Oh, the weather outside is frightful…

Well, it’s about to be frightful, anyway. Coming into the end of summer here. 🙂  This post was written two or three years ago when it really WAS winter, sometime in the vicinity of Groundhog Day in Woodstock, Illinois, backdrop of the movie by the same name. It appeared in The Woodstock Independent.

Just a few days ago the Groundhog saw his shadow.  Easy for him to do.  He went back to his burrow.  I, on the other hand, have to leave mine every day, and I’m freezing!  I seem to have lost the ability to keep myself warm no matter how many layers I pull on before I brave the cold and wind and snow.

I decided it’s time to become proactive.  The last time I made this decision was in the winter of 1982/83.  In that year, as in this one, wind chills plunged to 40-60 degrees below zero.  I found myself never wanting to leave my burrow . . . that is, my home . . . and specifically, my fireplace.  I needed to take action, so I bought a winter camping tent and a sleeping bag designed for use in the most frigid climes and went winter camping to toughen up.

That worked pretty well.  It carried me through a few years.  But this is 22 years later, and my tent and I are a little older and worn.  My thoughts turn to other solutions. Here is a question that bubbled up: could I raise my body temperature with food?  It seems logical that I could, so I began to do some research. Here is what I found:


“How?” is another question. I found several answers.  I chose those that made sense to me based on this thought process: It requires energy (expressed as heat) to process food.  In fact, food processing may warm your body as much as two degrees (every degree counts in this weather)!  The more energy a food requires for processing, the more likely it is to heat your body.

So which foods require more energy for processing?  One estimate is fats require 3%, carbohydrates require 7%, and proteins require 20% of the energy (calories) they supply for processing.  I would therefore expect that protein is most likely to heat your body and complex carbohydrates next most likely.  Fats are least likely.  But does that correspond to the reality?

Turns out it does!  Lean protein tops most lists of warming foods, followed by complex high fiber carbohydrates like whole grain breads, brown rice, oatmeal, beans, almonds and apples. Root veggies like sweet potatoes, Idaho potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, and ginger require more energy to digest than above-ground veggies.  Above ground veggies recognized for their thermogenic properties include cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts.  Spices and spicy foods like cayenne, peppers, salsa, chili and mustard stimulate metabolism by as much as 20% or more and can also warm you.

OK, so now I needed to apply that to my vegetarian lifestyle, all-carb all the time.  Beans, grains and nuts top my list because in addition to the fact that they are high fiber complex carbs, they are a great protein group with complimentary amino acids.  Isn’t it interesting that the veggies most effective at raising body temperature are also the most readily available during winter and are, in fact, considered winter veggies?  So winter veggie stews . . . bring them on!  And be sure to make mine spicy!

It turns out that warming the body is really about exercising the metabolism and giving it a boost, so the same diet should be great for weight maintenance as well.  Indeed it is!  Just be sure to include good fats in your winter warming project for satisfaction and to help you avoid craving sweets (which are not warming, just inflammatory . . . and that’s a whole different story).

In the final analysis, keeping warm is all about making your body work, whether it’s camping in frigid weather or exercising in the cold with light clothing or making your metabolism pump harder.  This year I’m opting for exercising indoors in my fleece and enjoying some hearty, spicy veggie stews.

Butternut Squash and Carrot Stew with Quinoa
This is one of my favorite Middle Eastern style recipes.  I love the warm, golden color from the butternut squash, carrots, paprika, and turmeric.

2-4 TB extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp Hungarian sweet paprika
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp peeled, minced ginger
1/2-1 tsp Hungarian hot paprika
6 plum tomatoes, petite diced
2 TB fresh lemon juice
3 cups 1-inch cubes peeled butternut squash
2 cups 1-inch cubes carrots

2 TB olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup finely chopped peeled carrot
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 bunch fresh cilantro
2 bunch fresh mint

Cover the bottom of a pan with extra virgin olive oil.  Add chopped onion, garlic and ginger.  Saute briefly.  Add plum tomatoes and juice of two lemons. Bring to a simmer.  Add remaining seasonings.  Simmer briefly.  Add peeled and cubed butternut squash and carrot pieces.  Stir, and place a tight lid over the pot to steam the mixture until squash and carrot are fork tender but not mushy. Check periodically for moisture content, adding a bit of water if necessary.

Cover the bottom of a small sauce pan with extra virgin olive oil.  Add chopped onion, minced garlic and slivered almonds.  Saute briefly.  Add chopped carrots and remaining seasonings with 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups water, stir, cover tightly and cook until done (10-15 minutes).  Chop the mint and cilantro together.  Add half to the stew. Reserve the other half as garnish.

A nice way to serve this beautiful meal is to place a portion of stew on a plate, leaving an opening in the middle.  Place an ice cream scoop (1/2 cup) of quinoa in the middle of the stew.  Garnish with remaining mint and cilantro.

Happy, healthy eating!

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter,@vegwithleslie.

Ideas? Would like to hear from you!