I love Delhi winters. The smoggy fog, intermittent cloud cover, and humidity act like a sieve between the city and the sun— letting the bright light in while reflecting away the heat that usually melts paint off the road in the summer. Winters were always the best vacation time. In high school, this was the time between terms. It wasn’t big enough (like the summer) where I had to constantly study or work internships, and it wasn’t small enough that it went away in a blink. It was the perfect length. I spent this time mostly outside. My favorite times were when my parents and I would go for picnics to Lodhi Gardens— eating peanuts and sipping on chai while getting some vitamin D.
In college, this time then became the period during which I caught up with friends by going out for food, eating in ornate balconied restaurants, taking dates to hidden archaeological ruins in the city, or hosting extended family lunches under the sun (which would end with shots of antacid and long naps). Now, it wasn’t all utopian. There was pain and hardship that it brought as well— rejection letters from multiple colleges, medical complications of relatives, and breaking up with my first love - these were all things that happened in the winter; which was only made worse by dreary overcast skies and chapped lips.
In many ways thus, the winter is like any other season. It has its ebb and flow. For every smile there is a sob to a point where you stop complementing (read: blaming) the weather and think maybe this is just like every other day, during any other season; just with more layers of clothes. Even as I write this, I am not convinced. I can’t help but believe that it is the season that has always brought me the most joy. It’s the time where I am able recap my year and count the milestones, no matter if they looked more like pebbles from where I was standing. So maybe it wasn’t like an equal ebb and flow. Maybe the tide that touched my feet was a lot bigger than what retreated back. I see winter foods just like this. Both positive and bright, but also configured to soothe those “ebbs,” the pains and heartbreak.
I found that mulled wine is a great way to understand how this ebb and flow works. The zest of an orange brings the brightness like the filtered sun; the sweetness from the juice and spices mimic the good memories of the season; while the hint of alcohol, heat, and star anise provide the right amount of warmth that runs down the throat and radiates through every nerve ending in the body—soothing you as you accept academic defeat, loss of a soul, or crippling heartbreak. Ever thought anyone could get this deep about boiled red wine and orange juice? Make a cup of mulled wine and see what I’m talking about!
1 cup of cheap red wine (Merlot or Bordeaux)
Juice and rind of one clementine
1 whole star anise
1 stick of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of maple syrup
In a saucepan on medium heat, add the juice, rind, and spices. Whisk constantly and bring to a boil. About 5 mins.
Reduce the heat to the lowest setting possible and wait until the juice and spice mix stops bubbling. Now, add the red wine and whisk constantly until you achieve a thin syrupy consistency.
Sieve and serve.