It is a new year, the height, or should I say depth of winter. As such, it is the time for both new beginnings and comfort foods. This two-sided seasonal coin seems to serve disparate agendas. On one hand we seek change in the form of resolutions, and on the other we yearn for the trusty, classic dishes like a hearty soup that define winter in the North.
At the start of every year, we give ourselves permission to analyze, to look over our past year and reflect upon successes and failures. Our society does this from the very personal up to the large-scale corporate and even governmental level. We aim to improve our lives, communities, businesses, country, and world.
We come down from the busy high of the holidays into the calm of a new year, and we yearn to take this time to reset ourselves. This practice stems thousands of years and numerous cultures, and it is perhaps driven by an innate need for redemption and a fresh start. So this is the time. Is there something you have been thinking about transforming in your life? Use this season as an opportunity for yourself.
The Coziness Factor
The other side of this winter coin is the fact that it is just plain cold outside. Really cold. This brings us into our homes. We crave warm and cozy foods, blankets, and sweaters.
My oven is always on for roasting meats or finishing a braise. The soup pot has taken up permanent residence on my stove. It seems that delicious beefy stews, bisques, and chowders have become a daily food. I roast bones and then create rich stocks that take hours of simmering to come into their own. The always classic French onion soup rises to new heights when made from this homemade beef stock. I really do tend to eat in a seasonal pattern. Soups like French onion, borscht, or ham and bean happen only in the chilly climes of winter.
Even though hot foods do not in actuality heat us up from the inside out (our body works very hard to maintain its constant temperature), the act of cooking warms us. As we hover over a simmering pot of soup or hold a piping hot bowl to inhale the steamy aroma, we become warm. Whether the warming effect is literal or psychological, to me it makes no difference. I love hot foods on a cold day. They warm my soul. They tell my loved ones that I care for them, that I want to warm them up as well. There is nothing that says “I love you” more than a bowl full of chili on a chilly day.
The word restaurant in French means “something restoring.” In the 16th century in France, restaurant was the word commonly used to describe an inexpensive soup that was sold on the streets of Paris. When an enterprising Parisian opened a shop where he made and sold soup, it was called restaurant. This is the origin of the current use of the word restaurants today.
The parallel between restoring and soup holds forth in our mother’s chicken noodle soup served to us when fighting the flu or a cold. The funny thing is the rehydrating nature of the ingredients did help us mend.
These subzero temperatures are definitely good for something. Whether we are taking this time to improve a facet of our lives or simply to slow down and savor a cozy meal, the cold awakens a strength within us and reminds us what it means to be human.