The lyrics to the classic wintry song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” did not age too well. Sung as a male-female duet, the woman repeatedly insists “I really must go,” to which the male singer retorts, “Baby, it’s cold outside.” But you can tell from the smugness in his voice that he’s really not that concerned about the cold. He wants to get her into his bed. And maybe she sorta wants to be there, which would make this scenario more charming than textbook sexual-predatory behavior. Either way, it’s a little uncomfortable.
Yet I find myself singing this somewhat-creepy refrain when I’m doing one of the most comforting activities I can think of—cooking when it’s cold outside. Winds whipping against the windows, frost sticking to the glass, I love being on the other side, rolling up my sleeves in the kitchen. The colder and more unpleasant it is to be outside, the more satisfying it is to cook. And coldness is the secret ingredient that makes many would-be humble homemade dishes sparkle. It’s what turns tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich into something that a fully-grown adult foodie will flip out about. It’s what makes cartilage-rich braised meats that melt in your mouth worthy of your focused attention. And it’s what elevates velvety-cooked beans and split peas to soaring new heights of flavor and nuance.
Staying in and cooking when it’s cold outside? What could be more hygge? This Swedish concept, which best translates to cozy, keeps coming to my mind on cold and snowy cooking days, too. If I understand it correctly, it’s found in simple things, like a hot cup of tea. Going back to basics, like lighting your home with candles. So I return to cooking things that are simple and familiar and doing it with great pleasure when I have the time to hygge-out—and especially when it’s cold outside. I don’t think many Swedes line up for trendy restaurants in a snowstorm. Nor order out meatballs on Seamless.
When there’s a winter storm or blizzard, such as we had in the Northeast this first week of January, you might be holed up at home and tempted to order in your food. But think of the delivery person. Seeing an older gentleman slog through the snow just to bring me a single lunch order does not feel justified, nor very comforting. So un-hygge.
So I’ll make a sandwich. I’ll simmer a soup. I relax and let the fragrance fill my home. If everything tastes better when it’s cold outside, then why spend extra money getting your food from a restaurant? Also, if you’re like me and you tend to eat MORE during the cold months than you would in the summer, consider yourself extra economical—and also, very likely, more healthful—for cooking from scratch.
Of course, you can treat yourself by cooking something rather hearty but unhealthy if you’re craving that, too. The first, cold week of 2017, I made goulash. This snowy first week of 2018, I didn’t change course very much—I made beef stroganoff. I completely forgot that I’d made this similar Eastern European beef stew at precisely the same time one year ago. But I don’t regret it one bit.