Saturday, January 29, 2011

Winter Blahs?

Winter is not my favorite season.  Or my second favorite.  Or my third. Grays and browns dominate the winter landscape in Chicago, where I spent 3 very long winters.  It's ugly.  It's cold. It's gloomy and depressing.  And while I don't live there anymore, I find the bright colors of vegetables from the farmers' market just as cheery as I did when I bought them in Chicago in January. Oh no, wait-- there is no farmers' market there in January.  Because farmers can't grow vegetables in the Arctic Tundra.

I've gotten spoiled living here in California, what with its year-round growing season and truly amazing variety of produce.  But even I was surprised by the glowing jewels of color that made their way into my bag last weekend.  When people speak of winter produce, the image of row after row of Swiss chard pops into my head, with little room for anything else.  While there were plenty of greens in my bag, there were also greens that weren't green, balls and sticks of orange, and marbles of magenta. 

The radish practically glows pink

I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Antioxidants Shmoxidants

Apparently, cinnamon is the latest health food. It has super-duper antioxidants, and has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties.  It's slated to be the next food packaging component, since it can inhibit the growth of yuck.  One article even claimed that cinnamon has more antioxidant power than garlic.  My Italian ancestors must be having a collective conniption fit right about now.

I'm all for antioxidants.  I spend a lot of money to avoid carcinogenic ingredients (funny how they abound in the cheap stuff), and read labels obsessively.  But when I came across a cinnamon supplement at CVS the other day, I couldn't help but wonder when bottled air would arrive on the shelf. 

My annoyance is due in part to the fact that cinnamon is ridiculously easy to incorporate into one's diet.  It tops many fruits and several flavors of ice cream with ease.  It's practically required in pies and turnovers.  It can flavor cookies alone or in tandem with other spices.  It practically rules the month of November. I put it in my oatmeal every morning, along with about 19 other toppings.

My friend Leilani insists that cinnamon has no place in savory dishes.  I disagree.  I make a Moroccan chicken concoction that may or may not be authentic, but which is delicious and  contains liberal amounts of cinnamon.  In fact, half the cuisine of the Middle East would be off-limits if Leilani's rule were true.

I also make a lamb stew of questionable authenticity which requires spoonfuls of cinnamon, and not just because I have a point to make to Leilani.  Stews amuse me because there are endless variations to be tried.  I have made this dish with purple sweet potatoes, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, and with Yukon Golds.  I have added noodles. I have omitted noodles.  I have tried wine in the liquid.  I have varied the spice ratio. I have added carrots and celery, and chunks of squash. I have thrown in whatever vegetables need to be used up.  It's always satisfying. It's always fragrant. And it always contains cinnamon.