Brightening The Bleak Midwinter

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fennelFeeding Body And Spirit

This has been a tough winter in some ways, notably for family and dear friends struggling with physical and emotional issues. Several friends are dealing with serious illness and wounding, while others experience deep depression in these dark day. For my 91-and-counting Mom, this may be the last winter, giving each day a bittersweet quality. It may seem simplistic to feel that food can help such dire situations, but of course it can. Beautiful, wholesome, delicious food truly does nourish body and spirit and may even soothe a troubled mind, however briefly.

At this point in my life, I am glad to claim those brief moments of soothing and sweetness wherever they appear. Sharing them makes them even more precious, and I’m delighted to be able to look back on a pleasant meal with family and friends despite otherwise rocky situations. Lovely food, pleasingly presented, can tempt fading appetites and turn around a disappointing day. Thus I find cooking for others to be a high calling and even a sacred trust of sorts. Fortunately, it’s also fun and distracting in the best possible way. Here are some of my favorite recent distractions that found favor with a wide range of dismally distracted dear ones.

Fabulous Fennel

I learned to love fennel as an impoverished student in Italy. Though I never did like the cheesy fennel recipes, both sweet and savory combinations blew me away. Raw fennel with oranges is now old hat, but the first time I tasted them in a salad with cilantro and red onion, I gasped with joy. This velvety soup is a blissful partnership between lightly caramelized leeks and onions, fennel, and creamy potatoes. It gets a remarkable lift from Fennel Flower salt, a sumptuous blend of fennel blossoms and pink Himalayan salt from Viriditas Wild Gardens, a small family business in Days Creek, Oregon. They also make a spectacular Variety Basil salt that transforms pesto, salad dressings, and plain goat cheese, as well as a hauntingly subtle French Tarragon salt that does marvelous things for sliced oranges, grilled fish, and roasted apple rings.

Caramelized Fennel, Leek & Potato Soup

1 tablespoon avocado oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 clove elephant garlic OR 3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups sliced leeks (white and palest green parts only)
2 large bulbs fennel, chopped
3 cups chopped Yukon Gold potatoes
1/4 teaspoon fennel flower salt (or favorite seasoning salt)
1/4 teaspoon grains of paradise or pepper

In a soup pot, combine oil, onion, garlic and salt over medium high heat and cook until soft (6-8 minutes). Add leeks and fennel and cook for 10 minutes (mixture will brown). Add potatoes, cover pan and cook for 10 minutes. Add 6 cups water, cover pan, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer until potatoes are tender (15-20 minutes). Puree with an immersion blender and season to taste with fennel flower salt and grains of paradise or pepper. Serves 4-6.

Best Ever Brussels Sprouts

This dish was the hit of our holiday Open House, pleasing vegans and omnivores alike. Even–maybe especially–those who dislike Brussels sprouts (and sweet potatoes as well) fall for this combination in a big way. Most folks who claim to hate them have usually only experienced badly cooked sprouts (ditto sweet potatoes). For such, these come as a revelation, bright with cranberries and nary a marshmallow in sight.

Indeed, a pound or more of sprouts barely serves 2-3 people fixed this way, because the combination is so addictively more-ish. The key to fabulous roasted sprouts is to trim and halve them, then soak them in cold water for up to an hour before roasting, which keeps them plump and tender instead of dry and corn husk-ish. Avocado oil is another key, bringing rich, buttery flavor and taking high temperatures in stride (olive oils tend to scorch).

Jeweled Brussels Sprouts

1 pound Brussels sprouts
1-2 cups raw cranberries
1 tablespoon avocado oil
1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped (1/2 inch)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Trim and halve sprouts, soak in cold water, drain and pat dry. Rinse and pick over cranberries, drain well. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Pour avocado oil on a rimmed baking sheet and toss sprouts, cranberries and sweet potatoes to coat. Sprinkle with sea salt and roast at 400 degrees F until caramelized and tender (30-35 minutes). Spoon into a dish and toss with a little more oil if the mixture seems dry. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves at least one.

Happy New Year!

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2 Responses to Brightening The Bleak Midwinter

  1. Chiara says:

    Hello! I love your blog here! I just moved here from Toronto to Vancouver. Where are you located? I mainly found you as I am was seeing if anyone had named their gardening company “Viriditas” and if people would know what that means, as I am an avid Hildegaard of Bingen fan: ) I am studying horticulture at U.B.C. Botanical Garden. Would love to visit your garden and/or meet you one day!

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Chiara,

      As you probably figured out, Viriditas is in Oregon, where Hildegard fans abound. I am sure you could arrange a visit if you are down that way!

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