Monday, November 21, 2011


Whether you call it seasonal affective disorder, seasonal depression, winter blues, or whatever, it's a real problem up here in Northeastern Ohio, where the sun has taken its annual leave from our days and isn't expected to return until a few months of 2012 have passed. The monochromatic blanket of fleecy gray has been tossed over our landscape and, already, our bodies are struggling to produce enough vitamin D to get our tired and achy frames out of bed. 

I think this is where winter food traditions become more than just a way to pass the time--they become an anchor, a reason to haul ourselves out from under the piled quilts and let our feet make contact with the cold, wood floors. And it's not just hunger, which will do its part to drag us into the kitchen eventually, but the making of something that makes us feel good--I think there's something really important to that.

Obviously, this week's big to-do, Thanksgiving, is the archetypical example of cooking for and by tradition, and we'll be knee-deep in flour by mid-morning Thursday with the rest of ya'll. But this past weekend, when dusk and noon were pretty much identical, Carla and I both ended up in the kitchen, letting the oven do the furnace's job and dropping foods ranging from staples to sweets onto the kitchen table.

Am I going to get fat? Oh, hell yeah, but if eating homemade comfort foods actually "comforts" me, it's a lot better than ingesting the nasty chemicals in processed foods or going straight to the source and popping a pill every day to keep that dull ache off my emotional palette.

The fountainhead of food traditions in my life starts  with popcorn balls. When I was a kid, as soon as the weather turned cool, my mom would pull out the popcorn and corn syrup and fill our house with the smells of air-popped corn and stovetop candy. (And the popcorn tradition goes back further with her, too, as she told us stories the other day about her dad slipping into the other room and popping up a bowl of fluffy, white goodness for his wife and five children when my mom was knee-high to a grasshopper.) 

I asked my mom for her recipe, but she emailed it to the wrong address and I lost the printer paper she eventually handed me, so I'll have to get her index card and transfer the recipe to an index card of my own. But I had some Amish popcorn and all the ingredients so, yesterday, I Googled "popcorn balls" and tried my hand at Paula Deen's recipe. It kinda worked--I have some kinks to work out, but the exploded kernels did hold together, so I'll call them a qualified success. I'll feed them to the kiddos this afternoon and feel all self-satisfied in passing on a family tradition.       


If popcorn balls are an old tradition revisited, then these brownies with whipped cream are the tradition du jour in our kitchen. The brownie recipe is solid--I've been thinking about adding some white chocolate chips to the mix to change things up, but there's really no need to mess with that recipe. I can't stop fiddling with the whipped cream, though--I added cinnamon the last time I made the brownies, and last night, thinking of an orange mocha that we make at the shop, I grabbed a bottle of orange extract and the food coloring out of the cabinet and made an orange whipped cream. My goodness, they were good and they looked pretty in candlelight, too.

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