The rhythm of my cooking, my kitchen changes during the holidays as so many of yours do.
There are cookies to bake, candies, lemon curd.
Then there are the traditional roasts and such.
It can be a season of excess: more butter, more spices, more cream than we typically consume. And, truth be told, I like spice, I like butter, I like cream.
After the holidays many launch into their "eat better" modes - cleanses are common, "detox" is heard often.
Even I tend to eat differently on weekdays than on weekends when I'm cooking for two. There are other reasons to sit, reflect and to make changes of course. It's cold and windy so it's nice to sit inside for a bit. Or, then, when you run into some health issues, some decisions get made for you.
For the time being, I am off dairy. Butter, cheese, ice cream, yogurt! Turns out, I'm ALLERGIC to dairy. Not "intolerant" but ALLERGIC. Talk about a bummer. I learned as I was in the midst of holiday baking, actually (see above and guess which items can be made without butter. Zero.) It's a moderate allergy as opposed to one that causes anaphylactic shock (like hazelnuts) but the allergist suggested that beginning January 1, I start a total elimination diet removing the three moderate allergens from my diet: dairy, carrots (I know, who the heck has ever heard of this one? Happens that in Europe they have a much higher incidence of this particular allergy than here in the US but it's not that common for either), and almonds. The nuts I thought I COULD eat. Oops.
So with much whining, I launched into this three month trial period of elimination, after which we will reintroduce these three allergens one at a time and see how they are tolerated. You know which one I'm starting with, right?
A Different Path is Revealed - Kansha
I'm half-Japanese, "hapa" as we say (if you're a fan of Hawaii 5-0 you'll hear this referring to someone who is half one thing and half another. Usually there "hapa-haoli" which means half-white and is not a compliment. I digress.) Growing up, we ate very "American" food. Due mostly to my Mother's desire to assimilate into her new culture, we had Velveeta, Wonder Bread, Tang. Mm mm. But once in a while we had "her food." And as I got older, I began to eat more of it at college and then at home. After she and my father divorced she ate her own foods, much more regularly. And, we know how much gyoza have figured into my marriage...
While I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself (No butter! How will I bake?! No carrots? How do you make mirepoix w/o carrots! What about juicing?) a beautiful thing happened. Elizabeth Andoh sent me her lovely new cookbook, Kansha. I can just about hear my Mother falling over right now because this post already contains about as much Japanese as I speak, in total. But Kansha is a style of cooking and also a philosophy. It's also a gift to me at this moment of sorry self-absorbed focus on deprivation.
Kansha is also a very timely book when so many of us are trying find ways to tread lightly as we consume. In the Kansha philosophy beautiful, healthy food is made using every bit, "heaven and earth" (leaves and roots) of the vegetables. Layers of flavor are achieved through choices of broths and other ingredients, as well as through cooking techniques. Our palates, indeed, all our senses, can become dulled or jaded. Especially with food we find ourselves seeking hotter, spicier, fattier, crunchier, saltier foods in a search for satisfaction. Just as yoga or meditation can ground us and help us shake the frenetic noise in our lives, Kansha cooking can awaken our appreciation for simpler, cleaner flavors. Think of California cuisine versus heavy classic sauce-covered foods. A fresh, first-of-spring asparagus spear doesn't need hollandaise, even if we enjoy it. It's important, once in awhile at least, to simply enjoy the beauty of it - unadorned.