When it's cold outside, focus your energy inside


By: Rachel Shenk

Rachel Shenk/Flavor 574

Sometimes in the dead of January I am reminded of life. This year, it came to me through my brother-in-law who, against impossible odds, survived a ruptured aorta.

That little thread between life and death is so easily cut and irreversible. When we beat it, life takes on a preciousness that we might otherwise forget. January is a little bit like that for me. I try to see its preciousness, despite the intense cold and the short days. When spring finally rolls around, I feel that I have somehow survived.

What keeps me sane through the winter is a mix of home and hearth focused projects. I start with the big Christmas clean up. I take down the greenery and the props, which leads to a good round of sweeping. Those pine needles seem to slip into everything.

Since we are doing that, we might as well change the furniture around and reorganize the space. OK. And how about a new paint colour to brighten things up inside? At least our home will be cheery as we hunker down.

Then, there’s the bedroom. Let’s move it to another room and turn the old bedroom into a craft studio. I’ll have a table to work on block prints, storage for my knitting supplies and a quiet place to write. Jim can have a small workbench and a corner for model railroading.

We dream on about having a luxurious bedroom retreat for all those mornings when we can sleep in, a place that keeps out the cold and ushers in the light, where it’s always warm and bright.

And again, that word “organize.” Getting our internal life in order is one way of making sense of January. Whatever is happening out there is only a side show to what is happening in here. If we can get this organized, who cares about the windchill factor?

This carries over to my life as well. I try to clear out the old and focus on the new. There are plans to make and goals to reach.

And, yes, in the kitchen, it’s time to get rid of the holiday clutter as well. No more cookies, chocolates or leftover ham loaf. Back to beans, veggies and fruit.

One of my favorite recipes using beans is this one. It also qualifies as a lucky New Year meal since it uses black-eyed peas.

To life!

Cajun Skillet Beans


  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 1½ cup red bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 2 cans black-eyed peas, drained


  1. In a skillet, cook the onion and garlic in the oil over medium heat until onions start to become tender. Add the celery and bell pepper; sauté 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. Add the thyme, basil, oregano, pepper, cayenne, and salt; stir to mix. Cover and cook 5 minutes or until onions are golden, stirring every now and then.
  3. Add the tomatoes, honey, and mustard; stir to combine; simmer 5 minutes.
  4. Add the beans; cover and let cook until heated through, stirring occasionally.
  5. Serve with the saffron orzo.

Saffron Orzo


  • 2 cups orzo
  • a pinch of saffron
  • ½ cup Parmesan, grated


  1. Cook orzo according to package directions.
  2. Put a ¼ cup of the boiling water in a small bowl along with the saffron.
  3. Drain the orzo. Put the orzo in a serving bowl and stir in the saffron water and the Parmesan.
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