My son has just come back from his first ski trip. Watching clips on his phone I can hear the crunch under his boots and the swish of skis as they cut through the snow. My imagination supplies what pictures and sound can’t – the fresh coldness of the air as it fills your lungs, the biting wind that stings your cheeks. I want to be there. I’m a chionophile, a lover of cold weather. As others are moaning, I feel at my best.
I’ve taken this to extremes. Although I’m not an intrepid traveller, I keep going back to the Arctic. The first time I was terrified of how I would cope. On that trip I went line fishing for cod off the north-west coast of Norway and, after two hours, had to employ a kind of mindfulness to tolerate the cold.
It’s not easy being in this kind of environment – you have to dress in layers, so every walk or boat ride takes time to prepare for, and you need boots that grip on ground as icy as a skating rink. It’s hard work, but you feel completely engaged with the world and, as you peel layers off when you’re back indoors, exhilarated. A bowl of chunky soup or a warm cinnamon bun seems like the best thing you’ve ever eaten. When I returned from that first trip, I felt intensely alive, as if I’d had a huge shot of adrenalin.
In Britain we talk a lot about ‘bad’ weather. Rain, hail, wind, ice, even damp air and steely skies are classified as bad. But winter is being re-evaluated. Dr Michael Mosley has a series on BBC Radio 4 called Cold Therapy, which looks at the benefits of embracing coldness. And Wintering, a book by Katherine May about the dark seasons in our lives, was a surprising bestseller when it was published a few years ago. She sees our personal winters as times when we experience transition, just as nature does – times to take stock, to slow down, to recharge our batteries.
Scandinavians aren’t just accepting of cold winters, they revel in them. Most of us now roll our eyes when we hear the word ‘hygge’, the untranslatable term that means taking joy in everything that’s cosy, from thick socks to mugs of hot chocolate. When concepts become hip, they inevitably fall out of favour, but that doesn’t mean that ‘hygge’ is a bad idea.
It has been said that food is the Scandinavian antidote to darkness. Being ensconced in your kitchen is as important as being outside, in fact each is made better by the other. Autumn and winter demand a different kind of cooking to summer – stews, pies and soups that take a bit of time and effort and make your kitchen the warmest room in the house. The recipes here are for the dishes I want to come home to.