January Blues: In Search of Fresh Vegetables

This is a meandering post.  Just so you know.


Man Down

Whenever I head to New York City–and head there I do often to visit my daughter–I take canvas shopping bags and a big old cooler to haul back as much food as possible. I dream of the ingredient shopping possible at the greenmarket, the spice shops and Middle Eastern grocers. Most of the year, I’m on the search for dried fava beans and the world’s best hummus, Vietnamese cinnamon and lemon-infused olive oil, mahlab and dried za’atar, Aleppo peppers and Iranian dried limes–things I couldn’t dream of finding in my corner of Vermont but are essential to cooking I do.

But in winter I’m pulled to markets where I just might find fresh, local-ish, ecologically grown vegetables.  I’m looking for fruit that looks and smells like itself and not plastic-perfect and shipped from a long way off.  I’m hoping beyond hope for vegetables with a shred of nutrition left to them. And flavor. Back in Vermont there are only so many local apples–wonderful as they are, still, in the depth of winter–we can eat before longing for a taste of something else. And yet I watch the birds eat the same four kinds of seeds I put out there day after day; the cats eat the same food for years. I am struck by the human desire for variety, our reliance on food to perk us up when the skies are thick and low.  Even though we don’t need much help from our food to stay warm, we crave heavily seasoned  stews and roasted anything.  Just look at the food blogs pumping out heavy-sounding recipes that right now sound pretty much interchangeable to me.  All we really want is snow or spring, but because we can’t change the weather, we turn to food.

Winter is particularly bleak this year.  There’s no snow in our valley but plenty of grey, oppressive days.  Right now it’s 42 degrees, almost warm enough for my bike but dark and wet.  It’s grim out there. In Vermont we expect snow and cold, not this mush.



And inside I’m all out of my storage crops except for garlic, carrots, leeks and dried chiles. The potatoes froze in the barn, the deer got the kale, escarole and sorrel before I did, and somehow the onions were used up by Christmas. The salsas are going fast; I have canned jellies and chutneys and syrups yet in abundance, but they’re laced with sugar, something we use sparingly, so those shelves take quite a while to clear. The freezer’s supply from last summer’s garden is thinning out.  I’m pretty much down to lemongrass broth, frozen herb pestos and purees, winter squash and tomatillos, and tomato puree.

I’ve been to our natural foods cooperative three times in the past week, prowling the aisles, hoping to stir my culinary imagination with the local produce I’ve run out of from my own gardens: beets, parsnips, kale, celeriac, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, broccoli, cabbage.  I’ve made slaws, stews, juices, and raw salads.  Everything tastes good, some of it tastes great, but still I search and search again.  I suppose that also has to do with the fact that I’m on Day 19 of a 21-day cleanse which recommends access to super-nutritious super-fresh foods– pretty tough to do in winter.  I must be crazy, especially given that the cleanse eliminates nightshades as well as oranges and grapefruit and bananas.  Poor pitiful me.

Not really.  Not at all.





I’m moving past the hankering stage to an appreciation of clean, bracing spareness.  Stripping down the diet to the essentials–whole foods:  grains (no wheat) and nuts (no peanuts), lean proteins, good fats (no dairy), vegetables and fruits and spices–for three weeks each winter has given me a sense of well-being, a lightness of spirit in the middle of a thumpingly grey winter.  We can do with less variety.  Less quantity.  Far less rich ingredients. Bracing is good for a spell every year.   It’s the antidote to the Paula Deen-esque food view. A way to gain perspective and toss the toxins out.


And that, I’ve decided, is what winter can do.  Something to love about the long, lean months.

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Categories: Health, lessons, Musing, Seasons

4 Comments on “January Blues: In Search of Fresh Vegetables”

  1. January 25, 2012 at 8:31 am #

    Excellent post, Barbara. I like the way you reach the conclusion of spareness, then drive it home with that photo.

    • January 30, 2012 at 8:16 am #

      Thanks, Bryan–if we can’t have fun writing about this dreary winter, then how incredibly grim it would be!

  2. January 30, 2012 at 7:30 am #

    I did a (Nina inspired) 7 day cleanse of sorts — ah … But good with exercise. As for NY, I totally get it, both the looking for “stuff” we can’t find in NY and for other “stuff” that doesn’t look industrialized. Our olive oil haunt is, of course, Zahady’s in Brooklyn.

    Perhaps the winter is a time for spareness, though concerning food intake, we seem, culturally, to want to stuff ourselves with more, especially carbs. You appear to be saying, following Emerson, that Nature is our lexicon; if this is so, winter may be a time to do with less, eat less, but eat the right stuff for calories and the demanding winter work.

    On a parallel note (I’m working up a post), we butchered Frankie, my 750 lbs Holstein. He went down in December. We’ve been testing the meat and, I dare say, it’s incredible, really. Perhaps it has something to do with how he was raised, albeit for 18 glorious months… more on this to come, I think … with pics, though I want to make sure I don’t turn people off.

    • January 30, 2012 at 8:29 am #

      Hector, you did a cleanse! Bravo! And doesn’t it feel great.

      Yes, Emerson comes to mind here, and Pollan, and the Nearings. When we ventured back into the grocery stores post-cleanse (similar to how we feel when we return from travels outside the USA), we were shocked–almost overwhelmed–by the variety and the quantity of things we could now officially eat but no longer wished to eat. And a whole lot of junk we never did eat. Following Nature and not culturally imposed, or rather should I say corporately imposed notions of what we need to nourish us can only lead to a sense of well-being on so many levels!

      I’m looking forward to reading your Frankie post. One of my best friends in college grew up on a beef farm near the school, and he would bring me out on weekends to hang out with Buster the bull and the rest of the gang. The night we ate an incredible rib roast–Buster– and listened his father pay tribute to the mighty bull (with a litany of funny stories) was revelatory for me about the relationship between the farm animal and the farmer on enlightened farms.

      I love that you, too, head to Sahadi’s (so close to Nora’s apartment) when you’re in NYC. You’ve got to try the hummus at Damascus Bakery, two doors down. Incredible.

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