Now that summer is here, it's a struggle to remember a few months back to winter, with its short days and long, punishingly cold nights. But lately, as my refrigerator bulges with all the delicious spoils of my CSA share and the plants in my small city garden plot groan under the weight of their fruits and vegetables, I've been thinking of the months when my larders weren't quite as full.
Normally a creative and inspired home cook, I found myself utterly lacking in ideas. My robust of collection of professional-grade pots and pans stared sadly back at me. When I did cook, I prepared the same unchallenging, uninteresting meals — tomato soup, baked pasta, braised greens — over, and over, and over again.
While wintertime doesn't seem to affect my mood, I definitely suffer from what you might call Seasonal Cooking Disorder (SCD). A devotee of eating as locally and seasonally as I'm able, my spirits plummet during the cooler months, when my CSA and food cooperative stock not the bright, sweet strawberries, juicy zucchini, and meaty eggplants I love to cook and eat, but boring ol' onions, potatoes, and broccoli instead. Food shopping becomes a lot less enjoyable for me, and, as a result, my meals become entirely utilitarian affairs.
During the spring and summer, there's nothing I love more than taking to the kitchen armed with a pile of produce. Even when I'm overly ambitious, my efforts generally turn out more or less tasty, thanks to the freshness of the ingredients.
But in the fall and winter, I tend to fall into a culinary rut from which it's difficult to clamber out — and last winter was no exception.
The Restaurant Meal That Cured My Seasonal Cooking Disorder (SCD)
Luckily, toward the end of the season, my love of cooking was rescued by a fortuitous restaurant meal. My friend Bonnie and I had spent the afternoon on a cold, drizzly walk around the Brooklyn neighborhood where I grew up when I instinctively found myself at my happy place. Frequented by big, boisterous families tucking into bountiful, shareable plates of warming stews and tender braised meats, the bare-bones Yemeni cafe was just what we needed after our bone-chilling ramble.
Navigating between the teeming tables, we took our seats and, without even looking at the menu, I ordered what I always do: lamb haneeth, salted and spiced leg of lamb that's slow-roasted in a pressurized wood-burning oven until it falls apart.
It's the kind of dish that doesn't stand on ceremony: To eat it, you tear at the meat with fresh bread, baked in the same taboon oven. And when you run out of bread, you pick up the bones and eat until they're completely stripped of the tender, juicy meat. Unfussy but insanely tasty, it's the kind of dish I love to eat — and love to cook.
As our waiter approached our table bearing the heavy silver platter of meat, I knew I was just where I needed to be, safe from the cold and surrounded by good food and happy, chattering families. There was no hyper-local produce on the plate, just a rich tangle of flesh bolstered by some soupy potatoes and onions — the very vegetables I love to hate during the winter.
And yet there was nothing I would rather be eating.
After that evening, I returned to my kitchen. It didn't matter, anymore, that my pantry was full of the same ol' suspects; if I was going to suffer through the cold and the dark, I might as well nourish myself as best I could with exactly what I had on hand.
For the rest of the winter — which, mercifully, soon departed just as suddenly as it had descended — I made best friends with my big enameled Dutch oven, turning out hearty, meaty stews and braises that were soulful and reliably delicious. And if I had an onion or a potato to spare, I tossed those in, too.
Do you also suffer from SCD? How do you overcome the winter cooking slump?