A year begins and ends with planned events and surprises we never saw coming. As we ease into another year ending, that looking-back process triggers nostalgia and memories of years past. The coming holidays often make us cranky or ditzy, sad or happy, so we have moods and foods. What is that connection between how miserable or stressed-out we can feel and the food or drink we gravitate to that will change that feeling?
Guilt, loneliness and life in general get to us all around the holidays. “I need a cup of coffee!” Why? Because you know you will feel a jolt of energy and lift in your mood. Research has shown that one or two cups a day (not giant beakers all day) will actually act as an antidepressant. More than that might jangle your nerves the other way.
Another food that affects us is carbohydrates. There are good ones and bad ones, but they all affect our concentration and alertness. Sugar and starch are carbs that are in just about everything. They are in corn, potatoes, breads, cereal, rice and pasta. The presence of the powerful brain chemical serotonin in these foods is what has a calming effect on frazzled nerves. This is temporary so if you overdo it, they will pile up the calories.
Fruits, whole grains and some pastas are healthy carbs. Portion size is key to keeping this intake healthy.
Comfort foods at this time of year really stand out. “I need some of mom’s corn pudding” or “grandma’s frybread” is not only all right but part of family connections. It’s love.
<b>Spicy and Sweet Nuts</b>
1 cup each: peanuts, pine nuts and walnuts
1 tablespoon sugar (or substitute)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Heat all together in a heavy fry pan and stir frequently for about 5 minutes. The oils in the nuts will hold the spices and sugar on. Let cool and serve.
1 package flour tortillas, any size
Sugar (or substitute)
Cut tortillas in half and then in 2-inch strips. Bake or fry tortillas until good and hot. Remove from oven or pan and place on paper towels. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon while warm. Serve warm or at room temperature.
1 gallon apple cider
1 cup brown sugar (or substitute)
10 whole cloves
10 whole allspice
5 cinnamon sticks, broken in pieces
Combine cider and brown sugar (or substitute) in a large stock pot. Stir to dissolve sugar. Tie the remaining ingredients into a cheesecloth bag. Secure with a long string to pull out before serving in warm mugs. Warm the cider for at least an hour so flavors can “mull.”
This recipe is especially nice on a cold night. If you are warming it on a woodstove, put a few pieces of lemon or orange peel directly on the stovetop. It makes the house smell wonderful.
<b>Mom’s Oppenonauhoc (Oyster) Stew</b>
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter (no substitutes)
2 – 3 cups whole milk
1 pint oysters, shelled and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon of any or all: dill, parsley, tarragon, watercress
Salt and pepper
Saute the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until golden. Reduce heat and add the milk. When the milk is hot (be careful not to let it boil), add the oysters. Watch closely and turn off the heat when the edges of the oysters begin to curl. (Oysters will be tough if they are cooked too long.)
Spoon broth and oysters into bowls, garnish with the minced herbs; serve hot. Good with saltine crackers.
Oil for deep frying
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon melted shortening
2 cups milk, slightly warmed
Heat oil in a deep fryer or a large saucepan with steep sides. Oil should be very hot (370 degrees) but not smoking.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Stir in the shortening and milk. Knead lightly and form into a ball. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured board and cut into 2-inch squares. Fry two or three squares at a time in the hot oil until golden, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot with sop, butter, honey, wojapi or other sweet conserve. (Sop is a half-and-half mixture of corn syrup and bacon drippings.)
<b>Notes and Tips</b>
- If you are a gardener, one of the nicest gifts you can give is a packet of seeds of your favorite plants or vegetables. Write a little note with each packet about how to plant, care for and harvest it. (A specialty like tepary beans or chili peppers is nice.)
- I’ve been collecting pine cones, milkweed pods and red berries for a few weeks. When I dumped out the flower boxes, I saved one to put winter greens, berries and pine cones in so the house wouldn’t look so “naked.” I’m very pleased with it.