Embracing Seasonality Part II: Winter Kale Salad with Blood Oranges & A Pomegranate Vinaigrette + Thoughts on Winter

Winter can be a rather bleak affair. When you’re in the thick of it, it feels like there is no escape; homes dimly lit by the winter sun and cold that envelops your whole body. If I’m honest I would rather be transported to a warmer climate, maybe sitting on the beach enjoying a summer salad and some fresh seafood too. I don’t much care for winter, I simply endure it (hopefully without too much grumbling!). Seeing as I’m not sitting on a beach but in southeastern Ohio, I must embrace even the bleakest of winters.

There’s something about winter, maybe the lack of sunlight and cold temperatures, that can put our bodies and minds into a depression and dormancy. It’s important that we not let our eating habits fall victim to this. I think most of us turn to our comfort foods as a consolation for the cold. Although I don’t tend to crave many processed foods anymore, I am a sucker for raw cookie dough! I can always take the hint when afterwards my belly starts hurting. I’ve never had an upset stomach from eating fruits and vegetables.

The biggest thing I notice about winter eating is a feeling of scarcity. In the spring we get to enjoy a plethora of fruits and veggies – tomatoes, watermelon, cucumbers, strawberries, blueberries, and the list goes on. It is very easy then to come up with a delicious spring or summer salad. If you are at all concerned about seasonality you may get to winter and think, “Well, there’s nothing to eat now.” The good news is there’s still wholesome food to eat while being food conscious at the same time.

winter citrus display

Citrus is a saving grace in the winter months. It is packed with vitamin C, antioxidants, and the pop of color alone is enough to cure even the most pervasive winter blues. Surprisingly enough, the peak growing season for oranges in the U.S. is December to March – in California, Florida, and to a lesser extent Texas and Arizona. So this time of year you can find different varieties of oranges far cheaper and in greater supply. These include blood oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, pomegranate, etc. It’s very easy to throw these in a salad, include them in your favorite dessert, or make a juice drink out of it.

winter pomegranate salad

The good news is you don’t have to be a master chef or buy expensive ingredients to eat well this winter. Just make sure your plates have plenty of color. Like this organic purple kale salad that I enlivened with some blood oranges, apples, walnuts for protein, and blue cheese for added decadence. I then topped it off with a pomegranate vinaigrette. I used fresh pomegranate juice from a pomegranate fruit because you can get them for really cheap right now! Although I have not yet perfected the vinaigrette (It turned out too runny for me. Because you’re getting more water here than with a traditional vinaigrette, I would try using balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, or honey to thicken it up), here’s a great recipe for you to look at in the mean time!

Just because the weather is bleak right now doesn’t mean your diet has to reflect that. I can tell you this salad is packed with so many antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients that cookie dough can’t hold a candle to this. It is possible to eat seasonally well this winter it just takes some thinking outside of the box and the willingness to go beyond your food comfort zone. Your body and the environment will truly thank you for it.

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Embracing Seasonality & The Flavors of Winter

winter lunch

Growing up, I was unaware of the complex workings of our food system. I had no idea that oranges were an unnatural thing to see in the supermarket in the dead of winter. And that tomatoes were prematurely ripened so they could look like a tomato and trucked thousands of miles to end up on our shelves. I grew up eating strawberries in the middle of winter, unaware of the consequences. How could I have known any better? After all, no one told me this. It wasn’t until my college education that I began to question the “normalcies” of our food system.

If you strive like I do to eat seasonally, then I know you can relate to the feeling of pure torture as you walk through the produce section of the store. It’s all laid out, as in a smorgasbord waiting to be devoured. I crave the flavors of spring and wonder when we’re going to get out of this winter. It’s one hard pill to swallow when you realize you can easily reach for that $5 container of blueberries (ouch!) but your conscience wouldn’t allow it.

But as I delve more into the food culture, I find myself craving winter root vegetables. Maybe it’s my body trying find peace with the natural earth… or maybe because roasted acorn squash is incredibly delicious (I’m thinking it’s the latter ;)! The truth is there is a delightful array of options available to us during our winter hibernation. Of course nothing grows in the winter, but we can eat vegetables and fruits from the fall all thanks to modern storage methods. Even limiting your grocery trip to seasonal produce can greatly reduce your carbon footprint. (<< this is a wonderful article on carbon footprints on the Economist. It even talks about carbon footprint labeling. It’s worth a read!) Even better, subscribe to a CSA and you can reap the benefits of a local farmer’s fall harvest (more on CSAs later)!

Acorn squash is my favorite root vegetable by far! With a tough skin, it’s harder to cut but the work is well worth it! All you have to do is roast it and it is perfection! Butternut is the sister squash and it’s perfect to use as a soup. Any other vegetable like carrots, leaks, onions, and potatoes will do. Winter and fall fruits would include apples, grapes, and even certain varieties of raspberries and strawberries! If you’re looking to create a delicious winter salad, try kale, collard greens, or spinach. Kale is my personal favorite. And, if you’re looking for a different take on kale you can try kale chips – delicious and nutritious.

Seasonal eating doesn’t have to be difficult but it does take some willpower. It becomes easier after a while and you might even find yourself starting to crave these foods! When we eat in balance with the seasons, we lessen our environmental impact. And yes in kind of a hokey way, we’re more in balance with the earth’s natural patterns. It makes us healthier, happier individuals.

Roasted Acorn Squash

– preheat oven to 350

– cut the squash into small pieces and arrange on a baking sheet

– drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper

– bake for 30-40 minutes, or until soft

Kale Chips

– preheat oven to 300

– arrange chip-size pieces of kale on a baking sheet (removing any stems)

– drizzle with olive oil and salt

– bake for 30 minutes or until crispy

A Thanksgiving Gathering: Eat Local, Eat Sustainable, Eat Mindful

For those of you who are following along with my blog, you will know that I do a lot of cooking. I find it’s relaxing and connects me to the root of our hunger. Last night my boyfriend Andrew and I were flipping through Netflix. After what seemed like a lifetime of searching for the perfect movie, we settled on a documentary: GMO OMG. A concerned father, Jeremy Seifert, goes on the search for answers to Genetically Modified Organisms. He tells his two boys to put on their “GMO goggles” so they can spot perpetrators. Teaching his kids to be aware, Seifert finds out the problem is much more pervasive than people think. In short, Genetically Modified Organisms are seeds that have been genetically altered to allow plants to be resistant to pesticides and herbicides so weeds and bugs are killed but not the plant itself. Seems great right? Not so fast! Check out this link to learn more about GMOs.

This is not the first documentary done on this issue. Food Inc. is a popular documentary and one of my favorites. And there are many others to delve into the subject. As I watched, the spark of environmentalism was lit in me once again. I have a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Geography and have since pursued my real passion which is writing. But I was compelled and I was angry. I was ready to march on Washington!

Of all the environmental issues out there, food safety is what I’m most passionate about. I realized I had left a critical component out in all my cooking and baking. (Or maybe it’s because I was running so far away from my degree that I wanted to forget it) But I can’t remain blind to the obvious pitfalls of our modern food system. Food and water are most critical to human life. Shouldn’t we care about what we’re putting in our bodies? If anything else, isn’t it a violation of our rights to be genetically altering seeds without our knowledge and with no labeling?

The problem doesn’t just end with the chicken or the cow. Just because you buy local meat or eggs doesn’t mean that animal wasn’t fed GMO corn. And if they are fed GMO corn are they really “all natural??” And that’s where it gets complicated. So it seems you have to go back to the seed. And even that seems excessive. But why?! Why are we remaining silent on our most critical need? I believe we need to push for answers and find out what’s really in our food instead of following the food system blindly. It’s our right and we have to start exercising it.

Okay, I’m off my pulpit now. All this to say, I want to make truly sustainable food a component to my cooking. (And I want to start utilizing this degree somewhat ;)) This Thanksgiving I implore you to dig a little deeper into where your food is coming from. If you’re buying locally sourced meat, ask them, “Are your animals fed with GMO corn?” We have a right to know. If for the sheer novelty of it. People might look at you weird and they might think you’re crazy. You can just say, “I’m doing this for my health, and my sanity.”

I don’t know how to tackle the GMO issue in my shopping just yet. Just like I said earlier, it’s a very pervasive issue that permeates almost the entire food system. It seems I will have to dig a little deeper and get back to you. But GMO aside, I can give you some tips for a more sustainable turkey day!

Buy Local

Where are you getting your bird from? The supermarket (where who knows how they were treated – just watch Food Inc.), or the local farm that raises and slaughters the free range turkeys right there? If you’re in doubt of where to look, check out Eat Wild. Just click on your state, and they have a list of grass fed farms. Find one near you and go talk to the butcher – it’s our most basic right to know where our food is coming from.

Buy In Season

This one is simple but hard all at the same time. We live in a world where we can go to the supermarket and get an orange or some berries right in the middle of winter! But those fruits had to be transported to your area from somewhere where they will actually grow. Do yourself and the planet a service and eat seasonally. Just because they provide you with oranges doesn’t mean you have to eat them (and trust me, you can survive without oranges over the winter). Expand your palette and eat winter and fall fruits and vegetables! You’ll be a connoisseur in no time!

Buy Organic

This one is really up to you because I think the innocence of organic has been polluted. When you go to the store and you see something labeled “organic” or “all-natural,” can you really be sure it is organic? You would have to go back to the source to find out. So to me it’s really about the label – and money. So if it eases your conscience to buy organic, go ahead! If it eases your wallet not to buy organic, I’m not going to get mad at you. The jury is still out on this one in my book.

I sincerely hope that we all dig a little deeper and find out where our food is coming from. Not just for Thanksgiving, but any time of the year. As I keep saying over and over, we have a right to healthy, safe, and sustainable food.

If you want to know more about the documentary, you can view their website here.

If you have any thoughts or comments on these issues I’d love to hear from you! What are you doing for a sustainable turkey day?