cranberries

1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
2-3 tablespoons avocado or high temperature oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 cups raw cranberries, washed and picked over

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss cauliflower and sweet potato with oil and spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet (or two). Sprinkle with salt and roast for 30 minutes. Stir with a spatula, add cranberries and roast until well caramelized (10-12 minutes). Serves 8-10.

Dairy Free Pumpkin Pie

1 unbaked pie crust (gluten free or any)
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon each cinnamon, coriander and ginger
2 large eggs
2 cups (15-ounce can) cooked pumpkin pulp
12 ounces coconut milk (1 can)
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut curls (Bob’s Red Mill or any)
1/2 cup walnut halves

Line a pie dish with crust, crimp edge, set aside. In a bowl, combine dry ingredients and stir well. Add eggs and stir until foamy. Stir in pumpkin pulp completely, then coconut milk. Spoon into crust, sprinkle with coconut curls and walnuts. Bake at 425 degrees F. for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 and bake until set (40-50 minutes). Let stand for an hour or more before serving.

Vegan Pumpkin Pie

Light and aromatic, this vegan version is more like a cream pie than baked custard and tastes better than you might think.

Creamy Vegan Pumpkin Pie

1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup dark molasses
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon each cinnamon, coriander and ginger
12 ounces silken tofu
1-1/2 cups cooked pumpkin pulp
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pre-baked nut crust (see below)

In a food processor, combine all but crust and puree. Spoon into baked nut crust and chill for at least an hour before serving.

Nut Crust

2 cups almonds or walnuts (or a blend of favorites)
2 tablespoons coconut oil
pinch of kosher or sea salt

In a food processor, grind nuts coarsely. Add remaining ingredients and process briefly to blend well. Pat into a pie dish. Bake at 350 degrees F until golden (20-25 minutes), and cool before filling.


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Cold Chasing Strategies

Salt & Soup

As autumn swirls in with wild winds and soft, woolly fogs, various ill natured bugs arise and spread like gossip. Cold season cruds sweep through families and communities, all too often lingering long past the initial illness. Cover our coughs and wash our hands as we may, we still end up sharing nasty germs that can lay vulnerable people low. Youngsters and oldsters are frequent sufferers, as are those with wonky immune systems. Fortunately, a few solid defenses can help and protect us when illness gets us down.

The first lines of defense are so simple that many people forget about them or don’t think they really help, but two strategies definitely do. For one, stay warm; rhinoviruses flourish in low temperatures and chilled bodies are most susceptible. Next, gargling daily with warm salty water demonstrably reduces the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections. Gargling reduces the discomfort of sore throats and toothaches and can speed healing in both cases. Stir 1/4 teaspoon of flaked sea salt into 2/3 cup of hot tap water, swish some in your mouth, then gargle again and again until the cup is empty, repeating up to four times a day.


Healing Soups & Broths

Centuries of old wives’ folk remedies suggest that chicken soup can help cure a cold and in the past few decades, serious research has proved the wise women right. Turns out that inhaling the steam from a bowl of hot chicken soup can improve our nasal mucus velocity; thinner, faster draining mucus helps flush the system of the rhinovirus that’s making you sick. As well, chicken contains carnosine, a potent anti-inflammatory that slows down growth in viruses and other infections. Other common soup ingredients are also anti-inflammatory, notably onions, garlic, and ginger, all of which can make vegan soups effective flu fighters as well.

The best broths make for the best soups, so I always make my own. It’s not a difficult or time consuming process (simmering time doesn’t really count) and the result is light and fresh, full bodied without tasting greasy, clear instead of murky. Most of the time my broths are made with the scraps and trimmings of whatever I’m making, as in the chicken soup recipe below. If I’m not making soup, I bag up and freeze vegetable trimmings and scraps or make and freeze broth by the quart. I date and label the containers with permanent marker on blue painters’ tape to prevent awkward surprises (thawing chicken broth for vegans, f’rinstance).

Granny’s Super Soups

My favorite broth packs a nutritional wallop and you can feel your body gratefully taking in the powerful healing agents. I drink it by the cupful, but if it’s stronger than you like, add a little hot water or use it in soup, where bold broth is a bonus.

Garlic Ginger Broth

1 large head garlic, chopped (peel and all)
1/2 cup chopped ginger root (peel and all)
1 large white onion, coarsely chopped, plus skins
2 cups coarsely chopped celery with greens
1 cup finely chopped carrot
1 teaspoon sea salt

Combine all ingredients with 6 cups water, bring to a boil, reduce heat to very low and simmer for 30 minutes. Cover pan, remove from heat and let stand for 30 minutes. Strain into a bowl, pressing gently on vegetables to release fluid but not hard enough to make broth murky. Makes 4-5 cups. Drink warm, use in soup, or freeze.

Vegan Bliss

Mellow with sweet potatoes and bright with cranberries, this snappy vegan soup is powered by four members of the onion clan, all effective antioxidants. Extra oomph comes from fresh ginger and the garlic-infused broth, though you can always substitute your favorite broth if you prefer.

Vegan Garlic Soup

1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
1 large white onion, peeled and thinly sliced
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 inches ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 leeks, thinly sliced (white and palest green parts only)
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced, with any greens
1 quart Garlic Ginger Broth (or any you like)
1 large sweet potato, coarsely grated
1 cup raw cranberries
2 green onions, thinly sliced

In a soup pot, combine oil, onion, garlic, ginger and salt over medium high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, to the fragrance point (about 1 minute). Add leeks and celery and cook, stirring for 5 minutes. Add broth, bring to a simmer, add sweet potato and cranberries and simmer for 10-15 minutes. minutes. Serve hot, garnished with green onions. Makes 5-6 cups.

Granny’s Chicken Soup

How can something so good for you it’s practically medicinal taste so good? This stout hearted chicken soup is both soothing and satisfying any time, but especially when something ails you. I make it for myself and friends when we’re sick or stressed out, tired or ill or grieving. You can swap short grain brown rice or noodles for the potatoes (though they give this soup a pleasantly earthy, comforting quality). For a speedy version, use cooked chicken and ready-made broth (your own or not) and eat in minutes.

Chicken & Garlic Soup

1 organic chicken, rinsed inside and out
1 large lemon
1 large head garlic
1 large white onion
4 stalks celery
2-3 inches ginger root
2 carrots
2 large yellow skin potatoes
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
1 inch turmeric root
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon smoked hot paprika

In a stock pot, cover chicken with cold water. As you peel and trim vegetables, add all trimmings to the stock pot, including outer skins of garlic, onion, carrots and potatoes. Add half the salt, bring to a boil, cover pan, reduce heat to low and simmer until thermometer inserted in chicken registers 165 degrees F (40-60 minutes; lift chicken breast above simmering broth with a long fork before taking its temp). Meanwhile, finely grate lemon rind, set aside. Chop peeled garlic cloves, onion, celery and ginger root, set aside. Coarsely grate carrot, set aside. Dice potato in 1/2 inch pieces, set aside. Finely grate turmeric, set aside. In a soup pot, combine oil with lemon zest, chopped garlic, onion, celery and ginger over medium high heat, sprinkle with remaining salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft. Add carrots, potatoes, and turmeric and stir to coat. Cover pan, reduce heat to medium and sweat vegetables for 5-10 minutes, shaking pan to prevent sticking. Add water to barely cover, bring to a simmer and simmer until chicken is done. Strain broth from chicken into a bowl, set aside. When chicken is cool enough to handle, shred the meat and add to the soup pot, along with a quart of the strained stock (freeze or refrigerate the rest). Juice lemon and add to taste, along with pepper and paprika. Makes about 2 quarts.

May you and yours be well!

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