“The north wind doth blow, and we shall have snow, and what will the poor robin do then, poor thing?”
Mother Goose had that robin huddled up in a warm and cozy barn. Perhaps, but more than likely Mama Robin headed south and will not return until she is sure that she can harvest some earthworms after the spring rains. For those of us who cannot head to warmer climes to await the awakening of the earthworms, we offer you a warm and sunny spin on our bleakest month.
First and foremost, our days are getting longer. While you might not notice it, beginning on December 22 the days gradually get longer by one to two minutes each day. On January 31 the sun will rise at 7:06am and set at 5:12pm — giving us a full 53 minutes more of daylight since the winter solstice. Break out the sunscreen.
Eat some sunshine. Make no bones about it, I am fully committed to eating locally. During the summer months I wholeheartedly embrace the noble concept of the 100-mile diet. On Long Island we are blessed with an abundant variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs. That said, the only fresh local fruit to be had in January are last of the apples from the late autumn harvest. Maybe it is the dark gray days or my body’s way of telling me that I need vitamin C, but I find myself craving citrus this time of year. Thankfully, the citrus growers in Florida can deliver sunshine right to our front doors: blood oranges, navel oranges, Valencias, tangerines, tangelos, clementines, ruby red grapefruits, lemons and limes. Now I think I might survive until strawberry season.
Chowders, and soups, and stews, Oh, my! One of the best parts of eating seasonally is the changeover to winter comfort foods. As the days grow shorter my hankering for a pot of something simmering on the stove grows more intense. Clam chowders (give Sam Sifton’s recipes for New England, Manhattan or Rhode Island chowders a whirl), warm soups (how about Chef Alex Lee’s Pumpkin Soup or Chef Philippe Corbet’s Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée) and hearty stews such as beef, chicken, lamb, pork or Great South Bay Oyster Stew. Salads and grilled steaks can wait for summer, right now a piping hot bowl of something savory satisfies all my senses.
Who doesn’t love hot chocolate? Send the Swiss Miss back to Switzerland — we don’t need no stinking packets of instant mix! Great hot chocolate is basically two ingredients: chocolate and milk. Want to jazz things up a bit? How about some Vegan Hot Chocolate, piled high with Sweet and Sara’s vegan marshmallows, Nutella Hot Chocolate or Chocolate Caliente? For adults only may we suggest Brooklyn Stout Hot Chocolate or Rough Rider Bourbon Hot Chocolate. Basic, jazzed-up or adult…made-from-scratch hot chocolate will keep you warm from the inside out.
Oysters in JanuaRy. Back in the days before proper refrigeration, it was advised to only eat oysters in months that contained the letter “r” — September through April. While modern technology has alleviated any concerns about refrigeration, it is still advisable to consume raw oysters in the fall, winter or spring because during the summer months oysters are spawning. Spawning oysters are watery, fatty, soft and generally less-tasty than they are in the cooler months. The waters surrounding Long Island are full of some of the best oysters in the world and January is prime time for slurping. Blue Island Oyster Company farms them in the Great South Bay and sends intrepid divers out into the frigid waters of the Long Island Sound to harvest wild oysters. And, if you suffer from a fear of shucking…we have you covered with a tell-all, show-all video on the art of oyster shucking. Slurp up!
Time to start planning your garden. It is not too early at all; in fact it is the perfect time to start planning your spring planting. Not much satisfies this gardener more in January than to peer into my mailbox and find it stuffed with seed catalogs. The first go-round is just a looksy, followed by some serious dog-earing, list making and eventual over-ordering (excess seeds do keep from year to year with just a slightly diminished germination ratio). My favorites? Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, Kitazawa Seed Company, Seeds of Change, High Mowing Organic Seeds, FedCo Seeds and the Hudson Valley Seed Library.