Despite the fact the lowlands of Boulder are enjoying some lovely 60 degree weather, January is the armpit of the year. The 31 day span following New Years’ is second only to February in my book as the most uninspiring and agonizing month. Gone is the cheer of holiday lights and the romance of first snow or cuddling when it’s cold. What’s left is my house smelling like wood smoke and a landscape gone brown and scudded with snow, coupled with an impossible yearning for the green of spring, still months and months off. As yet another of my friends jets off to St. John or Yalapa only to come back with a fabulous tan, I batten down the hatches on the mountain top where the winter wind makes even the 50 degree days feel more like 35.
Into this mix goes my poor, overworked palate, blown out by too much celebration. My taste buds are dulled to halt and like an addict, I need more and more flavor to feel even the slightest zing on my tongue. Plus, the last thing I want to eat is more stewed or roasted meat and root vegetables, however delicious and deeply flavored; but let’s face it, a crispy cold salad, which would relieve some of my tired taste buds, isn’t all that appealing when my fingertips are icy for most of the morning as I wait for the wood stove to do its job.
What I need is a bit of sunshine on my plate, but in a form that warms instead of cools.
Ladies and gentlemen, enter the lemon.
In the summer, these small yellow citrus globes cool. There’s nothing like Shaker Lemon Pie made from thin sliced whole lemons macerated in sugar or the oh-my-god relief of fresh squeezed lemon aid in the heat of July. But in winter, the lemon changes character, showing a more coquettish face. When icy weather pounds at the door and the days seem like drudgery, the lemon warms and lightens, breathing life into what’s to eat.
I made a little lemon curd for Christmas this year, and on a whim, dotted the baked pancake I make for Greg and me with its sunny loveliness. The pancake puffed up around added blackberries and raspberries as usual, but when we cut into it, it had tiny preserved pockets of lemon curd that exploded with just the right amount of tart and sweet in our mouths. Now I can’t imagine making the pancake any other way.
I also like to make a variation of Marcella Hazan’s classic pan-roasted rosemary and lemon chicken, using skinless bone-in chicken breasts. It’s a dish that is substantial enough for cold nights, but lighter on the digestion. To make it, heat a pan on the stove over medium for 3-5 minutes before placing the seasoned breasts face down in just a bit of olive oil with a few whole garlic cloves and some fresh rosemary sprigs. The trick here is the properly preheated pan. A skillet that isn’t at the right temperature will stick and stick badly, while one brought to temperature will brown the meat and release it. Wait until you can easily turn the breast, then brown on the other side. Deglaze the pan with the juice of two lemons and some white wine and let the breasts simmer, covered, for 8-12 minutes depending on size. Remove the breasts to rest while turning the heat up on the pan until the sauce reduces by 1/3. Serve with roasted rosemary potatoes and asparagus or an arugula salad.
A few of my other favorite recipes include luscious Lemon Soufflé Pancakes and silky French White Bean Soup. I’m still eating winter foods, but the lemon provides the tart, sexy promise of warmer months and lighter eating.
If winter has you down and, like me, you won’t be going anywhere warm any time soon…
Let a little lemon into your life!