Weird winter cravings (+ brownie recipe!)

This is sort of health-related, but I’ve also decided that I’m okay with the irony of sharing not-entirely-healthy recipes on a blog where I rant about how bad public discourse about health is. I moved to Chicago from northern Delaware in the fall of 2007. Delaware has real winters with real snow and I expected not to have to adjust much in Chicago. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. My first winter here, I could not stay awake for the life of me. My schedule was pretty much: Wake up in time to get ready for class but probably not eat a real breakfast, hold eyelids open during class, make it back to dorm, pass out till dinner (if I was lucky and woke up in time to go to the dining hall), attempt homework, actually just sleep more. The latitude here isn’t that different, but the fact that it’s pitch black out by 4PM local time in the dead of winter definitely doesn’t help, nor does the fact that winter lasts for 6 months. Add to that the metabolic exhaustion of trying to maintain a normal body temperature when the windchill is -30 and when your options are (a.) walk ~1.5 miles to get to/from campus or (b.) wait outside a really long time for space on a bus to get you to/from campus, and the result for an incoming freshman who’s used to driving through the cold is no bueno.

I’ve gotten better at Chicago winters, though my energy levels absolutely still track with the amount of, and intensity of, sunlight I’m exposed to. What I’ve noticed in the past few years (now that I can stay awake long enough to make observations) is that I get crazy intense cravings for fatty foods in the winter. Not rich food generally because I’m seeking comfort. I mean, I actually wanted to eat a block of cheddar yesterday, but we didn’t have any. Living on the North Side in the winter of 2011-12, I was eating really healthy except for the desperate grabs I’d make for fat. I’d eat healthy cereal in the morning; vegetable barley soup, fruit, and a Kashi (or similar) little fiber bar for lunch; and oatmeal with plain yogurt and berries or whole wheat spaghetti with homemade spinach, garlic, and tomato sauce for dinner. And then I’d eat an eclair. Or blend a whole avocado up into my yogurt and berries. Or locate and destroy an Almond Joy on my way home from work. (I had never purchased an Almond Joy before that winter and I’ve not done so since.) I was getting plenty of sunlight–given Chicago winter, anyway–walking to and from work and the grocery store and etc., and I drank plenty of fortified milk, so I figured my body was fine on vitamin D consumption/production. But vitamin D is fat-soluble and I was consuming a low-fat diet. A recent discussion among and with scientist friends got me thinking that maybe the fat cravings happen when my body isn’t actually able to synthesize as much vitamin D in the winter as it would like.

The aforementioned scientist friends have recently made me aware of the following: (1.) The jury is still out, but there may be a link between vitamin D deficiency and diabetes. (2.) Arsenic, ubiquitous in the industrialized world, affects gut flora and “[i]n a study of the general Korean adult population, people with the lowest vitamin D levels and the highest arsenic arsenic levels had about a 300% increased risk of diabetes, as compared to people with the highest vitamin D and lowest arsenic levels.” (3.) A lot of interesting research remains to be done on these topics and I hope to see the two friends most likely to contribute to it receive a lot of funding to continue their work.

There is a history of Type II diabetes on both sides of my family and I am probably predisposed to insulin resistance for other reasons. Maybe my fat cravings are my body’s attempt to regulate vitamin D levels and avoid disaster down the road? I don’t fully understand the pathways and mechanisms by which vitamin D is synthesized or put to work after being ingested, but if you do, I’d love your input! Whether it was a legit metabolic need or just winter driving me toward high calorie foods and hibernation, I decided that brownies would have to do for last night, in lieu of my block of cheese. I used the Chewy Fudgy Homemade Brownies recipe by sally’s baking addiction, with the alterations noted below:

  • Lol, like I own a food scale. I picked up an open 12 oz. bag of semi-sweet morsels and decided it looked like about 8 oz. remained. (Did the same for the unmelted chips. No regrets.)
  • I added extra vanilla. It probably wasn’t a whole extra teaspoon, but it was close.
  • I don’t know if golden brown sugar is light brown sugar or not, but it’s what I used.
  • I added, liiiiiiiike… a teaspoon or so(?) of maple syrup to the batter just because it seemed like the right thing to do after tasting it and knowing that I’d be using dark chocolate chips in the next step.
  • I folded in what was left of a bag of 60% cacao chips, not semi-sweet. (…I mean, I totally measured out exactly one cup!) My reason was that I was out of semi-sweet chips, but I also like the dark chocolate flavor and that I can pretend the resulting brownies are kinda good for me.
  • I had no intention of making my brownies camera-ready, so I didn’t use foil–just sprayed the pan with canola spray or whatever that aerosolized oil we have in the kitchen is. I’ve just realized what a terrible blogger this makes me. Oh well.
  • My brownies started to pull away from the pan, but my toothpick test was still not proceeding like Sally’s. I decided it made perfect sense that fudgy brownies with a good portion of chocolate chips in them wouldn’t have crumbs or a totally clean toothpick. No one has food poisoning.
Fine, I used a filter.

See? Looks like a pan of brownies.

Brownies are obviously not actually a health food. Don’t go telling your friends you read a blog that said you have to eat brownies to survive winter in northern latitudes. (See? Terrible blogger. I should be telling you to show this to all your friends to justify your collective love of brownies because that would drive more traffic.) My healthier plan for today is to try this recipe for ‘Skinny’ Broccoli Cheddar Soup, with a few changes. I anticipate nixing the honey(?!?), pureeing any carrots I add because I have no patience with which to grate them, maybe adding finely diced red peppers, and at least considering potato chunks, especially since she said the lack of starch made reheating difficult. Should be super healthy, in spite of the delicious cheese, with all those brassica veggies partying together!

UPDATE: Made the Skinny(ish) Broccoli Cheddar Soup and it was delicious! I started sauteeing the sliced carrots before the onions so they’d have plenty of time to soften and get sweet, added finely diced red peppers in with the broccoli while it sauteed (and definitely skipped that honey), was too lazy for potato chunks, wish I’d started with a lower mustard dose and worked my way up if need had been, and added extra paprika. It reheats just fine; don’t listen to her!

What about you, Jumpers? Can you relate? Any weird cravings that seem to depend on season or latitude?


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