Eating Light

It’s always the shortest days of the year which seem the longest. When the sunlight packs up and leaves at four in the afternoon, I have to stop and remind myself that I am living in California and not in an Ingmar Bergman film. It confuses me. It makes me wonder where on earth the day went.

By the time Winter arrives, my temper is as short as the day is long and my mood is as dark as the night.

The fountain of creativity that seems to flow so freely in the Springtime freezes under a layer of ice so thick over The Holidays that it could bear the weight of Santa Claus himself, should he find the time to skate upon it. In November I think to myself, “I can’t write, I can’t cook. I can’t do anything. It’s all over.” In January, I bubble and froth at the idea of writing again.

Every year it’s the same thing. I could probably scribble the date in red ink on my calendar if I paid closer attention to the warning signs: insomnia, low energy, high fatalism, the desire to hide from the world until after St. Valentine’s Day. February might be earmarked for Black History Month, but I always set aside November and December for Seasonal Depression Time. It’s just what I do.

Or rather what I used to do. This is the first time that I’ve realized, “Oh, wait. This is a thing that happens. And it’s a thing that happens not just to me, but to other people I know.” I never looked at the pattern, never understood the cycle. In previous years, I’ve always sunk under its weight, but now that I know it’s just “a thing that happens,” I can make the best of it, rather than letting it get the best of me.

One way to make the best of it is to eat light. And by “eat light”, I mean feed myself with as many (good) mood-enhancing ingredients as I can get my hands on. Not only will my mood be lighter and brighter this season, but my ass will still be able to fit into a pair of size 32 jeans come New Year. And that is one hell of a mood enhancer in my book.

There is a long list of foods which contain natural antidepressants: beets, salmon, molasses, citrus, walnuts, and leafy greens just to name a few. This Holiday Season, while I still plan on consuming my fair share of spiked egg nog and Christmas cookies, I’ll be self-medicating with more fruits and vegetables and less bourbon. A little less, at any rate. One must keep out the cold.

Beet and Orange Salad

Oranges ripen in the light; beets mature underground. I’ve been enjoying this combination of sun and earth all week. And I think I’m a (marginally) happier person for it. It’s my own version of light therapy.

There are no precise measurements for this salad, because none are necessary. Make as much or as little as you want, if you choose to make it at all.

Ingredients:

• Golden beets, cleaned with the root ends trimmed
• Fresh, ripe citrus. Seville or navel oranges, clementines or tangerines
• Toasted walnuts
• Maple syrup
• Olive oil
• Something green: beet tops, parsley, dandelion greens. Your choice. And when I say “something green”, I do not mean items such as M&Ms or dollar bills. However, you’re the one making it, so I will leave that up to you. If money enhances your mood, then go for it.
• Sea salt
• Cinnamon (Optional. Of course, many things are optional, but cinnamon is extra so.)

Preparation:

1. Heat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet or oven-proof casserole with aluminum foil. Lay another large, loose layer of foil in the pan. Place beets on the loose sheet, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with a few pinches of salt and cinnamon. Wrap beets in the top layer of foil an put everything in the oven. (When I say “put everything in the oven”, I mean the foil-wrapped beets and their roasting vessel [i.e. casserole or baking sheet]. DO NOT place iPhones, pets, or small children inside a hot oven.) Bake for about 45 minutes or until the tip of a knife slips easily into their centers. Remove from the oven and let cool.

2. When the beets are cool enough to handle, peel them and then slice them into whatever shapes you prefer. Transfer them to a bowl, squeeze the juice from one orange over them, drizzle with maple syrup, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. I prefer to leave them overnight. They will last for several days covered and refrigerated.

3. A few minutes before you feel you are ready to eat this salad, peel and slice your citrus. Suprèming (removing segments from their membranes using a very sharp knife) one’s citrus makes for an attractive presentation, but it is time-consuming. Peeling and slicing your oranges/tangerines/clementines crosswise is much less time-consuming/dangerous.

4. To assemble, toss sliced beets, citrus, and torn bits of greens in a small bowl with a spittle of olive oil and a good sprinkling of sea salt. Spoon out onto a serving plate and drizzle with maple syrup.

5. Cover salad well with cling wrap and head for the nearest high bridge. Offer salad to any and all potential jumpers. If your luring is unsuccessful, self-medicate with said salad. Then return home and pour yourself a very large bourbon.

 

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About Michael Procopio

I write about food and am very fond of Edward Gorey. And gin.
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18 Responses to Eating Light

  1. tea_austen says:

    That is the closest thing I have ever seen to sunshine on a plate. Gorgeous.
    Also: don’t move to Seattle; you’d never survive our 9-month winter.
    You only think I’m kidding.

    • Oh, I do not think you are kidding. The frustrating thing is that I love inclement weather of all kinds and my color palette screams “Autumn.” However, there is evidently a part of my brain which thinks otherwise.

  2. Laurie says:

    Michael,
    This looks divine! I’ve been on the fruit/veggie green smoothie band wagon and that seems to help, too. Oh, and I always love the little stories to wind into your narrative. You’re such a talent.

    Best,
    Laurie

    • Thank you so much, Laurie. I love the idea of smoothies, but I do not love the idea of making them. Perhaps if a smoothie lady came to my door every morning at 8:30am (9:30am on weekends), I would consume more of them.

  3. Annie says:

    Try taking a daily Vitamin D supplement, too, if you’re not already. That helps not only mood but also helps stave off illness by strengthening your immune system. I’ve rarely been ill since I started taking them, whereas before I was sick often during the winter months, and took a long time to recover from each illness. YMMV, though.

    I also look forward to the Winter Solstice. Hate, hate, hate the short dark days of late autumn and early winter. At least when you reach sun-return you know the days will start to lengthen again. I have an annual Winter Solstice party to celebrate the fact!

    • On your advice, I have purchased a bottle of 180 soft gel Vitamin D supplements. Now do you think taking all 180 at once would help?

      • Tom says:

        Listen to Annie. I started taking 4000 mg of Vit D daily about 4 years ago (doctor’s advice) and feel wonderful. I also take long walks in the cold which also helps. My winter depression still hits somewhat about mid-March, but hey, by then “the dark time” is almost over. I always enjoy reading your stuff.

        • That’s exactly the amount I’ve been taking for the past couple of days. I can’t say the change is miraculous, but it does really help. Now if I could just haul my ass back to the gym… Thanks for the lovely comment.

          • Tom says:

            It takes time for the changes to happen. I noticed somewhat of a difference in my mood the first year, but then it got better and better with each passing year. And, I take it all year long–not just in the winter. I wish you the best and hopefully it will result in more of your great blog posts.

  4. Dee says:

    Beautiful. I really should keep beets in the house at all times. And you’re right that choosing nourishing food makes us feel physically strong, sure, but also virtuous and empowered–much more so than, say, half a bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos, which are the psychic equivalent of a meth binge. (Admittedly, I’ve never tried a meth binge.)

    • I never even knew Flaming Hot Cheetos existed. I tend to shy away from food that stains my hands (see: FH Cheetos, red beets) because I know I will one day ruin my beige upholstered furniture. One can’t be too careful about these things.

      And take it from me, you never, ever want to try binging on meth. Unless you have a lot of housework you need to do. And gardening. And re-organizing your neighbor’s garage without her knowing it at 4am.

  5. I’m in the seasonal affected disorder club too — but I won’t be giving up bourbon any time soon. Talk about depressing.

  6. One little piece of sunshine on a plate!

  7. Pingback: Recipes for Valentine’s Day and Preparing for a Night of Sin |

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