Ahhh, a clean slate. It’s that time of year, I know. But I’m trying to keep the rituals of New Year’s resolutions out of my kitchen. Not that I have anything against the rituals we create to mark the passage of time. There is something so precious about these transitions and how they lead us to take stock of what was and leave certain things behind.
Better still: cultivating new experiences that lead to self-actualization — now that’s the good stuff. But why oh why must it happen now, just because the calendar resets on Jan. 1?
The way I see it, the dead of winter is when we require more rest, nourishment, and comfort. And that’s the way we should be living through the cold months. Which is why I think ambitious nutritional changes and weight loss goals, which have a way of creeping into New Year’s resolutions, don’t make a lot of sense.
My thinking is influenced by having studied Ayurvedic nutrition in southern India. I set out for a two-month stay there on New Year’s Eve 2018. My divorce had been finalized two months before, and I was having my Eat, Pray, Love moment. I stayed at the Sivinanda Yoga ashram and Ayurveda school in Kerala. In the Indian jungle I got to cook traditional foods with the grandmothers who were the chefs for the entire ashram.
Ayurveda’s roots — the word ayur translates as “life” and veda means “science” — go back some 5,000 years. It is a Hindu philosophical system that offers recommendations for everything we do, from setting our sleep schedules to how to live our sex lives. Modern wellness trends like regulating circadian clock rhythms, oil pulling, and intermittent fasting all have their roots in Ayurveda.
The philosophy is based on five elements: earth, air, water, fire, and ether. The Ayurvedic belief is that, because we are all born with these elements within us, because the food we eat contains them, and because the environment we live in is built with them, we can create harmony in our entire system by balancing them with opposites.
Let’s all go back to August for a minute. It’s 80 degrees out and we’re all headed to the beach. If we were to drink coffee in the morning, have sushi with lots of soy and ginger for lunch, and then have some red wine at dinner, we’d be adding heat to our already hot environment. Coffee, soy, ginger, and red wine are all considered heat-building foods.
In the summer, a proper Ayurvedic day of opposites might look like watermelon-mint juice in the morning, cucumber salad, and fresh fish — all considered cooling foods.
From this perspective, now is the time for that ginger and red wine and other warming, even unctuous, foods. My days will start with banana chocolate-chip oatmeal; there will be farro and chickpea stew; and now’s the season for eating red meat.
You don’t have to adopt an Ayurvedic lifestyle to know that banana chocolate-chip oatmeal is an excellent breakfast for getting through a New England winter. But it would be considered a balancing meal from that perspective: The oats are grounding; the chia seeds, nuts, and nut butter are oily, which is ideal for warding off winter’s dryness; the cinnamon is warming. And then a little sweetness to balance out the bitter cold.
Even if your New Year doesn’t include resolving to eat less of some comfort food you crave, there is a way of looking at any self-improvement project through the Ayurvedic lens, by the way. If you do, you just might end up saving some of your resolve for spring.
Consider the seasonal rhythms of planting and harvesting. January isn’t a good time to pierce through frozen ground, unearth what may be left from last year, and hope for the best. Rather it is a time to start getting excited about what you hope to plant once the thaw comes. And before you plant, some planning is required. That is really what this time of year requests of you.
Fall is the perfect time to take stock of the recent harvest and integrate what worked and what didn’t. Deep winter is an opportunity to be with what is internal, to make plans. Especially over a bowl of hot oatmeal.
KNOCK YOUR MORNING SOCKS OFF OATMEAL
Makes 1-2 servings
¾ cup water
Pinch of salt
¼ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 Tbsp. chia seeds
1 Tbsp. ground flax meal
Loads of cinnamon
Bittersweet chocolate chips, to taste
2 Tbsp. preferred nut butter
1 Tbsp. crushed walnuts
1 underripe banana
Maple syrup, to taste
- Measure the water into a saucepan, add the pinch of salt, and set over high heat. Add oats and chia seeds (I like to let them boil with the oats — then you don’t even notice them!). Once it’s boiling, partly cover the pan with a lid and reduce heat to low, letting the oats and seeds barely bubble. Stir a few times while you’re making your favorite morning beverage.
- After 10 minutes, the oatmeal will still have a slightly watery consistency, but the oats should appear puffy. Add the flax, tons of cinnamon, and the nut butter until well combined.
- Serve piping hot. Add chocolate chips first, so they melt, then nuts, then thinly sliced banana, and, if you’re like me, maybe more cinnamon. I love a swirl of maple syrup as the cherry on top, but if you don’t have a sweet tooth, skip it.