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Comfort Food … a New England Winter Staple
by Jenny Wojenski

“Food is the most primitive form of comfort.”
Sheilah Graham (1904-1988)

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I almost hate to admit it but I am one of those crazy New Englanders over the age
of 15 who still loves the cold snowy winters. (I say over 15 because I have yet to
meet a young child who didn’t like winter.)  

I was in the gym the other day and it really was comical listening to all of the
ladies in the locker room talk about the weather. It went something like this:  One
said:  “I hate this weather; I just can’t get warm!” Another said: “I know, isn’t it  
horrible and it’s supposed to be this way for several more days.”  And another
said:   “It’s soooo cold; I hate to get out of bed in the morning.” Yet another: “My
cats curl up over the heater and won’t go outside, that’s how cold it is!” And still
another:  “It’s so cold – everyone is getting sick, there is that horrible bug going
around!”   Blah, Blah, Blah,…… They didn’t stop. It was like they had never
experienced it before. Or maybe it’s just that New Englanders love to talk about
the weather since it is always so changeably interesting.

I didn’t dare tell any of those ladies that I actually
like this weather. Don’t get me
wrong; if I could choose between minus 5 degrees or 25 above I’d choose the
latter. However, I do not like warm winter days and I prefer the winters with lots
of snow.  

I believe there are 3 reasons why I like New England winters:

1.  I started cross country skiing several years ago. This gives me something to do
outside that is fun and good exercise at the same time.

2.  I finally learned that hats and mittens are not just for kids. I learned along with my
children that dressing properly (that means layers, layers, and more layers) makes
all the difference.

3. New England Comfort Foods! New Englanders love to eat and during the winter
Comfort Foods are on the top of most menus, including mine.  

Winter gives me the chance to make all of those hearty foods that fill you up with
warmth and sustenance and give you that feel-good feeling…. okay, maybe that
feel-good feeling can be called “tired and stuffed; I may as well take a nap.”  But
these winter foods are often the foods from our childhood, what our mother’s
made for us when we were sick, goodies that we indulge in, or the meals that our
grandparents made from their native lands. Somewhere along the line they were
coined “comfort” foods. These are the foods that satisfy our appetite and our soul
and give us nourishment.

Wintertime is the chance to make foods that you would never think of eating
during the summer. And let’s face it; if we lived in Hawaii or Florida would we
really be making beef stew; pot roast; macaroni and cheese, roast chicken, stuffed
peppers, meatloaf with mashed potatoes, grilled cheese sandwiches,  chicken pot
pie, or chicken soup day-in–day-out for five months?  

It seems like just as the days get longer and the snow begins to melt I’ve had
enough of these “comfort” foods. I just don’t seem to need that warm fuzzy feeling
from my food during the summer…I get it from the sun, my garden and the
water.  

Comfort food recipes are filed away until the fall when once again I am ready for
that feeling ….that comfort food feeling.

The fact that many of these foods take a long time to cook is an element of  
“comfort.” One friend told me:  “I like the idea of cooking a meal for a long time, it
just makes it taste all the better.” And talking about pot roast another said:  “…
there is something about the aroma in the air and eating an early dinner around 4:
00 on a winter Sunday afternoon."  

Rice pudding made by her grandmother has become another friend’s comfort
food. I have a similar association with stewed tomatoes. My grandmother who is
now 96 and can’t make them anymore canned many quarts of stewed tomatoes in
her day and now a perfect comfort food for me is a steaming bowl of stewed
tomatoes with a dollop of butter and a grilled cheese sandwich – just like Nana
used to make.

I took an unofficial poll to hear what some people’s “comfort foods” were and
they all sounded quite similar to mine … homemade macaroni and cheese,
lasagna, chicken parmigiana,  soups and chowders, baked beans, pot roast,
shepherds pie, fresh baked bread, cinnamon buns, mashed potatoes and gravy,
pot pies, pudding, and chocolate chip cookies.  

It’s not all about the food either – it’s about the aromas and the people you think
of when you make the food. It’s about emotions.   Sweet spices like cinnamon and
the smell of chocolate baking give that comfy feeling. I have a friend who once
told me that she can’t experience a snow storm without making chocolate chip
cookies. Now whenever it snows I think of her and sometimes I even make
chocolate chip cookies – blaming her the whole time!  

The Recipes:

Macaroni and Cheese

1 1/3 c. dry macaroni – cook until tender
Melt and whisk 1 ½ T. butter and 2 T. flour
Add whisked butter and flour to 1 ½ c. warm milk and stir until thickened. Add a
few sautéed onions. Add 1 ½ c. grated sharp cheddar cheese. Add the drained
macaroni to the cheese and milk mixture and put in casserole dish. Sprinkle with
buttered bread crumbs and bake at 350 degrees for 30 -40 minutes.

Shepherd’s Pie

2 c. cooked hamburger meat
1 c. peas or corn ( I use both)
1 ½ c. meat stock
¼ t. pepper
3 T. butter
3 T. flour
1 ½ t. salt
2 c. mashed potatoes

Melt butter, blend in flour. Add meat stock, stirring constantly until thickened.
Season with pepper. Add meat and peas/corn. Pour into casserole. Spoon
potatoes around edge of casserole. Bake 425 degrees until potatoes are browned.

Chocolate Bread Pudding with Hard Sauce

Pudding

5 T. cocoa mixed with enough hot water to blend cocoa
2 c milk
2 beaten eggs
1/2 c. sugar
dash salt
1 t. vanilla
2-3 c. stale bread, torn into small pieces

In large bowl add cocoa/water mixture, milk, eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla.  Add
stale bread.  Pour into loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.   Serve warm
with hard sauce.

Hard sauce

1 c. butter, softened
1 c. confectioners’ sugar
¼ c. dark rum
1 t. vanilla
¼ t. ground nutmeg

Beat butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Sift confectioners’ sugar into the
butter. Add rum, vanilla, and nutmeg. Beat on high speed for 5 minutes.  Pour
onto pudding.







About the author: Jenny Wojenski, a freelance  writer & a native Mainer, is owner
of Hors D’Oeuvres Unlimited, a catering service based in Keene, New
Hampshire.  To contact her, drop her a line at j
wojenski@ne.rr.com
Comfort Foods...
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