Don't let the cold stop you from being active.

Don't let the cold stop you from being active with these warm hobbies.

After the leaves turn colors and, in much of the country, the gray skies and snow arrive, many of us find ourselves with spare time that was once occupied by outdoor activities. Hobbies, whether as an individual pursuit or group activity, are a time-honored way to spend one’s time. A good hobby, though, isn’t about just whiling away the hours, it should produce something useful or beautiful, whether that’s something tangible like a meal or scarf or intangible like a new experience, perspective, or friendship. Here are some fresh takes on some of the most popular winter hobbies.  

Cooking

The winter months, with their short days and long nights, are ideal for spending time creating delicious and nourishing meals with friends and family. Much of what’s considered winter fare like sturdy greens and roots benefit from long cooking times, filling your house with the rich aromas of hearty stews, freshly baked bread, and sweet desserts.

This is also a great time to try out new techniques and recipes to push your boundaries while experiencing new tastes. Want to learn classic French technique? Visit your local library or bookstore for a copy of Jacques Pépin’s classic La Technique, an approachable text many modern chefs cite as a major influence. If you’re looking to expand your horizons, look into something like Madhur Jaffrey’s An Invitation to Indian Cooking, which serves as an excellent introduction to Indian recipes.

Even if cooking is not your strength, you can produce excellent, artisan-quality bread with retired New York Times food writer Mark Bittman’s revolutionary no-knead bread recipe. If you’re lucky enough to live near a gourmet grocer or kitchen store, look into taking a class with an experienced professional. Hands-on experiences like this are the quickest, and most fun, way to learn new things.

During the winter, it’s easy to fall into a routine that doesn’t involve as much social activity as the warm summer months. Invite friends and family over for a dinner outside of the normal holiday gathering times. This can be a great opportunity to impress and surprise guests with refined and exotic new recipes.

Travel

For the seasoned traveler or those interested logging a few more frequent flyer miles, winter presents some wonderful travel opportunities, ranging from the beloved tropical getaways to off-season deals that offer great value, opening doors to destinations that might otherwise be out of reach. If you live in a part of the country with a cold winter climate, odds are you could use a bit of a break from gray skies and snowy streets.

Consider a quick trip to the Palm Springs Area or Florida’s Central Atlantic Coast. Flights to these areas are modestly priced compared to international flights and give you the chance to lose the hat and gloves for a weekend, hit the links, and soak up some sunshine.

For a longer trip, look into Costa Rica. Winter is the ideal time to visit this small Central American country that boasts some of the most beautiful rainforests in the world and a modern capital city coupled with a favorable exchange rate and a tourism industry that caters to visitors from all over the world.

If you’re more adventurous, winter can be a great time to book off-season trips to some of the world’s cultural centers. Flights to Ireland, Iceland, and northern Europe, specifically the Scandinavian countries, are available at way-below-average rates in the winter months. While the weather might not always be ideal, the contents of some of the world's finest museums and cultural attractions in European cities remain the same in winter, but with less crowds. If you fly into Olso or Copenhagen, for example, you can also experience the trendy and uniquely Scandinavian concept of hygge, un-translatable sort of winter coziness firsthand, living like the locals do during the long winters.

Gardening

You’re probably thinking, “But wait, I just pulled all of the annuals up!” But there’s plenty of indoor gardening for green thumbs to enjoy during the winter. Visit your local greenhouse or garden shop for information and supplies for cultivating orchids or bonsai trees. These delicate and graceful plants involve basic but careful maintenance to produce their blooms and graceful forms. In fact, in larger cities, there are clubs and shows that draw enthusiasts from throughout the country and are a great place to exchange ideas and learn new techniques.

Crave truly ripe tomatoes and fresh basil in January? It’s easier now than ever to cultivate and maintain small, indoor herb and vegetable gardens safely and on a modest budget. Safe and energy-efficient LED lights have replaced the hot and power-hungry growing lamps of days gone by and organic nutrients and soil are readily available year-round. If you’re really looking to get into it, hydroponic and aeroponic growing setups are cheaper than ever. It is also never too early to start planning what to plant in the spring.

Seed Savers Exchange is an Iowa-based non-profit seedbank that has preserved many of the country’s unique varieties of common and uncommon fruits, vegetables, and other plants. They publish a catalog every winter that is a fantastic and informative resource with thousands of varieties of heirloom seeds and starters for sale. With this resource you can find out what plants come from your area, order seeds, and sprout them just before winter ends. You’ll have a unique garden that’s ideally suited for your region’s climate, soil type, and rainfall that will surely attract interest from your neighbors and friends.