Fight back the winter wind with crunch and chew


Jack Frost is a bastard. He sends gusts around buildings to infiltrates even the thickest down. And God forbid if any skin is exposed. It is here that the icy knife of winter penetrates through to the bone. The season of Sun has gone to sleep. The stomach cries for the rich and the savory.

Fried oysters with mango and jalapeno from The Grove

Fried oysters with mango and jalapeno from The Grove

Research tells us that we prepare for cold with an increased calorie consumption. Makes sense. Store energy like a chipmunk. Except that our belts bulge and not our cheeks. We crave fatty, umami driven dishes. It’s in our genetic code. Best to listen to Mother Nature.

What about texture? Is there a seasonal swing to mouth sensation? We discovered that four texture preferences are prevalent. Behold the crunchers, the chewers, the smooshers, and the suckers. Might there be a weather pattern on the palate? Maybe.

John S. Allen, a nueroanthropologist, has gone to the trouble to explain our affinity for all things crispy. No doubt the book, The Omnivorous Mind, provides the full scientific theory. For those short of attention, listen to the Harvard University Press podcast or check out the interview on NPR.

You stand outside with a windchill that puts the temperature in negative territory. The streetlight torments with its unblinking red eye. The friendlier green remains sluggish to return.

Your weight shifts from leg to leg at first. Then feet lift in alternating fashion. Arms move from a crossed position to stroking motion. The pulse quickens slightly. The body instinctively moves to keep warm.

A dash across the intersection. Now into the dimly lit restaurant. Candles wink back at you. The fireplace hisses and glows. A twenty something escorts you to a table with the rest of your party. You crack the spine of a leather bound menu.

Will you order the smoothie of fresh berries? Or maybe the gazpacho of pureed cukes and tomatoes. Not a chance! Winter howls outside.

Time for Chewers and Crunchers to exercise their inalienable rights. And for Smooshers and Suckers to play for the other team.

A plate of fried oysters arrive with a touch of chipolte cream. Each one rests on a house-made potato chip who’s very shape mimics the sine-wave pattern of the tide. Confetti of diced mango and seeded jalapenos rides on top. Mysteriously the mango was arrested at the place in the ripening process when the crunch of green phase gives way to silky sweetness. A chiffonade of basil lands like quotation marks.

The chef has spoken.

2010 Novy Syrah found at The Grove

2010 Novy Syrah found at The Grove

Follow this up with an inky glass of syrah from Napa. The mouthfeel which is as round as the letter “o.” The oak provides vanilla undertones to the fruit. Tannins sit quietly. Just enough to remind you of it’s red wine pedigree.  But not rough. This is a library wine.

And for tonight a complement to crispy appetizer.

House-made spinach linguini with chicken and mushrooms from Zelo in Minneapolis

House-made spinach linguini with chicken and mushrooms from Zelo in Minneapolis

Second course is comprised of glutenous noodles made inhouse. Green as the memory of Summer. Grilled chicken and sauteed mushrooms provide squeak and chew. Slivered almonds pop under the force of hungry jaws. Salty, umami notes form from a touch of cream and snow shower of Parmesan. Wilted kale keeps us mindful of the season.

We shake our fists at whip of Winter with comfort food on the plate. We turn up the crunch and chew to fight back the numbness of being outside. We listen to the brain in our gut.

Do you have a story to tell? One that will keep us warm?  Share in the comment section.

Or if you appreciated this post, then please share it. Time to get the word out.

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