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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

What are Comfort Foods?

What are Comfort Foods?

You’ve had a hard day at work. You’re tired and cranky, and the weather outside is cold, dark, and wet. What you need to perk you up is a big, steaming bowl of mom’s mashed potatoes with gravy (or her chicken noodle soup with matzo balls, or her fried chicken and dumplings, or …).

No matter who you are, chances are you have a favorite dish you turn to as a pick-me-up when you’re feeling blue. Comfort foods are familiar dishes that hold a special place in our hearts. Often, these dishes were part of our childhood memories and/or reflect our national or ethnic identity.

Comfort foods are usually made from simple, inexpensive ingredients, and are easy to prepare, and are tasty and filling.

Popular comfort foods in United States include meatloaf, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, soups and stews, fried chicken, pizza, scrambled or fried eggs, ice cream, doughnuts, and chocolate cake. While all of these foods are popular in Canada, too, Canadians also have a special fondness for poutine, French fried smothered in cheese curd and brown gravy. Another favorite above the 49th parallel is frybread or “beaver tail” pastries, made from a flat piece of dough, deep-fried and covered in sugar and/or preserves or pie filling.

Other comfort foods around the world include tacos and quesadillas in Mexico, ramen or miso soup in Japan, baked beans on toast or “bangers and mash” (sausages and mashed potatoes) in the United Kingdom, and lasagne or cannelloni filled with beef in Italy.

One things comfort foods around the world share is that most of them are heavily carbohydrate-based, featuring potatoes, pasta, or other heavy, starchy or sugary ingredients. That’s because starches and sugars give our bodies a natural energy boost. While very sweet foods provide that boost quickly, they also bring on an equally swift crash. Starchy foods, on the other hand, like breads, pasta, and potatoes, release their sugars over time, offering a more even energy and mood enhancing benefit. Many comfort foods re also high in fat, which makes them feel particularly satisfying.

While this boost can help us to feel better on a particularly bad day, having a diet based purely on comfort food is probably not the best idea. As with all good things, moderation is key. Rahter than just rationing comfort foods, though, why not try to add a healthy twist to some of your favorite dishes? Here’s a healthy alternative to traditional macaroni and cheese to get you started.

Whole Wheat Veggie Mac & Cheese

1 pound whole wheat macaroni
3 1/4 cups milk
1/4 cup butter
12 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 tbls cornstarch
2 cans stewed tomatoes
2 cups broccoli
2 cups kale or spinach, fresh or frozen
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Preheat oven to 350°. Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain, rinse and set aside. In a large saucepan, over medium heat, cook 3 cups milk, butter, salt, and pepper until hot (do not bring to a boil). In a small cup, combine the cornstarch and remaining 1/4 cup of milk. Stir until dissolved. Slowly add this to the hot milk mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Once the mixture thickens, remove from heat and stir in two cups of cheese, until melted. In a large mixing bowl, combine macaroni, cheese mixture, tomatoes, broccoli, and spinach or kale and mix until the macaroni is well coated. Pour the mixture into a greased 9” x 13” baking dish, or a 3-quart casserole, and top with the remaining cheese. Bake 35-45 minutes, or until golden brown.

If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1910, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.