Getting Back to Our 'Roots'

This time of year when we find winter digging in its heels in a last-ditch attempt at being ‘winter-y’, we sometimes find ourselves responding to dietary cravings … our body’s intuitive way of getting what it needs after months of enforced hibernation. Join the Mountain Farmgirl as she gets ‘back to her roots’ to help fortify her vitamin and mineral requirements until spring’s garden greens come to the rescue.


Here in the mountains of New Hampshire, we almost missed winter this year. In fact, we were afraid it had passed us by for good. Forget about the traditional ‘January thaw’… by mid-month we still had completely bare ground and not a flake of snow to be found anywhere on this side of Mount Washington! This spells disaster in the ski territory where I live; but when it finally hit, it hit us hard. Storm after storm gave us piles of snow and frigid temperatures, making us look like a winter Norman Rockwell painting and a Currier and Ives print all wrapped up in one! Ever since, it has been gloriously ‘Winter’ up here in the mountains, and we’ve had almost 2 more feet in the last week alone!
In spite of whatever season it is, however, I have found that there are generally two types of people: those who are always cold, even in the middle of summer (that’s me!) and those who never feel that way – they seem to have internal combustion engines that always keep them warm no matter how little the mercury rises on the thermometer. (That’s definitely NOT me, and here’s a funny story to back up that fact! When asked recently if I ever was troubled by hot flashes, I had to admit that they were wonderful … they were actually the first time in my life when I didn’t feel like an icicle. My husband, on the other hand, was bothered by them a lot. When I started radiating like a furnace, he always had to get up out of bed and open a window!!).  Alas, those days are gone … and while I don’t particularly relish the cold weather, I DO passionately still love winter. This year it wasn’t unusual to be greeted by numbers ranging from 10 degrees above to 20 degrees below zero! Yikes!! (My son Joshua delighted us all with his ‘snow making’ … Did you know that at those temperatures you can actually make volumes of the white stuff by simply throwing a cup of boiling water into the air and watching it instantly turn to snow before your eyes?!)
 But now suddenly here we are in March, getting ready for Daylight Savings Time (the days are getting noticeably longer even without it), and even though we’ll get whacked by a few more snowstorms, Winter’s days are numbered. We know this to be true, but our bodies, still deprived of precious sunlight, are not yet convinced! In these last days of winter, do you find yourself getting more easily tired, dragging even, and often having to take a nap?  I do!  Our grandmothers understood this phenomenon and even had remedies for it; they called them tonics. Strong, bitter, even nasty tasting, these herbal concoctions were nevertheless a fix-all for the end-of-winter body blues!
Getting back to our “roots” (root vegetables, that is), is a welcome way to ingest a source of high-packed, low-calorie nutrition that can give us that boost we need. Vegetables like beets are wonderful blood purifiers, and they get our blood moving during these sluggish days of late winter. Harvested in the fall, they fortunately store well in a ‘root’ cellar (that name of course, being no coincidence!) to give us a year-round harvest. Growing underground, root vegetables such as beets, carrots, sweet potatoes & yams absorb large amounts of minerals and nutrients found in the soil, while their green tops get the same infusion from sunshine, sort of like leafy mineral magnets. High in complex carbohydrates, they break down and give us energy --- and who couldn’t use more of that, especially this time of year? They’re also high in fiber and phytonutrients, low in fat, high in Vitamin C, beta-carotene, and contain essential minerals such as potassium, phosphorous, magnesium and small amounts of iron. And if these things don’t add to our physical well-being, they will improve our mental health due to the large amounts of antioxidants which help remove harmful free radicals and toxins from our bodies. Who could turn down all that good stuff?

I don’t usually think of onions and garlic as root crops, but of course they are … what else would they be growing under the soil?!  Both are very good for the heart, preventing blood clots, lowering cholesterol and helping to prevent strokes. By building up our immune systems, they protect against cancers and the common cold and flu.

After the comparatively sedentary winter months, many find that a few extra pounds have crept up and surprised us. Another great health benefit from eating root vegetables is that they can help us lose that unwanted weight. The high amounts of nutrients and soluble fiber will help satisfy your cravings for junk foods … and it’s those cravings that can make it nearly impossible to lose that excess weight. The fiber also helps our digestive system and cleans it out to increase energy levels. However, in order to obtain their maximum health benefits they should be eaten in their raw state as much as possible. You can eat them plain and by themselves, or mix them in with a salad, smoothie or vegetable juices. A detoxing juice fast is a wonderful way to clean out accumulated sludge and get prepared for the Spring Awakening soon to come. Carrots make a wonderful base to which I like to add parsley or watercress (for added potassium) and perhaps some spinach for extra iron.  During a juice fast I like to have a light vegetable broth for supper. Be sure to get plenty of exercise (like walking) each day and drink lots of water to help flush the system of unwanted toxins.  You’ll see the pounds drop off practically overnight.

Once the fast is over, here is a nourishing  meal in a bowl that has become one of our family’s favorite late-winter meals, called Winter Warmer Soup. It is packed with root-veggie goodness, and the added ginger root gently warms and tingles as it goes down!

Winter Warmer Soup
1. Cut root vegetables into cubes: sweet potatoes, white potatoes, carrots, turnips or rutabagas, parsnips, onions, butternut and/or acorn squash (not a root vegetable but it adds wonderfully to the soup).
2. Place in soup pot and cover with water. Cook until all vegetables are tender, adding salt and  pepper to taste. (I’m pretty liberal with the pepper; it gives it a nice bite).
3. I like to ‘buzz’ this mixture with a hand-held immersion blender to puree, but you can use a food processor, blender or hand food mill.
4. Season with freshly grated ginger root and fresh dill.
This soup is healthy and hearty and inexpensive to make and in our family, there are NEVER leftovers, so matter how big a pot we seem to make.   Carrots for me are another obsession. Our grocery store sells an organic collection of some of the most colorful carrots you’ve ever seen. Red, orange, yellow, purple … they come in every hue and I keep a bowl of them, peeled and sliced, in the refrigerator at all times for when I want to munch!
Although obviously not a root vegetable, one of my own personal cravings this time of year is for “greens”. I could literally eat them at every meal, and as winter wanes this need starts building to a big crescendo! Whether I cook spinach, kale, arugula, dandelion greens, beet tops, chard, broccoli raab, asparagus or any combination of the above, I can’t seem to get enough of fresh greens, either as a side vegetable or raw in a salad. If I have to cook them, I prefer steaming as it prevents boiling important nutrients away. But my favorite power-packed veggie is the humble “sprout”.
Sprouted seeds may be an acquired taste for some, but I’ve loved them from my very first bite. Almost any seed can be sprouted, but be sure they are the kind intended for human consumption and not those you would plant in your garden. Some of the more common sprouting seeds are alfalfa, mung bean, adzuki, radish, broccoli, lentil and wheat, though the smaller seeds seem to be easier to sprout. I also like to sprout sunflower and soybeans, too. While I have purchased many types of commercial sprouting trays over the years, probably the best way to get started is also the easiest and the cheapest: a glass jar with a piece of cheesecloth tied to the opening (for a strainer). Depending on the type of seed, I use about a tablespoon of seeds in a quart sized jar (more for larger seeds, less for smaller ones). Soak them overnight in cool water, then drain and rinse your seeds twice daily (more if you live in a warm climate to prevent them from molding). Keep the jar in a dark place, not too warm or too cold, and you’ll have your first crop in a few days. Sprouting increases their vitamin, protein and fiber content, and this is a great way to “farm” your first crops of veggies until the snow melts and you can get outside and start scratching in the dirt for real! We’re all itching to do this right about now, and it won’t be long before we’ll all be put in our gardens (a little longer perhaps for some of us than others!). Until then however, we can anticipate spring’s arrival, and boost our immune systems by doing a bit of kitchen gardening and “getting back to our roots”!

Until next time,
Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings from the Mountain Farmgirl!



By: Debbie
On: 03/04/2011 19:24:23
Hi Cathi!
This is just what I need! I can't keep my eyes open and I sure can't stay in bed all day either! :) I've been making little attempts at some of your wonderful winter tonic's on my own but this will really get me going now... I had no idea about the root benefits.. so that is a plus... I've been making fruit juice smoothies ( for hydration ) and eating spinach salad every day as lunch or with dinner... and slowly getting my daily walks.. My hubby and I took our corgi for a long walk along the beach today. I think he was the happiest of the three of us! He definitely had more energy than we did!
Thanks for this wonderful and informative post for curing the winter doldrums inside and out! I'm on it!
Beach Blessings,
By: Bobbi lynn Miller
On: 03/07/2011 18:11:24

Hi Cathy,
I have always loved sprouts, however in recent yrs. I have become afraid to use them . It seems they are often recalled off of produce shelves, due to salmonela etc... so I am leery of sprouting my own !! Do you have any tips on how to make sure the sprouts stay healthy ??

Thank you so much for sharing.
Warmest regards,

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir