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Warming Spices

I grew up in Hawaii and lived there until my early twenties. (I was born in Louisiana, though, so I have Cajun roots!) My wintertime was spent in bathing suits, muumuus, and bare feet. The thought of simmering nourishing hot soup or slow roasting meat and root vegetables somehow didn’t seem to inspire my mother or me. Those were not the sort of foods we were mostly craving. So, being the domestic, kitchen-loving person that I am, you can imagine how crazy I went when I finally moved to the “mainland” and discovered the pleasure of cooking in cold weather. Having lived mostly in warm climates, it took me a while to adjust to truly cold weather. And quite honestly, cooking when it’s cold outside made the adjustment much easier. I learned quickly that I could warm myself up easily by eating simmering hot foods and adding warming spices. Ginger I had always heard about the health benefits of ginger, and of course in Hawaii, the two warming ingredients I used were ginger and wasabi. Ginger, both the root and the powder, has been used for eons as a remedy for cold, congestion, digestive issues (think nausea), as an anti-inflammatory, and is consumed in some cultures with fatty foods because it helps in the digestion of fats. And ginger tea is a lifesaver during freezing weather. My favorite way to make it is really simple. Take a ginger root, peel about ½ inch of it, and grate it into a mug using a fine grater or a special ginger grater, if you happen to have one. Then pour boiling water over it. Cover and steep for 5 minutes. You can strain it or leave it as is. You can add goodies such as lemon or lime juice, honey, raw sugar, agave, cinnamon, just about any favorite fruit juice, dairy milk, coconut milk, nut milk, and yes, even a little rum! Wasabi I think of wasabi as Japanese horseradish. Actually, I really think of it as a sinus purge! And a quick one at that! During cold weather, I like to add wasabi powder to mayonnaise, mustard, and even organic ketchup. I also like to mix it into a paste and spread it on crackers with honey-mustard and a slice of raw milk cheese, turkey, or ham. This is some powerful stuff! Add it to anything that calls to you; but I must warn you that no matter how stuffy your sinuses are: resist temptation to snort! Powered Spices Cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves add flavor and aroma to just about any dish, and make wintertime cooking a fragrant meditation for me. Cinnamon makes everything smell so wonderful! It is known for its anti inflammatory and anti bacterial properties and may play an important role in lowering blood sugar levels. It can also help balance cholesterol levels and lower triglycerides. This is especially good news for people with type-2 diabetes. As a child, I always remember my mother sprinkling nutmeg over eggnog at Christmas time, and over baked custard all the time! It can help lower blood pressure, calm muscle spasms, and increase circulation. And remember clove oil for a toothache? Cloves really do help ease tooth and gum pain, but they are also useful for intestinal distress caused from parasites, bacteria, and fungus. Easy ways to use these spices are in stewing and baking seasonal fruits, adding to hot cooked cereals, and even using them for savory dishes such as adding to a marinade for lamb or meat, coating a roasting chicken, and adding to casseroles. Curry Curry powder is another wonderful way to warm the winter. Although curry will vary from region to region, the addition of turmeric, cumin, and coriander is a sure thing. Turmeric is what gives curry that rich dark yellow-orange color. This is a really wonderful spice that has powerful anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing properties. I remember when I lived in India in the early 1980s. When someone caught a cold, they were given a glass of hot milk with a teaspoon of turmeric stirred in. Cumin is one of my very favorite flavors; I add it to almost everything! For centuries, it has been used as a digestive aid; it soothes nausea, helps stop gas, dyspepsia, and is beneficial for general indigestion. Coriander seeds have many known health benefits, too. Among them are settling the stomach, quelling inflammation, lowering blood sugar, and raising HDL cholesterol while lowering LDL cholesterol. I recently made a curry seafood soup. And I was in a hurry, too! It was super easy, super warming, and super nourishing. Here’s what I did: Sautéed some celery, garlic (very warming!), and onion in a tablespoon of ghee (clarified butter). Then I added ½ can organic diced tomatoes, drained, and about a cup of organic frozen cut green beans. I threw in a small handful of jasmine rice, a couple of teaspoons of curry powder, about 3 cups of seafood stock in the aseptic package I had on hand from Whole Foods, and a 6-ounce fillet of frozen Whole Catch Mahi-Mahi. I covered it and simmered for about 20 to 25 minutes or so. It was done when the rice was cooked and I could break the Mahi up into pieces. I then added a pinch of Celtic sea salt and a healthy grind of black pepper. That was it. I think this would be great with frozen peeled shrimp as well. Delicious! And for dessert: A steaming mug of ginger tea with our amazing Chai-Spiced Cookies! What do you do to stay warm? Got a favorite spice? I’d love to hear.