The end of the year in our family is a food and love marathon. We all look forward to it and yet it passes by so quickly when it is happening. We start celebrating (and therefore eating) on Christmas Eve with a meatless dinner (though a triumph of seafood dishes) to slide in a huge holy Christmas lunch. The leftovers are then mutually shared with close friends or family (again) on Boxing Day. Then on New Year’s Eve and New Year too, all to close up with Epiphany when that old lady called Befana brings sweets and candies into our homes for kids.
But isn’t it exactly how things should go? All year long we work hard to maintain a balance in our frenetic everyday lives, often setting aside even small life’s pleasures out of a sense of duty. But eventually – at the very end of the year – we take a spiritual rest and just let it go. Then with a light heart we enjoy: life, family, sons and daughters, friends, all through the fragrant comforting embrace of food.
With bellies and souls filled to the brim, a new year commences and a pristine energy starts crackling below the numbness. It’s time to start again. Like trees do under the snow, time has come to grow buds on our branches.
At home, in my kitchen, I honor this renascence period with small healthy changes without making large sacrifices, because life is too short.
This was indeed my granny’s philosophy, who lived through the Second World War. Never deny your spirit by turning down good food. Follow the cues of your body and trust the natural rhythm of nature to nurture both body and soul. This is the period of the year when vegetables are the pride of the kitchen. The table filled with green soups (like my gran’s which soup), pasta with veggies, savory pies and almost daily cooked fruit.
As chilly winds blow there is nothing like a warming, sweet bowl of fruit that is packed with antioxidants and health. The perfect blissful bite to begin the spiritual and physical rebirth of a New Year.
Though this is not the best season for fresh fruit, my granny used to cook small, red, lumpy, crunchy and juicy apples that I discovered were a very ancient variety of local apples harvested in the backcountry of Genoa called “Cabellotta”. These apples were the best that the territory possessed during over the centuries. The trees strong and reaching high into the sky, about twenty meters tall and able to produce 400 kg of apples a year. Special apples that thanks to a natural wax on their skin could resist the bitter chill of winter.
She used to bake them in the oven with a splash of some white wine or stew them with cinnamon sticks and clove stars. The preparation I most loved, though, was her hot fruit salad which mixed apples and the sweetest pears enriched with delicacies hidden in her pantry. Dried fruits that looked like gems, generally leftovers of a Christmas party – Genoese traditionally put out a big plate of mixed dried fruits, once very expensive, as a sign of welfare and abundance. She then seasoned the whole bowl with a couple of spoonful’s of glowing pink rose syrup, a precious yearly present from a dear friend of hers.
Apples, then, as redeeming from their original sin, were and still are the little healthy gluttony we deserve for this special renewal period of the year, when we need to nourish not only our body but also our soul.
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