February is—for me—the most singular month of the year. It’s short, it’s unforgiving with its wicked weather and romantic overtures, and it’s spelled with one of the most baffling “r’s” in the English language. It’s bitterly cold, often snowing, and work is in shorter supply (at least for those of us whose idea of work is what other people call a party). With a little less cash, a little less sunlight and a little less warmth, I find myself a lot more inclined to stay in on February nights, maybe more than any other time of year. Mac used to find it maddening, but there is many a day, in February especially, when I don’t even leave my apartment. Why should I? I can work from home, eat from home, drink from home, and never have to change out of PJ’s. While I love my friends, I equally covet my downtime, passing an evening or two or three alone, practicing my well-honed version of R&R: Recipe development and developmental Reflection.
On one such night last week, I found myself perusing through old Market Reports, reflecting back to the sultry months of summer, when I first began posting them. I had just returned from my weekly jaunt up to Union Square, and a medley of root vegetables—turnips, potatoes and shallots, drizzled in olive oil and sea salt—were roasting away in the oven. The dreary sight of the Square with but a few farm stands surviving winter’s wrath, made me yearn for past posts about peaches and gooseberries; gooseberries! Tiny, frail little balls of sweetness so fragile that it’s hard to imagine New York was ever warm enough for them to grow. Flipping through the posts was like turning the pages of an old family album. From tomatoes to melons to figs to pumpkins, I watched the seasons turn, turn, turn and was reminded of Mother Nature’s motto, made famous by Pete Seeger, “A time to plant, a time to reap.”
It is with that in mind that I confess a dithering passion for winter produce and outdoor shopping excursions. I still visit the markets, but I’m less enthused about their offerings. I still support local farmers and spend my consumer dollars on plants and proteins that take the dinosaur kale’s approach to resilience, but I also find myself more attuned to my Aunt Susie’s recipe for surviving Buffalo winters. While others might preach, “Bundle up” or “Don’t forget a hat,” Susie’s expression resonates across kitchens and climates. She suggests, “Take it slow.”
From now until early April, I plan to slow down my market visits and beef up on veggies made from hardier stock: apples, pears, shell beans, cabbage, beets, carrots, onions, garlic, potatoes, parsnips, celery root, turnips, winter squash and shallots. These are the standard bunch of sturdy produce that can withstand cold storage and frosted afternoons in the open air, and these are the strapping stars of winter’s menus, suited to slow roasting, braising and one-pot meals. Farmers will be hawking little else till spring, so the food-forward among us have but little choice other than to seek out the joy in seasonal eating by squeaking out a meal that embraces the singular challenge that is February. If you get stuck, take it slow, find comfort in a quiet night at home and give stew a chance!