Insulate Your Well-Being This Winter
– with a nod to Ayerveda teachings and a dash of common sense
Winter. It’s a time to rest, reflect, notice your space, vision and even hibernate a bit. This season holds the perfect antidote to the fast-paced movement of the summer and fall. There is a gentle stillness that characterizes winter, and with it comes a subtle invitation to redirect our own energies.
It’s important to have a seasonal routine that helps keep a sense of balance (which can at times seem fleeting!). Seasons affect each person uniquely as they usher in a set of qualities that can either pacify of aggravate the inner workings of your being. That’s why some people relish the heat of the summer while others dislike it, why some can spend an entire winter playing in the snow while others avoid it at all costs. As you may have guessed, your local climate is a key player in your overall state of balance. By adapting your diet and lifestyle to better accommodate the changing seasons, you can drastically reduce the likelihood of seasonally-induced imbalances and, should they arise, the same strategies will gently coax your body back toward its natural state of equilibrium.
As for winter, to some it’s better known as the flu and cold season, and the season when contagious diseases thrive. According to Ayervedic teachings, it doesn't necessarily have to be this way. Winter may actually be the best season to improve immunity. The key, in Ayurvedic terms, is that immunity is connected with digestion. When digestion is strong and appetite is good, then immunity is strengthened. Whatever weakens digestion, weakens immunity. It's that simple. Paying attention to seasonality in whichever part of the globe you happen to reside is a big part of it. And every culture throughout history has adapted. It’s up to us to simply pay close attention.
The digestive fire is said to be at its strongest in the winter. The body requires more fuel to stay warm and healthy, and the cold weather ignites our digestive capacity. Our bodies therefore crave a more substantial, nutritive diet at this time of year, and you will likely find yourself naturally craving larger quantities of food. And, upon reflection, appropriate seasonal dietary habits actually come quite naturally— we head for cool beverages on a hot day and yearn to wrap our fingers around a steaming mug of tea or warming soup on a chilly evening. Mindfulness is an important quality to nurture for this reason and so many others!
You’ll ideally want to focus on eating warm, cooked, slightly oily, well-spiced foods in winter, favoring a balance of the 6 tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Generally, pungent, salty and sour foods (as well as animal products) and vegetable oils have ‘heating’ energy and are excellent to consume in higher quantity in the cooler months. Foods that are astringent, bitter, and sweet are better known for their ‘cooling’ qualities.
Seasonality and Building a Winter Menu
Seasonality is a big driver for our menu development here at the Crisp kitchen. We are fortunate to be in Northern California where we have a bounty of options all throughout the year. If you are a member of our community, and good to know even if you are just visiting, here are the elements we consider when planning our menu during the Winter – and we inevitably intuitively strive to stay in line with the basic Ayervedic philosophy as we plan how to best accentuate flavors and our methods of preparation.
Hearty, ‘warming’ vegetables like radishes, cooked spinach, onions, carrots, and other root vegetables are all well received this time of year, as are hot spices like garlic, ginger, black pepper, cayenne, and chili peppers. Cooked whole grains for breakfast and lunches and dinners of steamed or lightly sautéed vegetables, whole grain breads, and hearty soups are all ideal. Well-cooked and well-spiced legumes are wonderful as well and can ideally be finished with a drizzle of olive oil or a dollop of ghee.
If you eat them, winter is also a great time to enjoy eggs (especially poached or hard-boiled – we love our heirloom variety 8-minute eggs) and meats like chicken, turkey, rabbit, and venison. In the evenings we encourage a glass or two of red wine as well. Ayerveda counsels that dairy is probably best reduced in the winter months, which makes sense when you think about the natural cycle of dairy production, but a cup of hot, spiced milk (we love goat milk or our non-dairy Crisp almond & hazelnut milk) with a pinch of turmeric, dried ginger and nutmeg before bed which can help to encourage sound sleep. And a hearty slice of aged goat cheese with our sour rye bread is always ‘in season’!
Interestingly, during this season you may also find that your body responds well to an occasional one-day juice fast or a seasonal “reset” where there’s a break in your normal routine. And if you are prone to colds, coughs, and sinus congestion, the junction between fall and winter is said to be a great time for this.
Spice during Winter … the more the better! Among the supportive “heating” herbs and spices for this season are: allspice, aniseed, bay leaves, black pepper, caraway, cloves, cardamom, cayenne, chili peppers, fennel, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, horseradish, mace, mustard seeds nutmeg, poppy seeds, rosemary, sage, saffron, Star Anise, Tamarind, tarragon, thyme, turmeric. Taking a look through the list, it makes sense. A hearty chili, a satiating curry and so on.
Here in Northern California, the list of seasonally available local winter foods we incorporate into our Winter menus are:
Fruit: Apples, Cherimoyas, Citrons, Dates, Grapefruit, Kiwis, Kumquats, Lemons, Lines, Mandarins, Oranges, Pears, Pomelos
Vegetables: Arugula, Asian greens, Avocados (Mexico), Beets, Bok Choy, Broccoli, Broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cardoons, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chard, Collard greens, Cress, Dandelion greens, Endive, Fava greens, Fennel, Garlic, Kale, Kohlrabi, Lambsquarters, Leeks, Lettuces, Mushrooms, Mustard greens, Nettles, Onions, Orach, Parsnips, Potatoes, Radiccio, Radish, Rutabagas, Scallions, Spinach, Sprouts, Sunchokes, Winter squash, Turnips.
Seafood fluctuates, but generally this time of year, these are available from our local waters: Clams, Black Cod, Dungeness Crab, Flounder, California Halibut, Lingcod, Oysters, Rock Fish, Pacific Sanddabs, Petrale Sole, Rex Sole, Spot Prawns, Squid, Swordfish
As you begin to notice your space and sense of balance, enjoy your warming, satiating meals and cultivate a light heart during the season. Being mindful in all you do, and continuing to nurture a strong sense of purpose, will counter any tendencies toward melancholy or feelings of loneliness that winter’s cold, gray weather can sometimes generate. We are well served as we continue to invite warmth into our mind, body, and relationships – and create frequent opportunities for fun and laughter. In this fast paced world, we'll all do your best to avoid rushing and instead make a concerted effort to embrace a slower, more relaxed pace through the winter months. Winter is a great time to engage in meaningful relationships and to socialize as we also remember to balance our gregariousness with the all important quiet time, reflection and stillness.
Eat well. Be well.