Heartwarming Winter Meals To Share

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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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