Five Ways to Forget the Cold

To say it's cold outside is inadequate. Cold is when you open your fridge. Today is more like walking into a meat locker. But even as I complain and walk around the house wearing a hat, the air is even frostier in the Midwest. I just hung up with my friend Nan, who reports that the forecast for Chicago is a high of 3 degrees. (Is that a meat locker or an igloo?)

Unfortunately, it's a safe bet that the frigid air will stick around for several days, which means pulling out the secret bag of tricks to help deal with the Siberian conditions.

Before he left this morning, Mister Groom asked, "Can you fix the weather, please, and make the cold go away?" (Sorry, but my wand is in the shop.)

Short of witchcraft, what can we do to make the cold a little less so? Below, five culinary ways to loosen your grip on the frosty reality.

1. Take a trip in your armchair.
While we shiver, the southern Hemisphere is having a summer ball. I spoke with a good pal last week who recently moved to Auckland, New Zealand, where he was enjoying the nearby beach. With the other side of the world on my brain, I flipped through a recent issue of Delicious, an Aussie food magazine, which is sold stateside at Barnes and Noble. I swooned over the photos of berries and other summery notions, and for a few minutes I did forget I was wearing a parka.

Other vicarious pleasures of late include "Climbing the Mango Trees," Madhur Jaffrey's memoir of growing up in India, and "Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore" by James Oseland. Just a few minutes with the imagery of tropical fruit restores my equilibrium, and I learn a few new things in the process.

2) Eat and drink ginger, and other warming spices.
Celebritologist Liz Kelly says that "anything with ginger in it is warming to the soul. Last night, we had ginger orange carrots. So good." She reports that she cooked the carrots "in a syrup of water, fresh OJ, a tablespoon of sugar and fresh grated ginger. "

Liz is onto something with the warming powers of ginger; in fact, ginger is considered one of the most significant foods in an ayurvedic diet, an ancient Indian practice of holistic medicine, which views food as key instruments of health and vitality. Pungent ginger not only warms the mouth and the belly; it stimulates circulation and digestion and works as a detoxifier, which is helpful during this sluggish indoorsy season.

A little ginger goes a long way, and you can include it in carrots, as Liz has done, or make a tea, add it to baked goods, use it in marinades, add it to stir fries.

Similarly, spices such as cinnamon, clove and turmeric stoke the internal fires and are great natural warmer uppers. Some research indicates that cinnamon helps to lower cholesterol, which I try to remember whenever I have a bowl of morning oatmeal. For more of these warming spices in one pot, try your hand at this spiced hot chocolate. It beats the instant stuff any day. And while we're on the subject of spice, let's have a little heat with our spice and Eat Indian.

For me the mere mention of spices has me thinking (and craving) Indian food. In fact, the colder it gets, the spicier I want my plate. Saturday night, we drove out to Fairfax for the juicy morsels at Minerva, an Indian restaurant that's been a personal favorite for years. My mouth was on fire, and I loved every minute of my channa masala and chicken 65, a highly spiced take on chicken tikka.

3. Eat citrus.
Even though it seems counter intuitive to slurp on something as cooling as an orange wedge, citrus provides the very hydration our indoor heating-parched selves desperately need. With the heat blowing at nearly a nonstop pace, our sinuses dry up, our skin starts to flake and our mouth gets cottony. Peel some rind and you'll feel better instantly.

4. Eat fat.
There's something to the whale blubber diet in harsh climates such as the Faroe Islands and far northern Canada, where Inuit tribes live. Fat, in its purest form, plays a vital role in keeping us warm and keeping the body machinery well oiled.

This is the time of year to fry. Now, that doesn't mean breaking out tubs of the trans fat-laden Crisco, but there's nothing wrong with adding tempura to your diet right now, or a frequent avocado, a handful of unsalted nuts, an omelet for dinner. These are hearty, not hefty meal ideas, and your body will love you in return for the extra insulation.

5. Boil up soba noodles.
The brown noodle commonly found on menus in Japanese restaurants is made from buckwheat flour -- and as it turns out, buckwheat is incredibly warming. With all eight essential amino acids, buckwheat is a complete protein all by itself and very high in fiber, (1 cup of cooked kernels fulfills 20 percent of daily requirement) making it a complex carb, which translates into a highly energizing food source. Please note: There are 20 aminos, but having the "8" is significant threshold.

Buckwheat, by the way, is not a kind of wheat, but rather the seeds of a fruit that is related to rhubarb and sorrel. It is free of gluten, which makes it a great alternative for those with wheat and gluten intolerance.

I'm looking for a killer recipe for buckwheat pancakes, by the way. Send them over! And while you're at it, chime in with your tried and true ways of fending off the frost, either through food or drink. Now, where did I put those footies...

By Kim ODonnel |  February 5, 2007; 12:00 PM ET Hot Pot
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Buckwheat Dosa

If you are familiar with South Indian Dosas which are like salty crepes,you can make very tasty dosas with buckwheat. To a cup of buckwheat flour add 1/2 a cup of sout cream or low fat yougurt. Add salt and keep it aside for 1-2 hours (To make the flour a little sour). In a pan add a tbs of oil, 1/2 tbs of mustard, wait for the mustard to crackle, add a spoon of cumin seeds, 2-3 finely chopped green chilles and finely chopped ginger. Finaly add 10 curry leaves(optional). Pour this mixture into the buckwheat and mix. Add some water. The consistency of the batter should be as that of a crepe batter. Heat the skillet and pour the flour, add some butter, ghee (clarified butter) or oil. Once the side is cooked, turn it over for the other side. You can serve this with any kind of chutney.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 5, 2007 1:17 PM

How about combining a couple of those tips...make a broth from dried shiitake mushrooms (or fresh mushrooms) and some slices of fresh ginger. Use the broth to lightly boil some veggies (Napa cabbage, matchstick carrots, bok choy, green onions, a few more pieces of ginger,whatever), then poach a couple of mild fish fillets. Meanwhile boil some soba noodles. Put some of the noodles, some of the veggies and some of the fish into a bowl and ladle broth on top. Hmm...sounds like a good plan for dinner tonight.

Posted by: librarylady | February 5, 2007 1:22 PM

There are 20 amino acids, does buckwheat have all 20? (I know most plants don't, but a few do have some of the rarer ones.)

Posted by: AC | February 5, 2007 1:22 PM

AC: what I meant to say is that buckwheat contains 8 essential aminos, not all 22 (8 essential, 14 nonessential), but that still means it's a complete protein. Cheers.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | February 5, 2007 1:32 PM

Garlic soup! Mark Bittman's recipe is SOOO easy and my absolute favorite for bbrrrrr cold weather. (It didn't break zero here yesterday, and isn't going to today). Smash (don't chop yet) some garlic cloves, saute in olive oil in a sauce pan until they are golden brown but not burned. Remove them, add some ground cumin. Use the spiced oil to toast some French bread slices (or whatever you have) then add broth and warm gently, returning the garlic (now chopped) to the broth. Pour the hot soup over a slice of the toasted bread in a bowl. OOOH-la-lah. The variation with diced tomatoes and spinach also is fabulous. Spicy and warming. The aroma alone warms me.

Would LOVE to have some ideas similar to this for a ginger-based soup.

Thanks for the blog, Kim -- always interesting!

Posted by: Cold toes in Milwaukee | February 5, 2007 1:34 PM

My personal favorite way to eat buckwheat is to eat kasha. It is so hearty and delicious, it reminds me of Passover (that was always the side dish that went first at the seder) and its delicious with pasta (kasha varnishkas is traditional, and its made with bowties).

Posted by: JK | February 5, 2007 2:27 PM

I recently found and made a recipe for Chicken Pakora, fried, spicy, Indian. I think it would warm us right up. Especially with a side of lentils and some of the Dosas above. Yum

Mexican is on the menu tonight and a request for pasta for tomorrow, maybe some Indian on Wednesday. We should be chilled through by then.

Posted by: Late to the Party | February 5, 2007 2:56 PM

A great way to get your soba is from the Morimoto Soba Beer from Rogue Brewery. Light, refereshing and incredibly distinct brew.

Posted by: Chris | February 5, 2007 5:33 PM

To Kim's point number 2, on the pleasures of ginger and spices including turmeric, over the weekend I made Spicy Coconut Sweet Potato Soup With Collard Greens from Peter Berley's Fresh Food Fast. Deeelish. The recipe is on page 230 of the book. Ginger, jalapeno, coriander, turmeric, coconut milk ... yet hearty with the sweet potatoes. Recommended to all.

Posted by: Martha in Boston -- brrrr | February 5, 2007 8:29 PM

I found a great way to beat the D.C. area frigid weather four winters ago. I got my company to relocate me from an Arlington office to a Fort Lauderdale, Florida office. Here 'cold' is if it dips below 60 degrees and I can go lie on the beach most every weekend. I even got a company raise when I moved!

Posted by: Bob | February 5, 2007 9:37 PM

Igloo's are actually pretty warm, thus people live in them.

Posted by: Bill Monroe | February 6, 2007 8:17 AM

My mother swears by fresh, grated ginger in a cup of tea to help get over a cold.

Posted by: Little Red | February 6, 2007 2:01 PM

The essential Amino acids are ones that our bodies do not produce and so we must get them from our diet. Therefore the soba noodles are a perfect nutrient resource supplying the 8 we need.
I love to make pancakes made with whole wheat flour, old fashioned oat meal, and grated apple. It's hearty, healthy, and really warms from within.

Posted by: Raisin Sitzman | February 8, 2007 1:02 PM

Ginger soup: This is more of a guide than a recipe, but it's a simple way to make crowd-pleasing ginger soup that you can ratchet-up for guests or make mild for the kids. Chop up lots of multi-colored veggies that work in soup (I like potatoes, green beans, winter squash, carrots, greens, etc.) Boil vegetable stock & add in a bunch of ginger chunks (taste for ginger & salt amount as it cooks. if you put a lot of ginger in, it'll give the soup a real kick). Cook veggies in stock for 40-60 minutes or until veggies are appropriately soft. For the last ~7-8 minutes of that, add small pasta (alphabet, shells, whatever). Enjoy!

Posted by: BJ | February 14, 2007 9:28 AM

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