Key themes for winter:
* stillness * storage * retreat * restoration * receptivity * kidneys * adrenals * cooked foods * bone broths * spices * roots * soups & stews * warming foods * immune support * nourishing *
“For many of us, our interest in seasonality is somewhat selective. We want the warmth without the cold; we want the long days without the long nights; we want the abundance without the scarcity; we want the birth and growth without the death and decay. But without the death and decay there is no rebirth. Abundance is a subjective experience, not an objective reality. It is something that we feel, not something that we have. Those of us who have gone traveling to a so-called poor country and encountered an amazing spirit of generosity and a true sense of abundance can attest to this. We find it surprising and charming and quite exotic. Without the sense of scarcity, there is no sense of abundance, because there is no perspective.”
~ Jessica Prentice, Full Moon Feast
The Winter Equinox typically falls around December 21st, marking the shortest day and the longest night of the year. It is at this time that we finally move into the winter months where our daylight hours go by quickly and nature has moved inward to store and save energy. Our extremities get cold easily this time of year as blood moves into the center of the body to protect our organs.
When I learned that the kidneys were the organs associated with this season in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it made sense as this is the time of year we are to rest and restore. With an adrenal glad sitting atop each kidney, I could see this organ’s association with fatigue and burnout. The emotion associated with this organ by the TCM system is fear. Considering that we live in a culture where lights and light pollution are the norm, there is a strong chance that we may be uncomfortable with the dark and the mystery.
In the dark, we don’t know what is on the other side. In the dark, we don’t know where to take the next step. And, sometimes, in the dark we meet difficult emotions. When the trees are barren, will we remember fruit? When the fields lay fallow, will the plants grow again in the spring? In the cold, will I find warmth?
“I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”
~ Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark
It doesn’t surprise me that, when all of nature has tucked itself in, Americans are running around half-crazed. I sense that we are desperately avoiding the dark, the cold, the unknown. I get it.
It all starts with Halloween and the Big Sugar buzz. Then we slide into a feast-a-thon called Thanksgiving. Eventually, catapulting ourselves through the Hallmark-madness of Christmas with gift wrapping paper and boxes filling every trash can in sight. We finally top things off with a load of drinking on New Year’s Eve. This is the opposite of what our kidneys and adrenal glands need.
Over the past 15 years, I have experimented with alternative winter holidays. While living in San Francisco, I met with international friends and we had a pot-luck, sharing our favorite dishes from our respective countries. I also would travel to other countries during the winter to experience their winter holidays and New Year’s celebration.
One of my favorite celebrations was Pongol in Southern India. In mid-January, this agrarian fertility observance was felt all around. It signified the beginning of the sun’s 6-month journey northward and to encourage a bountiful harvest season. Fresh sugar cane was juiced and pressed and served with fresh squeezed lime. Bulls were painted and run through the streets. Rice and fruits, wrapped in banana leaves were offered in barns, local ashrams, and in field. Kolam, a style of decorative art using rice flour or colored chalk, was drawn by women in front of the doorways of their houses. The excitement for the new year was very tangible.
By traveling to and living in other places and having close friends from other countries, I gradually learned about non-commodified holidays. What they felt like. What they looked like. And, over the years, I have attempted to create rituals that connect me to the seasons, what is happening in my body, and what is really happening in nature.
Since this is kidney season (TCM), I like to find ways to nourish myself when I can. The kidneys and adrenals respond positively to cooked, wholesome foods, therapeutic massage, epsom salt baths, naps, writing a letter or poem, reading a good book, and gentle movement like yoga, tai chi, or qi gong.
Another thing I do is prepare chicken bone broth (you can also do pork, beef, deer, fish, or simply veggies and mushrooms). This warming and nourishing brew is one of the most healing agents for our digestive tracts. It provides quick nutrition that is easy to assimilate, rebuilds our damaged gut lining (especially good for those with Leaky Gut Syndrome, food allergies, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome), supports liver detox pathways, and provides a natural source of glucosamine and chondroitin which keep cartilage health and joint pain at bay.
With these healing virtues in mind, it’s interesting to point out that the word “restaurant” actually comes from the French word for “restoratives.” The first restaurant in the West was in France. It opened in the mid-1700s and served nourishing soups with a base of meat and eggs. The advent of this type of eatery was largely in response to crowded, noisy taverns, serving questionable food.
There is actually a new trend of bone broth cafes popping up in urban areas, like New York City and San Francisco. The merits of bone broth and nourishing soups are coming back into cultural consciousness, then. I think this revival of bone broth and soups harkens back to these early restaurants in France, where nourishing soups were the main meal for an urban population that needed food on-the-go that was nourishing and affordable.
Beyond the nutritional aspects of bone broth, we also have much we can say in regard to sustainability. Bone broths are typically made from the carcasses or bones of a butchered cow, pig, turkey, duck, or chicken (or fish). So, after the organs and the meat have been consumed, the nourishment from the ligaments, tendons, bones, and left-over meat is then utilized. This definitely eliminates any waste from the process of slaughtering and consuming an animal. Similar to the Native American practice of utilizing every bit of the buffalo to honor that animal, we can find ways to do that in our everyday lives.
For those of you that are vegetarian or vegan, you can make bone broths from mushrooms as well. You would simmer savory mushrooms like maitake, shitake, lion’s mane, or chicken-of-the-woods for 2 hours and then strain. Of course, you could add garlic, onions, carrots, and other vegetables and herbs to round out the taste. Some people store vegetable ends from chopping vegetables, in their freezer for broth making. The only thing is that you will not get the gut restoring and joint repairing properties that you would get in bone broth, as you are lacking all the amino acids from the animal carcass.
Sip on a cup of bone broth for breakfast in the morning (or for any meal of the day). Use the bone broth as a base for soups. Cook your greens with a splash of bone broth. Cook your rice in mineral-rich bone broth instead of just water. Experiment in the kitchen! And, enjoy the simmering of things in your warm kitchen this winter as the darkest night of the year draws near…
Traditional Bone Broth (Chicken)
To prepare a wholesome, mineral-rich chicken broth, you’ll need a stock pot as well as a fine mesh sieve.
Place the following ingredients into your stock pot:
1 whole pasture-raised chicken (rinsed, cleaned with organs removed) or carcass of a chicken already cooked and consumed
2 chicken feet (to add more gelatin to the broth, optional)
1 onions, chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
½-1 cup shitake mushrooms, dried or fresh (optional)
1/4 cup astragalus root (for added immune support, optional)
1/2 cup nettle leaf (for added mineral content, optional)
2 dried bay leaves
1 tbsp whole peppercorns
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tspn sea salt (the vinegar and salt are important for drawing minerals out from the bones)
Cover with filtered water into which you’ve stirred two tablespoons apple cider vinegar.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for four to six hours (or up to 12 hours).
After four to six hours of slow, gentle simmering, remove the pot from heat and strain it through a fine mesh sieve or a colander lined with 100% cotton cheesecloth into jars or bowls to store.
Refrigerate and cool until the broth sets into a firm gel. You can freeze as well.