[Monterey, January 2011.]

(Very) Occasionally I wish I still lived on the East Coast, mostly because of the snow. There were some — if fairly rare — winter days when DC was blanketed with great swathes of white and there was nothing to do for it but to stay inside and huddle up close to the radiator and sit in my orange stripey chair by the window with a cup of tea and read and read. The buses couldn’t run, Metro was shut down, hopefully I’d have enough provisions in the house — and time would slow and stop. It was too cold and wet to do much outside except maybe tromp through the un-plowed streets of my little neighborhood to get a coffee or visit friends; mostly I used those days as excuse to stay in and take some time off.

Winter in my particular part of the U.S. is very different from the other side of the country. I could say winter in Northern California is awful — and indeed sometimes it is; I think right around this time last year I was droning on about the endless rain — but then I’ll go outside for a minute, like I just did, and it’s about 60+ degrees and sunny. California is quite mercurial, and its seasons so often turned around (solidly in the 50s for much of July, for example), that you can get a suntan right in the middle of January while the rest of the country is digging out of snowbanks. On Saturday I ran for hours and hours in the park and along the ocean in the cool sun and it was splendid, a gift of an afternoon. How-ever could I complain about that?

But, err, sometimes I do wish a little bit for an excuse to do nothing, hence the subsequent yearning for a bit of snow. Time, time: I need and want more of it these days and it’s become my most precious commodity (well, except for good coffee of course). So perhaps I should find some real wintry weather to force myself to flake out?

[In Pacific Grove, January 2011.]

Oh, but then I wouldn’t see beautiful things like this — the ocean crashing away on a sunny Sunday morning! Though I might have a fondness in my nostalgic heart for February visits to Rochester, NY, or weeks in freezing Maine, the Pacific Ocean in winter sun is a thing of unparalleled beauty. I only want more and more of it.

A few times a year I have an almost physical longing for spring, heightened on days (like Sunday) when the weather behaves very unseasonably and foreshadows what’s to come. I feel the warming wind coming off the sea, see the bright sun blazing down on the green hills, feel that anticipatory energy that heralds the growing season and time of light — and I get impatient. Can you feel it? There’s only a few more months until Daylight Savings Time (March 13, not that I’m counting — much), and I know I’ll be ready.

I am feeling that wistfulness today, during this time when night descends so early even if the days are warm. The light is still bright, true, but in a different way. The Bay Bridge looks chilly and uncomfortable as the blue hour descends, and the headlights of cars blur sharply as they pass over it. I want to eat soup (and I have: a brown rice-lentil spinach I made last night) and sandwiches stuffed with melted cheese; I want to wear the warmest sweaters and tall boots and lounge inside in front of a fire.

Still, the sun calls (as well as other things), and I find myself unable to really sit and stay with all the Things to Do. This means I’ve been cooking a lot of quick and fast meals that don’t involve spending too much time in front of the stove but which are still pretty (well — very) healthy and delicious. I do think I ate quinoa almost every day last week; something I will make again and again (with documentation next time) is this: a huge pot of red quinoa to go along with a stir-fry of garlic, spring onions, lots of shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced strips of tofu, spinach, and broccoli, all mixed in together with a ginger-soy dressing that sparkled with lime juice. (I really couldn’t stop eating it it was so good.) I’ve also revisited that saving grace of the harried cook — the oven, which I used to roast an enormous pan of cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and button mushrooms (those + some soy protein constituted a fast and delicious dinner).

So if my meals lately have not been particularly glamorous, they have filled and nourished me quite well in these funny, summerish days that constituting mid-winter in San Francisco. All I want to eat (and eat) is a lot of protein, a lot of whole grains, and a lot of vegetables — so, I am. There has been baking, too (g-d forbid a week goes by without it), things like red velvet cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, coffee cake …. but mostly I’ve been throwing together fast and furious things that will feed me quick in the hour between Y and Z.

To that end, one of those is this simple stirfry I made the other day with the last of the vegetables I dug out of the drawer (I woefully neglected my farmers market for weeks — no more) and some leftover tofu. It took about 15 minutes to put together (that long mostly because of making the rice) and is something certainly which will make it into my regular rotation no matter how much time I have (or have not). All I did was cook together a few sliced mushrooms, a red bell pepper, 1/2 an onion, some cauliflower florets, and cubed tofu, doused in a citrusy tamari sauce. It was perfect.

So I mustn’t long for snow (my orange stripey chair, however, is another story). It’s a beautiful day here in this funny, foggy city where we take every sunny hour we can get — and happily so. Somehow I must store up this time for next summer, when I’m scarf-swathed and wishing for a day at the beach …

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