The Foods of Solstice

According to the stargazers at the U.S. Naval Observatory, tomorrow, Dec. 22, is the first day of winter, beginning at 1:08 a.m. ET. It is also the shortest and darkest day in the Northern hemisphere, which means late rise and early to bed - and that at high noon, it's the farthest south in the sky.

From a seasonal point of view, tomorrow is a day of both death and rebirth, because even though it's dark, the trees are naked and the squirrels have retired to their nests, the cycle is continuous, every day inching bit by bit towards longer days and the coming of spring in all its glory.

Despite how frantic you may feel during the holidays, winter is a season of rest, restoration and reflection. Just last night, my friend Suzanne said that she was "looking forward to winter and being forced to spending time indoors." I get it, it's time to hunker down, focus on all that paperwork and stuff piling up over the past six months, time to go a little bit slower and go inward.

I asked my yoga teacher Anne Thiel, who's recently become a certified Ayurveda Lifestyle Consultant, for an ayurvedic point of view. (For background on ayurveda, read my piece from May.)

"We are still in Vata season," says Anne, "so you're looking for foods that are: warming, moist/oily and grounding, i.e. everything Mother Nature offers us now. Think root vegetables and grains."

In terms of taste, she says, "You are looking to emphasize sweet, sour and salty, so you can see the holiday treats have a reason-to-be. You're also looking for a bit more protein than at other times of the year, because you want to 'build' and strengthen since nature is a bit more demanding on the body (needs more calories to keep up the body temperature etc.) ."

Judith Benn Hurley, in her book, "Healing Secrets of the Seasons," writes in her "Winter: the Season of Rest" chapter that "Heat-producing herbs and spices as garlic, onion, rosemary and thyme can increase circulation, providing internal heat during this time of long, restful nights and short days."

Anne agrees that while these foods "do create heat, they are also pungent, at least garlic and onion are pungent, and it's something that can aggravate vata types. It's more appropriate to create heat in kapha people who will benefit more from the pungent taste than vata."

Long story short: Don't forget to eat your root vegetables! We all can use a little support protecting our lungs and upper respiratory systems at this time of year, which we can get from beta-carotene in carrots and sweet potatoes and pectin in parsnips (a wonderful antidote to lingering coughs). I wish I loved beets, which are loaded with iron that energizes us and helps to ward off winter fatigue.

And lastly, don't forget those cruciferous brassica babes -cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards and tatsoi - they're all antioxidant powerhouses and will keep you full of vim and vigor all the way 'til spring!

Have a delicious, peaceful weekend. I'll share some Christmas-y thoughts with you on Monday, Dec. 24.

By Kim ODonnel |  December 21, 2007; 11:07 AM ET Nutrition , Winter
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A nice column. Butternut squash is one of my favorite foods for this time of year. So, in keeping with the theme, I'm planning on a nice butternut squash risotto. Pair with a salad or your favorite meat dish (pot roast anyone?) for a great meal.

I'm a fan of the test kitchen method where you dice the squash and brown one side of 3 1/2 cups. The rest of the squash and the seeds go to infusing the broth. Other than the addition of couple tablespoons of sage, it's a fairly straightforward risotto.


Posted by: Fairlington Blade | December 21, 2007 1:56 PM

Dearest Kim,

Thank you for another year of helpful chats and this great blog. I can't tell you how much I have enjoyed reading it, especially the sharing of your family stories and news when it applies. Congratulations on publishing your first book, and many many wishes to you and your family (and Mr. MA) for the holiday and the New Year. Can't wait to catch up with you again in '08!


Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | December 22, 2007 9:18 AM

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