Comfort Foods

Most of us feel kind of sad to see the last days of summer fade away. But if there’s one thing I look forward to this time

of year, it’s the change in diet which accompanies chilly weather. I like all kinds of soothing, hearty fare like soups and stews in fall and winter. By and large, the cooler seasons, especially the winter months, are stressors which make us think of preparing our favorite comfort foods. In my mind, the whole idea of meals which give a sense of well-being undoubtedly relates to happy moments, and especially loving people, from the past.

In researching what the phrase comfort food entails for others, I was surprised to find some of my best-loved dishes on the list. Because I grew up in the south, African-inspired soul foods figured prominently on the dining room table: Chicken and Dumplings, for instance. To prepare this dish, you simply cover a whole chicken (or even cut-up pieces) with water in a pot, adding in chopped onion, celery, carrots, fresh parsley, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil, skimming off the foam; simmer until fully cooked—about forty minutes—then remove the chicken from the bones. My grandmother always added red pepper flakes and
hard-boiled eggs when the soup was done. The biggest difference I’ve found between cookbook recipes and what I’m used to is in the dumplings. Some even suggest using Bisquick to make puffy dumplings which float on the top of the soup. No, no, no! As one fellow Arkansan’s hilarious blog posting points out, messing with the dumplings technique in this way can lead to serious marital issues! To prepare them the “right” way, you have to make them from scratch and they must be like large, flat noodles which closely resemble the chicken in the soup. To make the dumplings, mix about 2½ cups of flour with one teaspoon of sugar, salt, raw eggs, some chicken stock, celery salt, poultry seasoning, and a little oil. The dough will be a little sticky. So you then flour a board and pat out the mixture, before cutting the dumplings into rectangles or diamond-shapes. Then put them into the hot soup and cook until they float, about ten minutes. Nothing like it if you have a cold or on a frigid winter night!

Another one of my preferred comfort foods is the not-too-figure-friendly (but you've got to live, right?) fried chicken with gravy. To be honest, I don’t always make this dish the same way in terms
of spices. I put salt and pepper on the chicken pieces and then add whatever I’m in the mood for: paprika, garlic powder, maybe basil or thyme or oregano. One thing is for sure: no egg or buttermilk goes into this recipe. After the spices, I dust the chicken pieces with flour and fry them until done in a pan containing about an inch of oil. Once the meat is cooked, I remove it from the fry pan and add about two tablespoons of flour to the oil. Stir until the flour begins to brown, add salt, pepper, and enough water and milk to get the right consistency to the gravy. Serving the gravy with homemade biscuits would be ideal, but I usually settle for bread.

A close relative of fried chicken is fried fish. This is so simple: mix together yellow cornmeal and flour, about 1/3 cup each. Salt and pepper the pieces of fish, dip in the cornmeal-flour combo and fry as above. No gravy here, but delicious just the same.

Well, there you have it: some of my all time favorite dishes. I would love to know what my readers’ comfort foods are; feel free to comment on this post!

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I Love Yoga!

Anyone who has ever watched a toddler or young child at play has probably, consciously or not, observed yoga poses.

No one can be sure of the exact origins of the ancient Indian practice, but I sometimes feel that the stretching, squatting, and balancing of children had something to do with it! At any rate, the workout you get from seemingly simple moves works every part of the body—from your toes to your neck—and it really feels good.

For anybody starting out, learning to do the correct way of breathing along with the asanas (poses) is essential. Since I now have a firm grasp of the postures, I’ve been creating my own sessions at home for the past
couple of months. While I’m doing yoga on my own, I feel like I can hear my instructor’s voice telling me to make necessary corrections! I’m using a book I bought awhile back entitled Yoga for Beginners. Despite its title, it contains an intermediate workout as well as information about meditation. One of the best things about the book is that it’s spiral-bound and can stand next to your mat for easy reference while you are learning the series of exercises.

As with any physical training program, you can do as much or as little as you want; even a few minutes doing simple stretches during the day is helpful. It’s best to do all of the stretching and twisting of
a full yoga workout on an empty stomach. Having a room set up with your mat would be ideal, but I just drag my mat out into the family room twice a week. I usually spend 40 to 45 minutes in the morning, starting out and finishing up with five minutes in “corpse pose” relaxing. The benefits are nothing short of amazing. When I took my first yoga class decades ago, I immediately noticed a boost in my energy level. You find, too, that your body responds to the poses; you improve. There are things that I can do now, like sitting back on my heels without killing my knees or doing "down dog" without my wrists aching, that I couldn’t manage for long at the beginning. Yoga also improves your balance through the practice of asanas like tree pose. Regulating your breathing reduces stress and brings a sense of tranquility. In fact, the 16-18 million practitioners of yoga in the U.S. include groups of New York City cabbies who use it to combat road rage in their profession.

All in all, yoga makes you more aware of your body. If you’re interested in the philosophy behind it and its spirituality aspects, you can sign up for a free Yoga Journal, delivered to your inbox once a week. I hope you’ll give it a try. Namaste!

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Simply the Best Goat Cheeses

Standing in front of the cheese counter at Price Chopper a few weeks ago, I noticed a square balsam wood container with a French-named cheese: Bonne Bouche, “a good mouthful.” Even more intriguing was the green sticker from The American Cheese Society which proclaimed it the “Best Goat Cheese in America 2010”! Seeing that the cheese inside was topped with a coating of ash made

me a bit skeptical, since we’re not huge fans of Morbier, a French cheese with a layer of ash running through the middle. (Little did I know at the time that the ash actually has a function, which is to mellow the acidity of the cheese.) But I bought Bonne Bouche anyway figuring we might as well give it a try. Very bright decision on my part! It was, in fact, an answer to our prayers: an aged American goat cheese to rival the chèvre produced in France. No wonder it has won several awards!

A week or so later I was in the neighborhood of Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany and decided to drop in. There, a small basket of marked-down cheeses caught my eye, especially the one with the appealing hyphenated adjective
“double-cream” on top! Cremont proved to be well worth the five dollars I spent that day. Tasting the velvety blend of cow’s and goat’s milk was like being in heaven! My husband made the connection that both cheeses were produced by Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery in Websterville, just outside Barre. Since I had planned on visiting friends in Northfield on our trip to Vermont last week, I went by the creamery to see what other products they have to offer.

Although there’s not much for visitors to see or do at the out-of-the-way location, I was able to purchase two other delicious cheeses: Coupole and a two-pack of crottin-like Bijou. I also learned about the history of the company, which has been in existence since 1984. The creamery came about after the marketing director of the Vermont Department
of Agriculture, Bob Reese, needed to supply goat cheese for a banquet. Having trouble locating the cheese, he contacted Allison Hooper, a state dairy lab technician who had studied at an organic farm in Bretagne. The cheese she made for that night proved to be the hit of the dinner. A partnership to produce artisanal cheese and butter quickly developed. At present, the creamery supports over twenty family dairy farms. Their goat milk products include milder tasting rolls of plain, herb, and pepper cheeses which are more widely available, as well as aged cheeses in the European style, my favorites. I’m just sorry we didn’t discover them earlier. Now if we can get local supermarkets to carry the aged cheeses on a regular basis…

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