I have been dreaming about tomatoes. Specifically, tomatoes in my garden. And I don’t mean I have been metaphorically dreaming about them, or daydreaming about them. I have had actual sensory-laden night-time dreams so rich with sense memories that I could feel the weight of the sun-warmed fruit resting in my hand, its lush red skin smooth and taut with ripeness. When I woke from these dreams, I swore I could feel the rich black composted soil under my fingertips; smell the earthy scent of the rain nourishing the thick stems of the tomato plants; see the tiny tendrils of new shoots growing in the sun; taste the sweet and tart juice of the warm fruit exploding in my mouth.
And when I awoke to find myself not kneeling in the damp soil of my garden but overheating in my fleece pajamas under flannel sheets, electric blanket, and thick winter comforter, I felt a sense of longing so profound that I knew I must find a way to channel it into other endeavors to distract myself from cabin fever. First, I re-inventoried my canned and frozen items from last year’s garden. This proved rather a depressing task, as nearly everything has dwindled down to almost the last jar with the exception of crab apple jelly and sweet pepper relish. So I got to thinking: what can I do in the winter that I don’t want to do in the summer? What tasks heat up the kitchen, which is welcome in the winter but not in the summer? Here are a few distractions I came up with to keep myself from tomato-deprivation depression:
I went to my dry goods and decided to work on using up all of those beans I have accumulated over the past few months: leftovers from recipes, portions from our weekly food-buying club bags, and sales where I stocked up. Each night I choose a different bean to soak, then the following day I cook those beans and either freeze them all right away or use some in a recipe and freeze the rest. The result has been rather impressive; my freezer is already jammed full, and it had been half empty before I started this project.
This photo shows the many jars of beans, and you will notice that I use the straight sided Ball jars of all sizes: half pint, pint, and pint-and-a-half. Having so many cooked beans on hand naturally led to making lots of soup. There are jars of potato leek soup, mushroom pinto chili, and mock cream of potato soup here. This week I will make another large batch of vegetable soup to use up the ever-growing stockpile of root vegetables I have accumulated from our weekly food-buying club bags. I also had a carton of orange juice about to go out of date, so I froze small portions of it for use in recipes where I only need a few tablespoons or so. I also froze it into ice cube trays and put the cubes in freezer bags for use in smoothies in the future.
Finally, I turned to likely the most traditional of winter kitchen activities, baking. I have been trying to cut back on the sweets, especially refined sugar, but I still love to bake. This week I made peach crisp, apple-onion focaccia bread, banana muffins, and my best creation of the week, almond orange biscotti, pictured above. I finally perfected my method for getting them as crispy as we like, which simply involves leaving the cookies in the oven with the heat turned off for several hours after the second baking. This allows the cookies to dry out just enough but not get burnt. These are a very low fat biscotti from the Forks Over Knives cookbook that I altered a bit with my own dried orange peel and some orange extract I had languishing in the spice cupboard. (I also inventoried my spices this week. Yes, I really miss my garden!)
Next week I plan to start mapping out my garden for the spring in one of the many garden journals I have collected. Even though we won’t be able to plant here in Northeast Ohio until after Memorial Day, a girl can dream…both metaphorically and literally. And in the meantime, I’d love to hear what you do in the winter to distract yourself until gardening season.