Exploding chestnuts, Japanese belly wrappers, and a “fiery restorative.”

winter chillHow to keep warm when Jack Frost hates you.



First published:


The Torch
Thursday, December 14, 2006 – Volume 53 Issue 14
Arts & Entertainment Page 8

A long time ago, when I lived on a tropical isle and everyday was a t-shirt, shorts, and flip flop day, I thought snow was pretty.I envisioned rosy-cheeked kids in scarfs and mittens and bobble hats gamboling about… little puppies wagging their tails behind them. I sighed over crackling log fires, hot mulled cider, the resiny spice of fairy-lit Christmas trees. I pictured melting moments fresh from the oven, catching snowflakes on tongues, little boys tee hee-ing as they competed at chiseling snow moats with hot pee.The fantasy, of course, was before I decided to roast my own chestnuts, and had to spend the rest of the day cleaning chestnut insides off half the free world. (The chestnuts. They explode. You have to slit them first.)

frying chestnuts

Totally not my fault, because on that tropical isle…? They use these funky rotating drums filled with coal chips to roast them. No slitting, no kabooming, and you have the bonus of looking like a sexy, rugged, coal-miner when you’re done. (Sensitive new age men shell chestnuts for their dates. Real men extract them whole.)That was also before I had to wake up a full hour earlier to scrape snow off my car and slide around on roads, or when I had to battle the wind, straining to put one foot before the other, so cold that my words would come out half-formed and wonky. Gah, gah, gah, gah!

Suffice it to say, I am no fan of the cold. Each year, it’s me against Jack Frost. Each year, I battle a relentless, cruel, elemental warfare.

But I’m getting smarter. Not necessarily winning, but no longer whimpering home tucked-tail either. Whereas before, I dismissed the girls who prance around in their cute little boots and mini skirts, using the Chinese dialect phrase “ai sui mai mia” (to value beauty over life); this winter, I stopped to ask them what the deal was.

Their answer? Adorable, Hello Kitty-emblazoned belly-warmers or haramaki.

It’s a Japanese thing, this haramaki. If you’re familiar with “hara-kiri” – honor suicides carried out by the Japanese warrior class where disgraced samurai plunge their katana (swords) into their bellies – and with “maki” – sushi rolls wrapped in roasted seaweed – then you would be able to put two and two together. Haramaki means “belly wrapper.” Essentially a piece of stretchy, tube-like fabric that goes on snugly over your belly, it draws on the Traditional Chinese Medicine concept of your body’s chi or energy.

Contrary to what Western science says – that you lose most of your body’s heat via your head – if you visit the Land of the Rising Sun, you’ll see boisterous toddlers running around bare-headed. Every single one of them, though, will have their bellies warmly swathed.

The idea is that your body prioritizes keeping your vital organs warm. So if your belly isn’t warm and toasty, then your body starts channeling heat from the extremities (fingers, toes) inwards. So, keep the belly balmy and the extremities stay warm – or stand a better chance of not freezing off, anyway.

And since we’re talking about keeping warm from the inside (while masquerading as a food column), may I introduce you to the humble ginger root? A FIERY RESTORATIVE (I read this description on some hippy barefoot doctor manual a long time ago, and since then, I’ve made it a point of booming it out every time… go on, say it with me!), ginger contributes a distinct scent and a pleasant warmth wherever it shows up. It’s like the cute guy (or girl) who smells amazing, loves to cuddle, and boasts a rapier sharp wit to boot.

Pregnant women and the motion sickness-plagued nibble on candied morsels of ginger to stave off nausea – much better than the chemicals your pharmacist will try to push on you (and take it from someone who never had to fight anybody for the window seat, it works). And on a cold, dreary, rainy-snowy day, nothing beats sweet, gingery, yam “soup.”

It’s not a soup, really… more like dessert. The Chinese believe all food is therapeutic and, therefore, even desserts are good for you… but that is material for another column.

yams, brown sugar, and ginger

Here’s what you do: Grab a knob of ginger about half the size of your fist, scrape off it’s skin with a spoon, slice it poker chip thin, then dump it into, say, five quarts of water with a generous handful of dried dates and a couple of skinned, chunked yams.

Quantities aren’t exact here. Want it spicier? Throw in more ginger. Sweeter? More dates or some dark brown sugar (I like the molasses flavor). Love yams? The more the merrier. Bring everything to a boil and keep it on a slow simmer for at least 45 minutes. By then, your kitchen will smell, well, gingery, datey and yammy… way better than hot chocolate.

Photograph from Uplifting Arts on Flickr



Filed under food & culture, recipe

2 responses to “Exploding chestnuts, Japanese belly wrappers, and a “fiery restorative.”

  1. Ok this I have to try this weekend!

  2. Hey, cool tips. I’ll buy a glass of beer to the man from that forum who told me to go to your site 🙂

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