January 14, 2010

A Warm Country Meal for a Long Winter's Night


Winter in Oregon is dark. Our short Pacific Norhtwest days are clouded over, sometimes creating weeks of not seeing the direct light of the sun. For those of us born and bred in brighter climes, this can pose a challenge to our senses of well-being. It becomes a matter of perspective whether we deem the days short or the nights long. I'm learning, after 19 Oregon winters, how to make peace with the dark.

A. Candles. Lots and lots of candles on the dining table to evoke warm bright light. Candlelight implies warmth and light while holding respect for the reality of winter. They seem to say, "Hang on... Good and hopeful things are happening deep within".

B. Warm company. If you've been blessed by warm relationships, you know what I'm talking about here. Relish those. If you haven't, don't give up. Imagine the life and relationships you'd like to have. Settle for nothing less. With firmly set intentions, it will happen. Promise. And learn to enjoy your own warm company in the meantime.

C. Great wine. Take the time to really notice the wine you drink. Don't rush this. If you've been blessed with warm company (see above), don't be afraid to share what you smell, taste and feel in your glass. If you are by yourself, write it down. Noticing the nuances in your wines dials you in to notice many other wonderful things about a dark day. Sharing it affirms your humanity.

D. Winter foods. Cool salads and fruits are great, but may throw your sense of well-being way off in the dark days. Read a little about Ayurvedic eating and apply the concepts to your table, such as using warming spices, cooked orange veggies and dark leafy greens and dense grains and beans. A little pork now and then won't hurt either. Start your meal early and end it late, savoring each bite and sip and word and thought shared at your table. Accepting the long evening the Universe has given as its gift lightens the darkness.

Our solstice meal honored the beauty of a long winter's night. White beans cooked with rosemary, sage, garlic and chard; pork chops; roasted acorn squash with brown sugar glaze (these plump beauties were held over from our garden), and olive oil biscuits. A lush bottle of hand-crafted French style '06 Chardonnay from one of our favorite wineries, Amalie Robert, reminded us of Willamette Valley's summer grass fields. The fruit in my first sip was like a bite of green olive. (As an aside, Amalie Robert's Syrah showed up on our our Christmas celebration table. This beautifully structured elixir with notes of tobacco, leather and brandied cherries stole the show.)

We'd snuck a sip or two of the wine before dinner prep, and that olive-y nuance made me think of these biscuits. Here's the recipe:

Olive Oil Biscuits:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt, finely ground
5 Tbsp. intensely flavored olive oil
1 cup milk*
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Whisk together dry ingredients in medium mixing bowl. Toss in Parmesan to coat. Measure olive oil and milk together, and briefly stir into dry ingredients just until it comes together, no more. Drop biscuits with scoop onto parchment lined baking sheet. With damp fingers, apply light pressure to subtly flatten biscuit tops. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Crumbly, rich and terrific.
*If you are feeling particularly decadent, use half milk, half cream.

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