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Jan 27
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Rediscovering Impermanence

Michigan ApplesKitchen Wisdom
by Lisa Harris

It just started snowing outside. It’s the kind of snow you only get in spring – those big, wet, clumpy flakes that melt as they hit every surface. But it is still winter here in Michigan, and we are in the middle of the January thaw.

It’s that precious time when seed catalogs grace kitchen and dining room tables, home gardeners and farmers are plotting their next growing season, and winter adventurers pout for fear of having no more snow. It’s also the time when a brief yet heady smell of damp earth teases us and makes us believe that we are clear for takeoff, and can at last put our cool weather seeds into the ground. Maybe even pull out a few warm weather clothes from storage.

Not so fast!

At this time of year I am reminded that we are still in the midst of winter. A quick turnaround from bitter cold to pretty warm…then back to bitter cold again, is a harsh wake-up call to the realities of at least two more months of snow.

Conversely, the shift to thawing ice and snow also reminds me of the upcoming spring. It all depends upon my frame of mind, the frame of reference, and which way I choose to see the world today.

Sugaring season is just around the corner…

PotatoMy appetite also expresses itself now. Bright oranges and red apples dominate the produce section and hold my gaze, a vivid change from the grey, monochromatic landscape outdoors. Hardy greens like mustard and collards and kale lure me over to their display shelf, water drops like beads sparkling and dripping down their faces. And the potatoes – they are the epitome of subterranean foods. Just the thought of boiling and mashing them with butter and cream and salt and pepper, or roasting them with bold colored beets and carrots, reassures me that they will indeed be here through the remaining cold, dark months to come, providing their love, comfort and nourishment. A welcome treat that never tastes as good when the days are longer and brighter.

There have been winters that I wished would never end so I could continue to feast upon the flavors and textures of slow braised beef, pork, and chicken. Melt-in-your-mouth turnips and rutabagas and onions. Slow roasted garlic spread on yeasty sourdough breads still warm from the oven. Hardy, steaming soups and stews warming your hands as they cradle the bowl.

Winter squash has a special magical appeal. It reminds me of cookies around Christmas, chocolate on Valentine’s Day, hot dogs on the 4th of July. Winter squash really is just for the fall and winter. Its flesh was made for cold weather – it cooks until soft in the oven or by steaming. It readily accepts cold butter and incorporates it within itself, while still leaving some pools and puddles on its surface. It can be sweet, or rich and savory. It can be made into pies, puree, or soups, or confidently stand on its own merits.

I barely look twice at the tomatoes this time of year. Although, there are more available now that don’t taste like water or have the consistency of waterlogged styrofoam. Salads are only appealing if they are interspersed with bitter, winter baby greens whose textures and bite stand up and show themselves through the dull stupor of my near hibernation. Sometimes I notice the green asparagus stalks, with their crisp, fresh attitude. They represent spring at it’s beginning, but I know I would be disappointed with myself – just like the early appearance of January earth messes with my judgement to sow – if I were to attempt to conjure spring prematurely.

Strawberries are the same way.

So I recognize the impermanence of my present condition. I step back and see where I am, where I think I want to be, and where I am always headed. It’s all in the scheme of things, and it happens every year. What a great opportunity for groundlessness. What a great opportunity for reflection. And what a great opportunity to rest in this place, knowing what is certain to return, and yet be comfortable with not knowing exactly when.

I make myself a cup of hot cocoa, sprinkled with some cinnamon and a pinch of cayenne, and feel the steam rise on my skin. Ah, the life of winter.

Lisa Harris
Lisa Harris is a free-range chef, freelance writer, and consultant. She is always on the lookout for seasonal, local foods, and the farmers who provide them in Northern Indiana, where she currently lives, and wherever she travels. You can find more of her experiences and stories in her blog, earthskybelly.wordpress.com and other food related publications. She can be reached at [email protected].

To read other entries in this column, please see: Kitchen Wisdom.

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