Brighten your winter days with citrus

by Danielle Charles

The thing that I dread most about winter is the lack of fresh seasonal produce to inspire my kitchen and color my palette.  I envision myself eating shriveled carrots and mushy apples all winter, staring dejectedly at my plate under a single flickering candle as I curse myself for not moving to California while I still could.  I suppose I ought to let my imagination know that it is not the 1880’s and I am not a starving pioneer, because I end up finding just as much to be excited about in the winter as I do in the summer.

But at least  my overactive imagination affords me the thrill of pleasant surprise. When the Clementines, Blood oranges, Meyer lemons and tangerines start filling up the produce section at the store, I am overtaken in the sort of glee that one might feel when walking unsuspecting through the door to find all their favorite people yelling “surprise!” with party hats on. (Life is all about small pleasures, right?).  I fill up my cart with a glutton of citrus, as though I might never have such luck to come across it again, and hurry home to awaken my taste buds with the beloved sour flavor and citrusy aroma.

Slicing into a citrus fruit is like  whisking yourself off to the Mediterranean. All of that sunshine and warmth is contained within that little round  jewel, and when cut open, it fills the air with all the brightness of a citrus grove on a sunny day. You can smell the heady floral fragrance, feel the warmth on your skin. Who needs to vacation in the South when one can bring the South to them with the slice of a lemon!

And of course, the scents of all citrus fruits – lemon, lime, orange, bergamont and grapefruit – have been found to uplift the spirits and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. The acid stimulates digestion and aids liver function, actually enlivening our bodies and hoisting us out of the winter stagnation that can start setting in about this time. They are also bursting with vitamin C, bioflavanoids and antimicrobial essential oils that bolster the immune system. And they just taste so good – enlivening our winter pantries with a fresh zeal (those shriveled carrots become an entirely new thing with a bit of lemon zest!).

So, if you find that winter stagnation settling upon you – if your head is filled with daydreams of sunny beaches and sunbathing and you can’t bear the thought of eating another root vegetable casserole, then get out there and get some citrus. Here are some ways it can bring some much needed brightness to your winter days:

Add zest to your cooking

Aside from a grated piece of citrus peel, zest is defined as:

Something that gives or enhances a pleasant taste, or the taste itself; an appetizer; also, keen enjoyment; relish; gusto. [1913 Webster]

And adding a little zest to your cooking really does just that!  Add lemon zest  to roasted carrots or parsnips, a little lime zest to a sweet potato soup. Add orange zest to baked goods. Using zest is one of the single most transformative cooking secrets I’ve learned, and since I discovered it, I keep a good supply of lemons, limes and oranges in my larder simply for the purpose of zesting and juicing into my cooking. You can also infuse olive oil with some fresh citrus zest for a quick flavor boost to salads, soups or roasted vegetables.

Refresh with a citrus salad

I try not to eat much salad in the winter, as the raw greens are so cooling. But occasionally, I get such a craving for some fresh vibrant greens that I just have to indulge.  And I think there is some sense to these cravings:  the greens that manage to hang around in the cold weather – plants like  arugula, mache, radicchio, chicory and endive – have a digestion stimulating bitter flavor, which along with digestion stimulating citrus, makes them perfectly suitable in small amounts as pre-meal appetite stimulants and digestive aids. I think they also uplift the spirits.

Try sliced blood oranges, crumbled feta cheese, pomegranate seeds and toasted pumpkin seeds on bed of arugula, sliced up radicchio and endive. Drizzle with the juice from one orange and an equal amount of walnut oil, a sprig of fresh rosemary, black pepper and a spoonful of honey. Top with some sprouts. I call it: Winter Revival Salad.

Make marmalade

This past year I’ve gotten quite fanatic about jam making. To me, it is an almost magical way to capture the essence of a season in a jar to enjoy later. Eating jam is like tasting the past.  When I spoon blueberry jam onto my morning toast, I am filled with sensations of the August day that I picked them – rain laden grass under my skirt as I leaned to grasp the lower berries, heavy clouds overhead filling the air with warm humidity.  It’s all there in each bite. So marmalade, then, is full of cold snowy days spent warm in the kitchen, inhaling the lovely citrus scents as I stir the pot and steam up the windows. Here is a good recipe that I often refer to as a base. Try Meyer lemon with vanilla, pink grapefruit with candied ginger, blood orange with rosemary…so many delicious options!

Clean house

Citrus makes a wonderful addition to any homemade cleaning spray because of its highly antimicrobial essential oils. In fact, a half of lemon makes a perfect cleaner in itself for counter tops, cutting boards or other surfaces needing a little brightening! Here’s a recipe for an all-purpose cleaning spray that makes washing windows and counters almost therapeutic and leaves your house smelling fresh and divine:

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 part white vinegar
  • juice of 2 lemons (or about 1/4 cup)
  • 30 drops orange essential oil
  • 30 drops lemon essential oil
  • 30 drops lavender essential oil
  • 15 drops bergamont essential oil

Brighten your complexion

Citrus oils are highly rejuvenating to dull winter skin, giving your complexion a much needed boost. The acid helps to loosen dead cells from the top layer of your skin while the ground peel helps slough it off, and the vitamin C and bioflavanoids reduce inflammation, tonify and smooth, and protect against the effects of aging and oxidative damage. Here’s a recipe for a honey-orange scrub with ingredients likely already in your kitchen:

  • Fresh peel of a medium sized orange, chopped
  • 2 tbl organic plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal

Pulse the peel and yogurt in a food processor until the peel is finely minced up. Add the honey and cornmeal, and mix well. Apply to face over a sink (to catch the drips), and rub in circular motions, always moving upwards. Let sit for a few minutes, then rinse off and follow with a toner such as rosewater and a good moisturizing oil such as coconut oil or shea butter.

Inhale the sunshine

I think if sunshine we’re to have a smell, it would definitely be citrusy. The essential oils of citrus are a way to bring a little much needed brightness into our winter days, cheering the spirits and brightening our moods. Simply slice open an orange and inhale. Try a few drops of orange essential oil on your scarf to inhale throughout the day, combine 15 drops of a citrus oil into a oz of carrier oil (like almond, jojoba or sesame) and add to the bath to soak in that warm orchard fragrance. Or make your own mood uplifting  perfume by combining 30 drops orange essential oil, 15 drops grapefruit, 15 drops lavender or jasmine and 10 drops frankinsence into 2 oz of sunflower oil, and apply to your wrists and neck to exude the  brightness of sunshine throughout the day.

Make Candied Peel

Check out my candied peel post for directions on how to make this decadent, citrusy candy.

And don’t forget, if the world hands you lemons, you are in possession of a wonderful gift of which lemonade is just the beginning…