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Published: Tuesday, 12/11/2001

Comfort food can help ease holiday stress

In the weeks after Sept. 11, food fed the body as well as the soul. Nourishing food tasted best when eaten with those we love the most.

From the rescue and recovery workers who were fed by premier New York chefs at Ground Zero to the home cook in Toledo, Ohio, the foods we ate became secondary to those who sat at the table with us.

The following month, I heard New York food consultant Clark Wolf tell food journalists at their annual conference in Las Vegas, “The world has changed in the last few weeks. The habits people are forming will have an effect on the rest of our lives. The trends were in place, but Sept. 11 put them in warp-speed.”

Among the habits that Americans had been forming: the idea of home cooking rather than buying the nightly takeout for dinner; planning home parties rather than bankrolling world-class dining; family style service - a natural to many cuisines; neighborhood restaurants or bistros becoming a social focus where the waiter knows your name, and urban casual food that can be done inexpensively and well.

That spells: C-O-M-F-O-R-T food.

Comfort food can come from anywhere - from childhood favorites to ethnic dishes. “What happened in September made us want to get around a table,” said Mr. Wolf. “You want home-style. Right now cooking is very comforting.”

That led us to November as we readied for Thanksgiving feasts. Yet, some folks hashed over the idea that during times of stress, we often turn to traditional “comfort” foods such as macaroni and cheese, chocolate, desserts, and all those high-calorie holiday favorites.

Can comfort food be healthy, too? You bet. The key is portion control. To enjoy holiday favorites that are higher in fat, eat less. Practice moderation.

Three months later, as we plan our holiday gatherings and the foods we will serve, nourishment, health, communication, and stronger family bonds are as close as our kitchens and dining rooms, writes dietitian Dayle Hayes on behalf of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

She advises: Cook together; eat together; turn off the television while you eat; return to rituals of your family such as prayers, a moment of silence, joining of hands, candles, festive touches, and special dishes; share food, fellowship, memories, tears, laughter, and joy, and invite others to join you for a meal.

To this I add: Don't let holiday cooking or baking stress you. Pacing is the key to squeezing all those holiday tasks into a 24-hour day.

Take time to make cookies with family members, whether they are school-age children or college students home on holiday break. Encourage grandparents to share their recipes. Sometimes older cooks don't feel up to making the recipe, but they will sit there with you as you prepare the dish.

If baking must be done after a long day at work, select cookie recipes that can be prepared in stages. Then make the dough one evening and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, sealing it to refrigerate overnight. The next night, do the baking. If decorating is desired, plan on that for a third night.

If you're trying to streamline cooking, leave family favorites on the holiday menu. This is the year to rekindle memories, spark new relationships, and relish the food, fellowship, and joy of the season.

Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor. E-mail her at food@theblade.com.



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