This is the most glorious time in the Valley of the Sun. We’ve tunneled through desert frost into celebrated golf temps that teeter on the verge of spring training. The acacia are blooming with a Sonoran strangeness that is both tropical and sweet and carries into the cooler night time air. And the fair weather winterers are donning the final days of boots and vests pretending that we are still at least somewhat attached to winter.
These are the memories that are important for us to hold on to when the summer scorches our lives. As we grasp our final winter days, we also hang onto our comfort foods like stews and warm starchy dinners.
From autumn to spring, many people cannot resist the allure of comfort foods. Of course, that means something slightly different to everyone from sweet, dense desserts to hot bowls of mashed potatoes and chili. Some believe this is an animal instinct in order to survive cold weather while others opine that it’s simply an association between high calorie foods and favorite holidays.
Ira Ockene, a cardiologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School believes the tendency to overeat during winter might be basic biology. Ockene told NPR that winter eating may be a defense mechanism urging us to stockpile for cold months ahead. Other scientists argue that winter weight gain is simply a product of our environment – having nothing to do with biology. From Thanksgiving through Valentine’s Day, our calendars are filled with opportunities to celebrate with comfort foods. This coupled with a decrease in physical activity during the cold months, makes it only natural that some people gain a pound or two during winter.
There is another terrific study on why we might overeat some of these wonderful foods. A study from the Canadian University of Maryland found that when love is put into something that is baked for our benefit, the consumer believes the end result is better. So, when Grandma makes fried chicken just for you, it actually tastes better because of the emotional connection that’s created between you. The more you remember the love, the more you eat. As I’ve mentioned before , we are very fortunate to have seed stewards in our community and growers of heritage grains.
Mushroom and Herb Polenta
Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
8 Tbsp olive oil
6 cups mixed mushrooms, pick out 3-4 different types
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp chopped tarragon
2 tbsp chopped thyme
2 tbsp salt and pepper
4 ½ cups vegetable stock
1 cup polenta
1 cup grated parmesan
2 tsp chopped rosemary
8 oz Taleggio cheese (rind removed)
Bring stock to a boil in a saucepan. Add polenta and stir, reduce heat and continue to stir. It takes about 40 minutes for the corn to soften and become a creamy porridge. The polenta is ready when it pulls away from the sides of the pan but isn’t dry. Stir in parmesan and rosemary.
Heat the olive oil in a large fry pan and add half the mushrooms. Fry for a few minutes until browned, not too long or the mushrooms become rubbery. Remove from pan and repeat with the other half of the mushrooms. At the end, add the garlic, tarragon, and thyme to all the cooked mushrooms. I also added some tomatoes and left over pasta sauce.
When the polenta is ready pour out on a wooden cutting board and spread. Top the hot polenta with slices of taleggio and pour the herby mushrooms over the top. Slice it up and serve.
What is your winter comfort food and what motivates you to eat it?