The days are short. The nights seem like a silent, bottomless fountain of darkness. Tensions occasionally run high, while, paradoxically, energy runs low. We’re in hibernation mode, body, heart, and soul. Through the cold we have the holidays to look forward to, but once they pass, the remainder of the season is left stark, unadorned by twinkling lights and cheerful music. It becomes Winter, with a capital W.
For those of us plagued by Seasonal Affective Disorder – the clinical way of saying you get depressed when it’s cold and dark for long periods of time – December through February is difficult. In the past I’ve spent this time of year sleeping late and cooking my way through the days, but this winter that can’t happen due to my newfound full-time job. Reveling in a thick, syrupy malaise isn’t really an option.
Thankfully, the cold months are all about carb-heavy comfort foods. Even if you’re not interested in stuffing yourself with macaroni casserole or meat and potatoes, there are still many warm, carb-laden dishes to comfort you when you’re dragging through life like your shoes are made of molasses. No, you don’t have to turn to the dreaded white powder, which will only make you feel worse.
It’s important to take care of yourself when you’re feeling emotionally weak and weary, because once your body starts declining, it becomes that much more difficult to crawl out of your dark little hole of sadness. Plenty of comfort foods will support your physical health while giving your emotional side a big, delicious hug. Here are a few:
- Sugar-free (but still luscious) banana bread
- Baked quinoa pudding
- How to make Chinese savory rice porridge
Today, when I was feeling like the last puppy at the pound, I started reaching for the sugar snacks – but I stopped myself. I went out for a walk (other important factors in lifting your sense of wellbeing are exercise and fresh air) to the local grocery store, bought some apples and a butternut squash, and set about making myself a lovely snack.
This dish always makes me feel better. It’s warm and sweet, with a kiss of cinnamon for extra heat. I make this dish for breakfast, lunch, or those times when I’m dying for dessert and feeling strong enough to not indulge in chocolate bread pudding. It keeps well in the refrigerator when sealed in an airtight container, so make a heap for emergencies.
- 2 large sweet apples
- 1 butternut squash, about 2 pounds
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons melted butter (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400°F (204°C).
- Core the apples, peel them, and then cut them into quarters. Then cut the halves in half, across their width – we’re maximizing surfaces for caramelization here. Set apple pieces onto a small baking sheet lined with parchment.
- Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds, then cut in half across the cut face of the squash, separating the seedless neck from the bulbous base. Set face-up onto a large baking sheet lined with parchment.
- Slide both baking sheets into the oven, with the apples closest to the heating element. Cook for 30 minutes, or until the apples are nice and caramelized around the edges. Remove apples from oven, and set aside to cool.
- Now place the squash closest to the heating element. Cook the squash for another 20-30 minutes, or until the surfaces have caramelized. Remove from oven and set aside to cool enough to handle.
- Add apples to the bowl of a food processor. Once the squash is cool, scoop the cooked flesh from the peel and add to the food processor, making sure to include all of the dark, smoky caramelized bits. Sprinkle in salt and cinnamon, drizzle in olive oil, then pulse until completely smooth, occasionally scraping down the sides with a spatula. Add butter, if you like, and pulse until completely combined. Season with more salt and cinnamon to taste. Serve warm. This puree keeps brilliantly in the fridge for up to a week, if sealed in an airtight container.
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