In this darkening season that stretches from solstice to solstice, it's easy to get restless, bored and downright depressed. Here are three recipes that help dispel winter blues — and a few tips for countering negative feelings this time of year.
Since body and mind are entwined, feeling better mentally means taking care physically. For me that means a little jog three or four times a week. Revving my heart rate is the obvious benefit, but the other perk is experiencing early-morning nature, which always helps me start my day content. For those who want a slower pace, a brisk walk is effective and much easier to get excited about.
To minimize exercise excuses, keep multiple weights of clothes to match the weather. And, unless you're in real pain, don't use the familiar aches as an excuse for malingering. I'm often a little creaky the first few minutes, but eventually the kinks work themselves out, and I'm always happy I took the time.
On the mornings I'm not running I go to yoga — another good-for-the body, good-for-the-mind practice. Between all the stretchy poses and the moments of silence that bookend the hour-long class, I'm energized and ready to face the day. And whether it's a headstand (yes, my 80-year-old friends in the class do them) or some other head-down position, we nearly always do something to bring the blood to our brains. Our teacher calls it a natural antidepressant. We call it "poor man's high."
As always, check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen.
After all the saccharine holiday treats, it's always a relief to return to a satisfying but cleaner way of eating. After all the rich smoked salmon and ham, turkey and lamb, I'm ready to reduce my protein and keep it lean. The following recipes exemplify a typical post-holiday way of eating.
This time of year I love oatmeal, especially the chewy steel-cut variety. Since it takes longer to cook than rolled oats, I'm not usually patient enough to cook it in the morning. But I've discovered it will thicken and warm in a low-temperature oven overnight. Just pop it in before you go to bed, and it's ready whenever you are in the morning. Toasting the oatmeal before putting it in the oven increases flavor, but you can skip that step and it's still delicious.
For lunch or dinner try bright, colorful crisp cumin-seared shrimp over confetti slaw. The warm shrimp over the cool slaw is a refreshing combination, a welcome reminder that sunnier weather is only a few months away.
Risotto is usually made with extra starchy white short-grain Arborio rice. By par-cooking brown rice while you're preparing your other ingredients you can turn this luxurious rice dish into an equally delicious, super-healthy supper.
There's no point getting cranky that the sun is setting way too early and rising long after we've woken up. Appreciate the extra time to rest, and then stay active and eat well.
Toasted Steel-Cut Overnight Oatmeal
This recipe easily halves — just use a small saucepan. This same technique works for old-fashioned oatmeal as well. Just use 2 cups of oats and 2 cups each of milk and water. This overnight oatmeal can sit in the oven longer than the suggested 4 to 8 hours, but you may need to add a little extra water or milk to thin it.
1 cup steel-cut oats
1-1/2 cups each: whole milk and water
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 170 degrees. Mix oatmeal, milk and salt in a large saucepan or small Dutch oven. Cover and set in warm oven until milk has absorbed and oatmeal is cooked, 4 hours minimum and up to 8 hours. Top as desired and serve.
Cumin-Seared Shrimp Over Confetti Slaw
6 tablespoons orange juice concentrate
¼ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
4 cups shredded cabbage (use a mix of green and purple for a more festive look)
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
¼ medium red onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and ground black pepper
1 pound large (21 to 25 count) peeled shrimp
1 teaspoon each: ground cumin and paprika, and garlic powder
Shake orange juice concentrate, lime juice and ¼ cup of the oil in a lidded container until well mixed. Mix cabbage, carrots, red onion and cilantro in a large bowl. Add all but about 2 tablespoons of the dressing and salt and pepper to taste; toss to coat and set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat while tossing shrimp with remaining oil, cumin, paprika and garlic powder. Add shrimp to hot skillet in a more or less single layer. Cook, turning only once, until spotty brown on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes total. Transfer shrimp to remaining dressing; toss to coat.
Mound a bed of slaw in each of 4 large bowls or soup plates. Top with shrimp and serve.
Brown Rice Mushroom Risotto
Serves 3 as a hearty main course, or 4 as a first course or light meal
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ ounce chopped dried mushrooms, your choice (optional, but enhances flavor)
1 cup short- or medium-grain brown rice
1-½ tablespoons each: olive oil and butter
1 package (8 ounces) sliced portabello mushrooms
1 medium onion, cut into small dice
2 garlic cloves
½ cup dry white wine
Salt and ground black pepper
½ cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping
Bring broth and optional mushrooms to a simmer in a large saucepan over low heat so that broth barely simmers.
Meanwhile in a large saucepan or small Dutch oven bring rice and 2 cups of water to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, partially covered, until rice completely absorbs water, about 10 minutes. Turn rice into a bowl, rinse starch from pot, and return to burner set at medium heat; add oil and butter oil. When butter has melted add mushrooms; sauté until golden and starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add onions; sauté until tender, about 4 minutes longer. Add garlic; sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds longer. Stir in rice until well coated, followed by wine; simmer until almost evaporated, a couple of minutes longer. Knowing the process takes about 25 minutes (I set a timer) start adding broth to rice about ½ cup at a time — stirring lazily at first and then more frequently toward the end — adding more only after rice has absorbed the previous amount, until rice is tender with a slight chew at the center. Stir in cheeses and adjust seasonings, including salt to taste and several grinds of pepper. Serve, sprinkling each portion with additional cheese.