Six cures for the darkness of the season

19 November 2012

The days are getting shorter, and the semester has arrived at the truly ugliest and most miserable few weeks. Thus, it’s time for Feminéma to offer advice for those affected by the lack of sunlight in our lives. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I have a six-point No Depression plan of music, food, and old movies, helpfully delineated below.

1. Acorn squash and crispy pancetta with sage and penne. This is so good and so seasonal right now. Just make it and tell me if I’m not correct. (I followed the recipe religiously except that I used both sage and rosemary. And don’t be fooled by this photo: the pecorino romano cheese on top is absolutely crucial.)

2. The music of Ella Fitzgerald. I want to give a special shout-out on behalf of her album with Louis Armstrong, Ella and Louis (1956), but really any of them will do. Soak up that voice, that range, and those fabulous standards as dusk falls and your acorn squash is baking and the pancetta crisping up in the pan.

Ella with Dizzy Gillespie

3. Pomegranates with any and all Middle Eastern or central Mexican dishes … or just on their own. Of course, in a perfect world we’d all live around the corner from a place that serves a killer chiles en nogada nightly (the fact that most of us don’t is enough to make me question religion altogether). But hey, pomegranates are everywhere in markets right now. So, learn how to open them with this handy video:

…and sprinkle the seeds on hummus, baba ghanoush, a lamb dish, or — if you’re very clever indeed — your own homemade chiles en nogada:

4.  The bluegrass album The Eagle by Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band (1998). I maintain that it’s very difficult to remain blue while listening to bluegrass music, perhaps because the sadnesses it describes are such simple, easy kinds of sadness (your girl fell for another man, for example). Overall, those trilling instruments — the mandolin, the fiddle, the stand-up bass, the banjo — do something to my soul that’s hard to replicate except in the form of Ella Fitzgerald.

This album makes me particularly happy because seeing these artists live back in 1998 is possibly the best concert experience I have ever enjoyed. They performed around a single microphone (this is old-school, folks) — so every time one of them took a turn as the featured soloist, the rest moved out of the way. It’s masterful.

5. Grapefruit, of course.

I got turned onto the magical healing properties of grapefruit by my Dear Friend, with whom I suffered some of the ugliest parts of our mutual careers. Sometimes she would tell me that it had been a two-grapefruit kind of day, and I would know exactly what she was saying.

It has become a part of my daily routine, what with fresh grapefruit juice relatively inexpensive year-round. But ’round about now I switch to the real thing. There’s something about the ritual of slicing it into portions and scooping up that beautiful flesh that helps.

6. The Lady Eve (1941), that perfect Preston Sturges comedy with Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. It’s wickedly sexy, the ultimate in silliness, with Fonda as the slightly dimwitted millionaire’s son who gets caught in the snare of Stanwyck’s con-woman clutches. Just watch this scene, in which she watches all the other women on board their cruise ship try to snag him. Stanwyck gets him within minutes, naturally.

“Holy smoke! the dropped kerchief! that hasn’t been used since Lillie Langtry!” she proclaims at one failed attempt to get Fonda’s attention. Stanwyck was one of the first actors I wrote about when this was still a new blog — and she remains a favorite of mine. Never has she been more perfect than as the card sharp who makes her own happiness.

Those of you who suffer from seasonal affective disorder — perhaps in combination with all the other reasons to find this part of the year so hard to survive — will forgive me my light tone, the absurd notion that one could find music or a few ingredients to be a cure. I don’t mean to diminish this condition. But I do believe that there are external things that help me — and perhaps others, too — most of all by making us feel that our own actions might mitigate the worst of it.

Be strong, friends. And put some pomegranate seeds on top.

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19 Responses to “Six cures for the darkness of the season”

  1. Becky Says:

    Oh, thanks, I have serious to debilitating SAD, and I will try anything to diminish the blues. I will be trying most of these. Here’s to longer, brighter days! In the meantime, stay calm, have courage, and wait for signs.

    • Didion Says:

      I’m glad you don’t find this insulting or offensive, because the last thing I’d want to do is treat this condition with too much lightness. For me, doing things that allow me to see the darkness as seasonal — i.e., eating grapefruit, pomegranate, and acorn squash — helps me adjust.

      Also: I forgot to mention guacamole, which is essentially an anti-depressant for me personally. IF you can get a decent avocado.

  2. Servetus Says:

    I didn’t realize you had been converted to grapefruit. Glad it helps you, too!

  3. JustMeMike Says:

    I’ve got some grapefruit juice in the fridge. Love the stuff.

    As long as you mentioned The Lady Eve – I don’t remember when it was but I saw the film a long time ago and never forgot two great lines from the film:

    Jean Harrington (Stanwyck) : They say a moonlit deck is a woman’s business office.

    Charles Pike: (Fonda) [speaking of card playing] Now you, on the other hand, with a little coaching you could be terrific.
    Jean Harrington: Do you really think so?
    Charles Pike: Yes, you have a definite nose.
    Jean Harrington: Well, I’m glad you like it. Do you like any of the rest of me?

    We’ve still got some dark days ahead of us, but it is only a month until the shortest day of the year which is December 21st. Things will ‘brighten up’ following that day..

    • Didion Says:

      Oh, the film is full of great dialogue! It crackles. Just watch that clip over at TCM and you see.

      And Stanwyck just dances rings around poor Henry Fonda, who doesn’t get nearly the same part. One wonders if Preston Sturges just couldn’t quite get his actor to live up to things … and so kept giving her the best lines!


  4. […] that time of year. My friend Didion made a list this morning of favorite things for giving oneself energy at the end of the semester as the days shorten. Besides grapefruit she included chiles en nogada. Oh, México. It sounds so […]

  5. saraleee Says:

    What an enjoyable post. I love collecting ideas on ways to lift the spirit.
    Wish I could still eat grapefruit–I love it too but it evidently conflicts with certain medicines. I’ve never tried chiles en nogada, but it sounds terrific. Yum!

  6. Servetus Says:

    Also: I would like it if you could help me write a complaint to the Jewish calendar authorities this year, who strangely decided that Chanukkah should start already on the 8th!!!

  7. Hattie Says:

    Can I have those things too, even though I live in Hawaii?

    • Didion Says:

      Only if you promise to sympathize with those of us getting hit in the face with a blustery November rain, and having it be pitch black at 5pm already!

      They really are just unquestionably good things that everyone should enjoy. But let me note that I would *kill* for a chiles en nogada right now.

  8. clroche27 Says:

    Love it. I had a legitimately crappy day and just thinking about that stuff made me feel better!

    • Didion Says:

      My pleasure, Generation Handmaid — I know what you mean about bad days, which tend to clump around this time of year….


  9. […] Six cures for the darkness of the season (feminema.wordpress.com). Because there’s nothing like joy to balance out The Dreaded Sad. […]


  10. I love this! I suffer from SAD myself- although I have it well under control at this stage, it was pretty awful in years past- and reminding myself of things I find joyful or lovely things specific to winter is a wonderful thing. It’s good to consciously remember that there are good things about this time of year!


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