Communal Beat

The Two Faces of January

The Two Faces of January

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January is not a much-heralded month in the northern hemisphere: the pleasures of December are behind us, the winter stretches ahead; the whole world seems to be hibernating. Nevertheless, it is a month of wonderful symbolism. Some say the month takes its name from the Roman god Janus, who is a curious and complex deity. His essence, however, is the god both of beginnings and transitions; of doorways and portals and openings, and he is usually characterized as having two faces, looking both forward and backward.

It is this element of transition that I would like to bring into focus here, the idea that a new beginning requires a process of birth, an act of crossing the threshold. January often begins with New Year’s resolutions in forefront of mind that seem to fade as the month progresses; perhaps it would be more helpful to see the month as the doorway into our new selves, the transition month. The month that we incubate the habits and practises and state of mind that truly allow for new beginnings. Anyway, here are some of my must-dos, for those Valley folk who struggle with January.

First, it is a month to get outside as much as possible; to explore a park, or a hiking trail, or a beach on the less blustery days. While nature sleeps, an amazing serenity can be found in he beautiful natural places that abound in the Comox Valley.

A prescription for a little quiet shopping or an unhurried restaurant meal or snack will not only get you out and about, it will help our local businesses. Here is the perfect time to try a new restaurant or an old favourite, or to shop for something really needed, with few crowds, and the opportunity to make relationships with the people behind the businesses – a recipe for building community and feeling good.

Mount Washington must be near the top of the list, for the sheer glory of sun on snow, snow on forest, snow that transforms the mountain world into a glittering kingdom. Although I no longer downhill ski, I must confess to loving the exuberance of the tubing park, the hushed beauty of snow-shoeing trails and cross-country skiing.

A little more balance would seem to be what the month requires above all: to move into a new beginning with some colour and movement and enjoyment of life. To savour, really savour, the herald of the new. As always, I have a recipe that embodies that spirit, I believe. A nurturing and nourishing vegetable stew that bursts with richness of flavour, while being simple and wholesome. Best shared with friends, to bring January cheer. Happiest of the new year to you!

Root Vegetable Stew



  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, large dice
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
  •  1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  •  1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  •  Pinch saffron threads
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes (3 large), large dice
  • 1 pound carrots ( 4 to 5 medium), peeled and large dice
  • 1 pound parsnips (4 medium), peeled and large dice
  • 4 cups mushroom broth
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 pounds sugar baby pumpkin or butternut squash (1 small), peeled, seeded, and large dice
  •  1 pound sweet potatoes (2 medium), peeled and large dice
  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins, also known as sultanas
  •  1 bunch spinach, trimmed and washed (about 4 cups loosely packed)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar, plus more as needed


1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook over medium heat until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the ginger, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, cayenne, saffron, and a pinch of pepper and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

2. Transfer the mixture to a slow cooker, add the potatoes, carrots, parsnips, broth, and flour, season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Cover and cook on high for 1 1/2 hours. (You can, of course, also use the oven at 350 degrees, which will require less cooking time: 2 to 2 ½ hours total.)

3. Add the pumpkin or squash, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and raisins, season with salt, and stir to combine. Cover and continue to cook on high until a knife easily pierces the vegetables, about 2 hours more, stirring after 1 hour.
4. Add the spinach and gently mix (do not over mix). Let sit until wilted. Gently stir in the vinegar, taste, and season with more salt, pepper.



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