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Tips for starting off the new year

The official winter holiday season will come to an end in a few days, with Epiphany on Sunday and Russian Christmas on Monday. But it is by no means the end of winter's celebrations. If you've spent time in New Orleans, you understand that the very first festivities of the Carnival season, which culminates a few weeks from now in Mardi Gras, take place on Twelfth Night.

Lunar New Year is coming up soon, too. Celebrations for the Year of the Snake will begin around Feb. 9 and continue for most of the month.

I love these post-Christmas holidays because they belong more to the commons, to those of us who celebrate them, than to the commercial interests that have largely taken over Christmas. And they offer a good option to what commercials are telling us, that now is the season of dieting. Spare me.

I love this time of year. We can already tell that the days are lengthening and we can feel in our bones that spring and its tender renewal is inevitable. Yet nights are still long and cold, a perfect time for cooking and long dinners with family and friends.

It's a good time to take stock of your kitchen and pantry, too. This year, I'll let go of several hot pads that are so worn they have to be folded in quarters to shield any heat. I'll also toss a two-year-old bag of ground cumin that accidentally got shoved to the back of the spice cabinet, buy some new tea towels, restock my favorite vinegars, take a couple of knives to the sharpener and clean out my freezer.

As far as the whole dieting thing goes, it is time it was turned on its head, don't you think? Here's my best advice: Eat more of the things that you know are good for you and source them from as close to home as possible. Farmers markets are filled with delicious vegetables and grass-fed poultry and meats. Make it a habit.

If you haven't already quit using margarine, now is as good a time as any; replace it with local organic butter. Information about the profound health benefits of butter finally went mainstream in late 2012, when CNN's website put it on their list of best foods, where it belongs. We are particularly blessed here in the North Bay, with some of the best butter in the country.

Don't waste calories on foods you don't enjoy but eat because you're in a hurry or bored.

"Enjoy every sandwich," as late singer-songwriter Warren Zevon said to David Letterman during his final public appearance and performance.

Words to live by, don't you think?

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