Healthy Cook: Keep calm and cook on

There is too much going on . . . the holidays to cook for . . . Grandma and the bratty cousins to buy for . . . the new puppy will probably knock the tree over (if the cat doesn’t climb it first) . . . Take a deep breath, go relax in a dark room for 10 minutes and have a cup of chamomile tea.

Stressful days call for a dinner of easy-to-fix comfort food. Families have their own traditions and meals for days like this. Ours is grilled cheese and tomato soup, and anything with mashed potatoes a close second. My wife’s family had meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Our daughter-in-law calms her brood with beef tips and mashed potatoes. See a thread here? Mashed potatoes go a long way to taking the edge off stress.

Choosing soothing foods is not just tradition either. Scientists have broken foods down into their parts and some of their parts are calming.

*Asparagus is not something we usually associate with calming. It just doesn’t fit the comfort mold, but a half cup of cooked asparagus has a wealth of folic acid, something that takes the edge off. Cook some lightly (10 seconds per spear, covered, in a microwave) chill it and serve wrapped in a thin slice of ham or prosciutto. Toss short pieces in a salad. Or eat it grilled and sprinkled with parmesan cheese.

*Avocado has B vitamins and B vitamins are calming. Florida avocados have less fat than Hass (the dark, nubbly ones), but are bigger. Fan slices on the side of a plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes and just try to stay awake until dessert. Guacamole is a winner and might keep some of your armchair quarterbacks from hitting the ceiling while cheering on their team. Put ripe avocado in a smoothie. It tastes better than it sounds.

*Blueberries: a great source of vitamin C and antioxidants . . . are just as healthful frozen as they are fresh. Whizz up a frozen banana, frozen blueberries, a peeled orange or tangerine, some yogurt (also a calming food), and cinnamon or cardamom. Drink your way to less stress. This smoothie is a good breakfast, fine lunch, or snack.

*Milk: a glass of warm milk has been a night time pacifier for years. It turns out that it really works—plain or made into a pudding or shake (as long as it doesn’t have too much sugar).

*Almonds, pistachios, and walnuts taste good anytime. But a few is plenty because of the calories.

*Oranges are jammed with vitamin C. So are tangerines and grapefruit. Whole fruit has more of the good stuff than juice because of the solids. But juice works when you are in a stressful hurry.

*Salmon and fatty fish, such as mackerel, have Omega 3 fatty acids. Hot or cold, fried, grilled, or poached, it’s hard to beat salmon. There is no waste if you eat the skin. About the only drawback with salmon, other than the price, is the aroma that lingers for days. Poaching in gently simmering water leaves the fish succulent and the house unpolluted. Don’t— under any circumstances— fry salmon and boil broccoli in the same neighborhood at the same time unless you plan to go on vacation and take the neighbors with you.

*Spinach, like many of the good-for-your-attitude foods is edible raw and cooked. It simmers in the water it’s washed in. Fry a couple of cloves of garlic gently in olive oil then toss in a lot of spinach and let it simmer down. My wife doesn’t like it, but I add butter, salt, and very old Balsamic vinegar.

*Turkey contains tryptophan. That’s what makes you sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner in spite of the grandads squabbling over what game to watch.

*Oatmeal. Who would have thought that oatmeal would calm you down? Turns out that steel-cut oats work better because the pieces are bigger and it takes your body longer to digest than flattened grain. Add some raw flakes to smoothies. They give it body and a subtle flavor.

*Yogurt has the same calming chemicals as milk but there is more of them because much of the liquid is gone. To make Greek style yogurt, and have more B vitamins, pour plain yogurt into a coffee filter in a strainer over a bowl and chill overnight. You lose about half the volume. Drink the liquid or add it to soups.

There, are you calm now?



story by TRENT ROWE, Food Editor

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