Don’t be S.A.D

The oncoming winter months, and let’s face it we’re in the midst of them and they’re not going anywhere soon, can really seem like a huge obstacle sometimes. Especially when Christmas and New Year have passed and you know you have nothing to look forward to until you see the first daffodils and bluebells poking through the Spring green.

Apparently 10% of us Brits suffer from S.A.D – Seasonal Affective Disorder – which is a huge number. (It’s also strangely the number of Brits who were expected to break up over the Football World Cup, I wonder how on earth they work out a statistic like that.) Disorders have a bad reputation; people see them as a coverall for random symptoms but for people who suffer from this when the nights begin to get darker, it’s a long 6 months.

Our bodies, over thousands of years, have learned to synchronise with the rhythm of day to night and things such as sleep, appetite and energy are all governed by these internal rhythms. With the extreme change in our lifestyle over the last 200 years, these patterns have change and our normal daily working lives have interrupted these rhythms. No more so at a time of year when daylight is in such short supply. I know I’m not the only person who comes home from work in the dark and actually has to rack her brains to remember if she went out in the daylight that day.

S.A.D has many symptoms in common with depression, including feelings of lethargy, hopelessness and anxiety. But unlike those who are classically depressed, a person with S.A.D is likely to feel much happier in spring even without treatment. Most S.A.D sufferers experience extreme tiredness and have a significant increase in appetite and weight during the winter.

Serotonin is one of the principle substances in the body that can be impacted by these disruptions. Low levels of serotonin are known to affect moods as anyone who justifies their chocolate habit can attest to. Serotonin helps determine our appetite – when levels are low, we feel hungrier. Carb-rich foods trigger the production of serotonin, so people with S.A.D may subconsciously go for starchy foods to regulate their mood.

Serotonin is produced inside the body from the amino acid ‘tryptophan’, and eating foods rich in tryptophan such as chicken, milk, yogurt, bananas, figs, tuna and sunflower seeds, can all help your body create more serotonin. For this to occur, you need a supply of certain nutrients – such as vitamins B3, B6, C, folic acid and zinc to assist the process. Bring on the broccoli, I say.

I got the following recipe from the delicious magazine website and this seems to be a great user of all the things you need to eat to boost your mood! I would probably use white wine instead of Pernod and the saffron could easily be replaced with another flavour if you preferred.

Fragant Chicken Stew

serves 4

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1.5-1.75kg chicken, jointed into 8
  • Good pinch of saffron strands
  • 2 heads fennel
  • 12-16 shallots
  • 125g pancetta or bacon lardons
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
  • 1 tbsp Pernod (optional)
  • 250ml dry white wine
  • 350ml chicken stock, hot
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp butter, softened
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 4 tbsp crème fraîche
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, to serve
    1. Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole. Season the chicken pieces, and fry, in batches, over a medium-high heat until browned.
    2. Put the saffron into a bowl, cover with 1 tablespoon of hot water and leave to soak. Slice the fennel lengthways through the root, so that the layers stay together in 1 piece.
    3. Lift the chicken pieces onto a plate and set aside. Add the whole peeled shallots to the casserole and fry until lightly browned. Set aside with the chicken. Add the fennel slices to the pan and fry until very lightly golden. Set aside on a second plate.
    4. Pour all but 1 teaspoon of the oil from the casserole, add the pancetta and fry until golden. Add the garlic and fennel seeds and fry for a few seconds. Add the Pernod and wine, bubble for a few seconds, then add the stock, herbs and saffron water.
    5. Return the chicken and shallots to the casserole, cover and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Stir in the fennel slices, cover and simmer for 30-35 minutes, until the chicken is almost tender. (Don’t fully cook at this stage or the chicken and fennel will be overcooked when you reheat it.) Lift the vegetables and chicken out of the liquid and put into a ovenproof dish or foil tray with a lid – one big enough to fit the cooking liquor, too.
    6. Mix the butter and flour together into a smooth paste. Bring the cooking liquor back to a simmer and whisk in the flour paste, a little at a time (you might not need to use it all), until the sauce has thickened. Simmer for a further 2-3 minutes. Stir in the crème fraîche and adjust the seasoning. Pour the sauce back over the chicken, cover and place over a medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, for 10-20 minutes, or until piping hot. Scatter with the chopped parsley to serve.
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