I seem to forget each year how utterly exhausting January can be. After lounging around in California for a week and a half at Christmas, working here and there but by no means all day, and taking a few days off back in New York with my beloved for New Year's, spending a full day in the office and then going out for evening activities is terribly difficult. And somehow every year the days are busier in January than you ever expected they could be, and everyone wants to "catch up after the holidays" so evenings are booked solid.
But at the same time it's bitterly cold outside and all you really want to do is hunker down in cozy clothes under a cozy blanket, eat cozy food and watch movies or perhaps bad wedding reality shows on the WE channel. Perhaps emerging only if properly dressed to do some outdoor activity in a pristine location as we did last weekend when we went snowshoeing up at the Mohonk Mountain House.
There's a very unique culinary feeling about January...I'm not in the mood for anything elaborate, just satisfying food with few ingredients that can simmer away, untended, as I snuggle down on the couch. But at the same time, after the excesses of the holidays I'm not looking for anything as serious as braised short ribs or cassoulet...I want something cleansing and nourishing and light.
It is this unique need that develops at specific times of the year that has made me fall in love with Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries (I have already fallen in love with all of his other books after all).
My parents bought it for me some time ago as a gift and I had periodically flipped through it in a rather cursory way, knowing that I liked the book but not really understanding why.
But now that I have pulled it off of the shelf in a more serious way, I see that Mr. Slater's diary about what he ate throughout one year of his life (and the accompanying recipes) is wonderful to cook along to in real time. Just as I yearn for something hearty yet easily digested on the first day of the new year, so does he, and he provides just the recipe to fill that yearning (an indian scented pumpkin soup in case you are wondering).
One evening when I was looking for something hot (not an unusual desire at this time of year) but easy and clean, I took his lead and threw together a pot of thai scented mussels and was absolutely sated.
The other night I even transgressed and wandered a bit into February to make some chicken (in my case pork, as I could find no reasonably priced ground chicken) patties in broth (served over rice in my case) which were delightfully easy and delicious and homey.
And this evening, in addition to the bulgar with eggplant and mint that I made for dinner tonight and for lunches this week, I was in the mood for something aromatic and sweet, so I immediately flipped to his ginger cake.
And came out with this
which I will not be, as Mr. Slater suggests, letting mature for a day or two. Rather, I'll be cutting into it in short order, reveling in it's warmth and spice and January-ness.
This cooking alongside a seasonal cook thing may be a full-year endeavor for me...or perhaps when the sun comes out and the warmth comes rushing in I'll lose interest entirely? I certainly hope not...I'd be missing out on loads of excellent and appealingly easy recipes.