How dry we were?

For the past five years or so, the idea of alcohol-free Januarys has caught on in many countries. There are many motivations, but it’s mostly perceived as a health benefit.  This particular photo comes from a series of public-interest initiatives in the U.K.

February marks the end of what for some is a month of trying various forms of self-improvement. Although we think we’re going to keep up the things we’ve started, that mostly doesn’t happen (at least for me.) Veganuary may segue into Vegruary, but probably not for most people. And after Valentine’s Day we’ll see sanity and space return from January’s crowds at the gym. In the past, there were various reasons for people not drinking as much as usual in January, like saving money or drinking their holiday alcohol gifts. I could expect a jump in wine sales as the calendar page turned.

But in the last five years or so, deliberate alcohol-free Januarys have become more of a thing. For some people it’s a way to raise money for charities by collecting donations as encouragement. For most who try it, though, there’s a health angle. At its best, I think it could be a good thing – giving people a way to examine when and how they consume alcohol. When the month’s over, this could lead to a better relationship with drinking.

Mindfulness when it comes to food and drink is a good idea. But like so much else, dry January has also been incorporated into ideas of self-care. It’s a real needle scratch for me when, for the rest of the year, many people look at wine a positive part of self-care, as I’ve written before. How wine is part of self-care part of the year but not during January doesn’t make sense to me.

Part of the reason for seemingly contradictory actions is likely because really good information on alcohol and health is scarce. And it’s not just for alcohol, but top-notch medical information in general, especially for women. In the February 12 Washington Post op-ed section, Dr. Nikki Stamp argues that a history of one-sided medical research and institutional sexism has fostered the rise of the wellness culture we have today. She starts with a look at Gwyneth Paltrow’s new Netflix show on wellness. Much of it seems expensive and useless, Stamp says. Which is fine if you want to waste money trying to look younger. But if it extends to rejecting sound medicine for treatable conditions, that’s another story. Paltrow doesn’t appear to conflate the two things, but that’s not necessarily true of wellness in general.

As Stamp recounts, last month the head of Britain’s National Health Service “delivered a stinging assessment of the growth of the wellness industry and the harms that the willful ignorance of science is bringing.” She agrees, but also argues that if doctors find the multitrillion-dollar wellness industry distressing, they deserve part of the blame for medical science that has ignored women. And, since most medical research applies almost exclusively to men, it has resulted in misdiagnosis and unnecessary perpetuation of painful conditions in women. Wellness has rushed to fill this gap for people who feel excluded by medicine. “The wellness industry purports to be everything that conventional medicine is not: egalitarian, hopeful and accessible.”

I also suspect there’s a sense of novelty to self-care and wellness that helps keep people engaged, both men and women. There’s always something new to try. The conventional message from medical science hasn’t changed for decades on general health and maintaining a “healthy” body weight: eating right, exercising, not smoking, etc. We could all recite it in our sleep. But cold plunges, a novel diet, a common substance we don’t eat enough of but should, and things like that? Why not try them? Maybe they’ll work, or kick-start a better regimen in general. But if not, at least we tried something new.

Avoiding alcohol in January certainly fits in here – while it’s not exactly a new concept, most people will have forgotten what it felt like last year so it’ll seem like something different 😉. Seriously, though, as I’ve written before, I don’t expect alcohol to be a health tonic. While I’d like to know more about it, I’m comfortable with moderate drinking given the current state of information. I’m also on board with people who want to see if not drinking will benefit their lives.

But I have a suggestion. Most people don’t just do a dry January, they try other things as well. This means that the effects of not drinking might not be as clear to us. We lead multi-variable lives, so if we want to see which things have a real effect, we can’t necessarily do them all at once. Next year, maybe we should wait until we’ve established some of the other things, like the new eating and exercise regimen, and then give a dry month a try. That way we’ll be able to judge the real impact apart from the noise.


If you’ve decided to return to drinking wine in February, or just want to try something new, we’re here to help. I’ve put most of our wines costing $19 per bottle and up on sale. You’ll automatically get an additional 20% off through the end of April when you order them, on top of the regular volume discounts. So maybe grab some special occasion bottles, or just upgrade your nightly meal wine with something you probably won’t drink every day.

And one of the ones I think you could pick, especially if you want something to pair with the chicken recipe below, is Società Agricola Bulichella’s Tuscanio Bianco ($19). It’s mostly made with Vermentino with a little Viognier. It’s a wonderful winter white wine, and perfect for many vegan dishes, too.

The recipe is Apricot and Prune Chicken Stew, from The Saffron Tales by Yasmin Khan. My husband Cy’s father was born in Iran, and Cy grew up eating Persian food at family get-togethers. I like to make Cy this dish because he says it reminds him of his grandmother’s food. When it’s cooking and he comes through the front door, he tells me he can smell it as he comes up the steps! There’s not a lot of preparation, and most of the cooking is hands-off. We’re not necessarily used to combining meat and fruit in our food here in the U.S., but the apricots and prunes add just a touch of sweetness to the sauce. And the saffron adds a wonderful aroma, too. It’s awfully good.

Iranian (or Persian) cookbooks are easier to find than they used to be, and The Saffron Tales is one of the best. I asked Ms. Khan for permission to reprint her recipe, and she graciously agreed. And although it’s a “stew,” it’s not particularly heavy, and it fits in with lighter eating. Well, OK, not grilled-chicken-breast-and-steamed-broccoli lighter eating, but still – it’s a winter meal you can eat any time of year.



Apricot and Prune Chicken Stew (Aloo Mosamaa)

From The Saffron Tales, by Yasmin Khan

Reprinted with the author’s kind permission

Serves 4

Vegetable Oil

3 medium onions, finely chopped

¾ teaspoon cumin seeds

¾ teaspoon cilantro (coriander) seeds

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 2 pounds, I like to cut them into two pieces each)

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1-1/2 teaspoons turmeric

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 cups good-quality chicken stock

16 dried apricots, cut in quarters

16 prunes, cut in half

½ teaspoon saffron threads

A pinch of sugar

2 tablespoons freshly boiled water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large saucepan with a lid and gently fry the onions over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until brown and very soft (around 25 minutes).

Meanwhile, toast the cumin and cilantro seeds in a dry skillet for a minute or two and then grind them into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Once the onions are ready, add the chicken thighs to the saucepan, along with the ground cumin and cilantro, the cinnamon, turmeric, salt, and pepper. Cook for a few minutes over high heat until the chicken is sealed (not raw-looking) on all sides and then add the stock. Cover and cook over a low to medium heat for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon of oil in a skillet and lightly fry the apricots and prunes for 2-3 minutes until they start to plump up.

Grind the saffron with a pinch of sugar in the mortar and pestle and then transfer to a cup and leave to steep in the boiled water for 2 minutes.

When the chicken is cooked, add the fried fruit, along with the lemon juice and saffron liquid. Cook for a final 5-10 minutes until the sauce with the lid off, until the sauce has thickened a bit. Adjust the seasoning with a touch more salt, pepper, or lemon juice.

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5 Responses to How dry we were?

  1. juantana says:

    I really loved reading this one. I think drinking less is probably not a bad idea for many people, but you can’t overlook how much you drink the other 11 months and think that abstaining one month will be that beneficial really. As with most things in life, moderation is always the key. if you skip 31 days but drink 7 days a week Feb-Dec thats probably not great. Better to skip 2,3,4 days a week year round in my opinion. It’s natural after the holidays though to want to abstain, work out and eat better.

    • firstvine says:

      I applaud people for making changes in their diets and routines, for whatever reason, although I agree that less drinking overall is probably more beneficial than a month without and then back to it. But if they start a new diet and exercise program in January along with no alcohol, separating the effects will be difficult — they’re bound to feel better and it may or may not be due to not drinking.

      I listened to Michael Pollan on giving up caffeine a couple of days ago, and he said it took almost three months to feel totally free of its affects. So it’s possible that even a month might not be enough to see whatever the total benefits of not drinking really are, anyway.

  2. Pingback: Terroirist: A Daily Wine Blog » Daily Wine News: At What Cost?

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