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To cook with nature at home, you need to be aware of the rhythm of the seasons. Everything grows in its own time. Summer is a time of abundance, but even in winter, there are fresh vegetables available. To cook against nature means using foods out of season that have been kept in cold storage. Cooking with nature is more sustainable, supports your local producers and ensures that you get your food at its best.

Spring is a wonderful time as fresh young foods come on the market. If you have never been to a farmers’ market or a well-stocked greengrocer, now is the time to start. The produce on offer is of a wider variety and much fresher than the supermarket, where produce is more likely to come out of cold storage than the fields.

Fresh young greens such as lettuce, watercress, sorrel and spinach will be in abundance in spring, but the weather is still cool enough to enjoy soups like minestrone and spring vegetable soup. Young green peas, beans and asparagus make delicious light soups with served with sourdough from the farmer’s market and jewel-like preserves from the store cupboard. Stock up on soft and hard cheeses and enjoy a ploughman’s lunch in the early spring sunshine. It’s the perfect time to start cooking with nature when the seasonal produce is so light and lively.

Spring is also the best time to take a hands-on approach to producing your own food. Start a simple herb garden by planting basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme and chives. These will soon be providing you with extra zing and flavor for your meals. Move on to tomatoes (they grow well in the same spot as basil), peas, green beans, carrots and Asian greens such as pak choi which are easy to grow and will soon start producing for you. Check the climate zones on the internet and find out what grows best in your area. A plant which grows well in a warm, subtropical zone will struggle with frosts in a colder zone.

In summer, you will naturally be thinking of salads, and this is actually the time of year when many people do decide to buy fresh produce, as it all looks so appetizing and no one wants to cook complicated dishes on hot days.. Barbecues and al fresco eating are popular, but remember to always pick what is in season and what is grown in your area. Food flown in from far afield that is easily grown in your area isn’t sustainable or in keeping with a natural approach.

The shelves of your local greengrocers and the stalls at the farmer’s markets are groaning with fabulous produce in summer. You can find bell peppers in many colors from a deep, almost black purple to a bright sunny yellow; melons of all sizes and shapes; cane fruits such as blackberries and raspberries; tomatoes are ripe and inviting, but for best flavor look for the heirloom varieties, and of course, there are strawberries in abundance.

In your garden, you should be harvesting your spring planting and have started growing capsicum, corn and other barbecue favorites. Later, you can also plant zucchinis, pumpkins and cabbage to get started for the cooler months. As you grow your own vegetables and care for your garden you will understand why fruits and vegetables are seasonal and what this means to their freshness and nutritive value.

In the fall, you can enjoy the bountiful harvest of tree fruits such as plums, pears and apples that haven’t been in cold storage for a year. This is fruit at its best so make sure you buy from greengrocers and farmers markets that bring you fresh young produce. It is time for more hearty fare in your cooking, which can include delicious soups and stews made with pumpkins, carrots, parsnips, turnips and all the flavorful foods of fall.

Slow cooked casseroles and apple pies satisfy cravings for home-cooked comfort foods that are the hallmarks of the cooler months. This is the way nature intended the rhythm of the seasons, to keep you cool and light on your feet when it is hot, and warm and well-nourished when it is cold. From your garden, harvest cabbage and cauliflower, and lots of peas and beans.

It is time to start preserving as well, to make the excess fruit and vegetables last through the winter. If canning is not for you, stock up your freezer instead. This way you can keep up your commitment to cooking with nature as the winter sets in. Frozen vegetables are only kept for a short time and do not lose their flavor or nutritional value if you use them up over winter. Soon it will be spring again and time to start shopping for fresh young greens and preparing the ground for new plants.

Get to know what is grown in your area and what you can expect to see on sale in each season. Cooking with nature is healthy and fun, whether you do it outdoors or in your own kitchen. Nature itself also produces year-round foods you can forage from field and shore. Get someone knowledgeable to show which wild mushrooms and herbs are safe to pick, and forage along the sea shore for edible seaweed and sea kale. Knowing what nature provides where you live ensures you enjoy the freshest diet possible.

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See the Light and Fight the Winter Blues

Often called the winter blues or seasonal depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can actually occur during any season. It is a more common affliction than most people realize and affects millions.

Causes

There is no exact cause known for the disorder. Yet, most experts agree that it is connected with changing seasons, shorter days, and lower light levels. Our natural circadian rhythm is also thrown out of whack whenever we don’t follow a normal day to night routine. This is quite common for people working the night shift and sleeping during daylight hours.

The amount of light we are exposed to every day has a direct effect on our body’s chemistry. A connection to the level of substances such as melatonin and serotonin has been found. Melatonin affects our sleep patterns and serotonin balances our moods. Patients suffering from SAD often have diminished amounts of both.

Risks

Seasonal Affective Disorder can affect anyone, but women seem to be more susceptible to it than men. The largest population age-wise that appears to be affected are mid-teens to late fifties. Studies have shown that the chances of people getting SAD for the first time goes down as they get older.

It has been found to run in families so if a close relative has SAD, it is likely that you might also experience it. It is also clear that the farther away from the equator a person lives, the higher their chances are of having SAD. They are exposed to even less sunlight than those in closer proximity to the sun’s rays.

Symptoms

Because having the winter blues is essentially a form of depression, many of the symptoms can be the same or similar. Those with bipolar disorder can also be affected adversely from SAD. Some of the symptoms can include:

  • Low energy, feeling sluggish
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Feelings of depression all day, every day
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Easily becoming agitated
  • Craving and eating more carbohydrates
  • Loss of interest or joy in activities you once loved
  • Feeling hopeless, guilty, or worthless
  • Frequent suicidal thoughts or death fantasies

It is always a good idea to contact your doctor if you are having any types of the symptoms listed above. Medical professionals can do tests to rule out things such as thyroid issues or other health concerns. A mental health evaluation can be useful. It may help determine if it is just SAD that you are dealing with or something more serious.

Therapies

The most common therapy for treating SAD is getting more light into your life. Getting out into the sunshine is one of the top prescriptions for SAD. In areas that receive extraordinary amounts of rain and gray days, this may seem impossible – but it’s not. There are many products on the market that can mimic sunlight and help your body adjust.

Most doctors will prescribe light therapy or phototherapy. This is the practice of sitting in front of a special light box that emits a powerful fluorescent light. It is said to be more than 20 times brighter than normal light found indoors. Researchers claim that the extra light stimulates the body to produce more serotonin. This, in turn, elevates your mood. Lightbox therapy is usually an ongoing treatment and not something that is a quick fix.

There are several medications that may also be prescribed for this type of depression. They will vary with the type of symptoms you exhibit as well as with each individual doctor. Different drugs have a wide variety of side effects so be sure to do your research before beginning any new prescriptions.

Get Out and About

If you think there is a chance you might be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, talk to your doctor. In the meantime, you can do several things to help your body adjust to the shorter, darker days of winter.

Get outside as much as possible and seek that sunshine. Exercise and get the blood flowing even if it is just walking in your sleeping garden. Finally, try to get as much rest and sleep as your body needs. These simple things can improve your mood as well as your overall health and help you fight those winter blues.


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