The winter is officially here. The days are getting shorter and shorter and at 17:00 is already dark. The first year that I came to the Netherlands to live I found it extremely hard to adjust and the weather and darkness during winter months had a lot to do with it. The second year I was emotionally prepared and it was somewhat easier. Year three was much better and I had already started working from home as a writer, which means no need to go out in the cold and snow and darkness at 9:00. This is the fourth year and not only do I get to work from home, but I have the little bun in the oven to keep me company and a much better view. Poor N. has to bike and then take the train to go to work, which I can imagine will get harder and harder as the weather gets colder, but he does not complain at all, which I truly admire.
What makes winter much more bearable for me is books. I love reading and since last year I was way to busy to read as much as I would like, I made sure to bring tons of books from Greece, when we went there for the summer, so I have enough to read this winter. Of course, I ended up reading all of them before September was even here, but I still have some English books that are waiting to be read. No matter how busy I am during the day, I try to read a few pages before I fall asleep every night, just to feed my mind. When it comes to books, I am not particularly selective. I feel that even really bad books have something to teach us and I seldom leave a book half-read. I do however really fall in love with good books. Following are a few books that I read the last months and I feel were worth my time and taught me a thing or two about human nature:
- 1Q84, Haruki Murakami A travel through time and space, with a lot of surrealism, Murakami’s usual great character development and general awesomeness.
- Will you please be quiet, please?, Raymond Carver This one was a suggestion of Jorn Hammerrat and it is a collection of short stories. They are so realistic that they remind you why you don’t like reality and read fiction. In a good way, if that makes any sense.
- The Voice Imitator, Thomas Bernhard Another collection of short stories, filled with a dark sense of humor, despair and drama. Again, in a good way.
- My year of love, Paul Nizon I liked this one a lot, mainly because the main character is a struggling writer and lives in Paris. I read a Greek translation, so I am not sure if the English one is any good.
Currently I am reading a selection of short stories by Joseph Conrad but I just started it, so I won’t make any suggestions. But do order yourself some books and if you click the links I gave you (with the exception of the Nizon one) you will be taken to Better World Books. Order your books from them, because a) you can get used books for cheap and b) for each book that you buy, one gets donated to children in need.
So, all you need for a great winter is a stack of books, tons of tea or other herbal infusions and soups! I have to admit that we have cooked great soups and we have cooked blunt, watery soups as well. But now I discovered the secret of the perfect vegetable soup and it is this:
KEEP WATER TO A MINIMUM
See the picture above? The water has to barely cover the vegetables and the pot has to be packed with vegetables to end up with a tasty soup that does not need any flavor enhancers, like stock. Maybe this is obvious for everyone else on planet Earth, but it took me a while to figure it out, so I thought I should share it with you. In the case of the soup pictured, I let everything simmer for about 30′ and then I blended it and ended up with a nice, thick, creamy soup.
By the way, did you know that if you fill the blender to the top, once you push the “on” button you will end up with soup everywhere but in the blender? Oh, you knew. Ok. I just thought I should check.
You can make tasty vegetable soups using pumpkins, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, lentils, peas, beans, leaks, tomatoes, carrots… The list goes on and on. And soups are a great way to consume a great volume of vegetables that otherwise would be hard to incorporate into your diet. You can add some coconut milk or vegetable cream to make your soups thicker. Olive oil and margarine will add more taste and so will all sorts of fresh herbs and spices. Just experiment!
A note on dairy
As you probably already know, I have been vegan since April 2012. N. has been eating a vegan diet at home as well, but ate some vegetarian stuff when eating outside. Now, what you do not know is that since I found out I am pregnant, I have been craving cheese like crazy. I could have handled it, but I also felt great aversion towards my once favorite fruits and vegetables. All I could eat was toast with melted cheese. I kept telling myself that it is OK, I probably need the animal protein or calcium, but having read what I have read about dairy, I know it was just lame excuses. The only reason that I craved cheese was because it is highly addictive and my hormones are wacky at the moment. But my body did not handle it well. I started feeling more sluggish, my skin broke out and my number one sign that something is wrong with dairy was a super congested nose. At first I thought it was a virus -and it probably was- but once I felt better after a couple of days, the congestion did not go away. Here is a short relevant article that briefly explains the link between dairy and congestion.
What was worse was the fact that with all that bread and cheese, we did not leave space in our diet for healthy foods. And then yesterday -bam!- I just felt fed up with the cheese. I realized it makes me feel sick, it is not particularly good for the baby either and N. said that he was not feeling at his best since we started consuming it as well. So yesterday I went to the supermarket, loaded our freezer with fruits and veggies and we are going back on track. Eggs are staying, because even though I really wanted to have a vegan pregnancy, I am still not confident that I properly absorb B12 from my prenatal vitamins and I prefer to have a direct food source as well, at least for as long as I am responsible for another human being. I am still well aware of the cruelty involved in the egg industry and I am not fine with it, but at the moment it is a matter of priorities.
Despite what adjustments I make to my diet during the pregnancy, all the recipes on this blog will be vegan, because I do not want to promote animal cruelty through it in any way and I firmly believe that there is nothing more beneficial than meals loaded with plant-based whole foods.