As the Scottish winter draws in, the days get short and the cold sets in, I’ve noticed that my usual food routine hasn’t been working so well. So to address this, and a massive dip in my energy levels which coincided with the clocks changing (plus a fantastic and beertastic minibreak in Berlin…) I’ve had to make a few adjustments to get things back on track. I’ve also taken the opportunity to focus on a few foods, herbs and habits that can really support wellbeing at this time of year.
- Replace cold and raw vegetables with warm and cooked ones. This is so obvious, but having extolled the virtues of my daily salad bowl, I found myself sitting at the table with zero desire to eat one. In traditional chinese medicine, raw vegetables are seen as very cold and damp, and at this time of year, these are the characteristics that can turn you off them. So, in order to get your 8 portions of vegetables a day, it’s time to turn to soups, big trays of roasted veggies, using seasonal greens to make pesto or wilting them into some miso soup. I’m not always great at batch cooking, but do tend to make more of an effort at this time of year.
- Think about Vitamin D levels. In the UK, between October and March, even if you sit in the sun, the UVB rays that we need to make vitamin D, are not strong enough to do this. The NHS recommends that all children under the age of 5 take supplemental Vitamin D and suggests that adults should also do this through the winter months. There is a huge range of supplements available, with sprays and drops a great option for little ones who don’t like taking tablets, and also those combined with complementary nutrients like Vitamin K. Vitamin D is such an important nutrient, not just for our bones, but also our immune system, our metabolism and cardiovascular health so keeping levels optimal can make a huge difference to how you feel.
3. Make the most of mushrooms. As they are in season just now, you can get hold of lovely wild mushrooms, but even standard supermarket white cups have a raft of health benefits due to their mineral, antioxidant and fibre content, and their positive effects on the immune system – which needs all the help it can get as the cold and flu season approaches. Fittingly, to get the maximum benefit from mushrooms they need to be cooked, and their amazing umami flavour is of course brilliant in casseroles, stews and soups. In order to get them past my children, I have taken to blitzing them in the food processor before adding them to whatever I’m cooking – they haven’t noticed. I’ve also started experimenting more with dried mushrooms like shiitake which I love because they just sit around until you are ready to use them.
4. Warm with herbs. If you think about the sort of flavours associated with Christmas, like cinnamon and ginger, it’s quite clear that these have a seasonal relevance. (By the way, the latin name for ginger is Zingiber officinale – how great is that? I sense a little ginger kitten in my future called Zingy….). As well as ginger and cinnamon; black pepper, garlic and cardamom all share that lovely warming effect. Fresh ginger tea, in which you just grate and steep the root in hot water is a simple way to get it on board. A great side effect of many of these herbs is that they have a strong anti-inflammatory effect on the body, and cinnamon is also known to increase our sensitivity to insulin – so if you must have apple pie, give it a generous sprinkling of cinnamon.
5. Be kind to yourself. I find it much harder to get up and go in the winter, which I think is normal, so am trying to build in a bit more time for sleep, for taking lovely Epsom salt baths, and for a bit of gentle decluttering and fluffing about the house. When the sun does shine though, it’s great to get into it and it’s thought that a bit of regular daylight through winter can help to stave off the winter blues. If you can do this with friends and family, even better!
There are lots of people who roll their eyes at the mention of bone broth (like the Angry Chef – entertaining, but I totally disagree with him on many fronts) because it’s such a staple of wellness bloggers and sounds like a total faff. My opinion is that it is not just a new term for ‘stock’, that it is absolutely worth making, and that personally, as I have a cup, I can just feel it doing me good. The reason for people raving about it is that the long cooking and the addition of apple cider vinegar to break down the bones, releases lots of nutrients into the broth, including easy-to-absorb minerals and supportive substances like gelatin and glutamine. These have great healing properties for the gut wall. Again, if you think back to old traditions, giving chicken soup as a healing food is common to loads of cultures around the world and research has confirmed it’s health benefits.
At this time of year, it’s such a handy ingredient to make soups and great tasting dishes from. I wouldn’t suggest making it from non-organic bones though, and if you don’t have organic bones handy (I usually freeze chicken carcasses after each roast and then make a massive pot of broth with 2 or 3 of them), you can get them via mail order, and the supplier that I tend to use is Coombe Farm Organic. If you have a slow cooker, you might want to use it as you can leave it cooking overnight, also, pressure cookers are fabulous as they reduce the cooking time significantly.
- Bones – either chicken carcasses, or beef or lamb bones.
- 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar
- 1 onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 stick celery
- 2 cloves garlic
- 6 peppercorns or a good grind of black pepper
- Bay leaf if handy
- Water to cover the bones
- Add the bones to the pan. If you are using beef or lamb bones, brown them in the oven first.
- Cover the bones with water and add 2 tablespoons of apple-cider vinegar. Leave to sit for 30 minutes.
- Add all of the other ingredients to the pan and bring to the boil.
- Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 12 hours at least. If using a pressure cooker, cut the time to 3 hours, and if using a slow cooker, use the ‘high’ setting for up to 24 hours. If using a normal hob, as per the instructions from the doyennes of bone broth, the Helmsley sisters, ‘when you’re home and in the kitchen, bring it to the boil and reduce to a slow simmer. When you need to go out or to bed, just turn it off and let it cool without lifting the lid. Tell people not to take a peek! This means you have a heat seal and keeps bacteria out until you resume cooking it. This works in a cool kitchen, out of direct sunlight. Don’t leave it for more than 8 hours between simmers. Complete this process within 24 hours.’
- Let the broth cool, and strain into containers. It freezes well and will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days, or, if there is a good unbroken seal of fat on the top of it, for up to 1 week. I am generally paranoid about it going off after all of the love and affection that has gone into making it so I just keep what I will use over a couple of days in the fridge and then freeze the rest.
- Enjoy! Add salt to taste – you can have a mug before your meal, or before bed, or use as a base that will make any soup or stew taste brilliant.
Super Herbs by Rachel Landon. Thanks to Dee who flagged up this new arrival in the library! I’ve been reading through it and the information is accessible but with plenty of depth and the recipes for foods, medicines, lotions and potions really make you want to produce them. Just for fun, I’ve included the recipe for a ‘Skin Clarifying Face Mask below – I am frankly terrified of trying it as have visions of walking about with a golden yellow face for a week, but she assures us that the turmeric will come off with olive oil on a cotton pad… go on, you try first…
Skin Clarifying Face Mask – Turmeric is high in antioxidants and helps to clarify and cleanse the skin, leaving it bright, smooth and even.
- 1 dessertspoon of good quality honey
- 1 dessertspoon of natural organic yoghurt
- 1 teaspoon of turmeric
Mix ingredients together and apply a good layer to your face, avoiding your eyes.
Wash your hands and relax with cotton wool pads soaked with cold rosewater on your eyes for 20 minutes.
Rinse with a face cloth and warm water.