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Column: 2020 in Food Nora fitzgerald

Undeniably, the year 2020 was one like no other. It brought unique challenges, surprises and most often, time spent at home. At points there was only one thing that kept us going: food. During the months spent in lockdown, and the ones that followed, most of us turned to food as both a routine escape from boredom and a source of comfort. While food trends are a staple in any year, 2020 saw more than ever before. So, let's take a look back at some of the best (and worst) foods that dominated this year.

Breakfast: It's only right to start with the first and most important meal of the day. One breakfast food that made a comeback this year was oatmeal. My personal favorite food of the year, energized with new toppings and flavors, oatmeal gained some much needed spotlight. Similarly, smoothie bowls and their world of toppings gained traction for being versatile, healthy and easy to make. A slightly less healthy breakfast option, fluffy japanese pancakes also rose to fame. Thick, tall pancakes, slightly crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside quickly gained popularity, and for good reason: they are delicious.

Snacks: Moving onto snacks, two in particular stood out this year. Charcuterie boards and peppers and cream cheese. Charcuterie boards, also known as cheese boards or grazing boards, are a compilation of crackers, dips, cheeses, fruits, vegetables and nuts. Basically a snacker’s heaven. Charcuterie boards were a star of 2020 for their flexibility, customization and utility as the perfect appetizer. The pepper and cream cheese phenomenon gained traction largely through the social media app TikTok, and as part of the Keto diet movement. The combination of any type of pepper and cream cheese was a fan favorite for those who favored low-carbs this year,but personally, as a person who could worry less about carbs, this snack totally missed the bar.

Drinks: Oat milk -- the cow milk alternative of the year -- gained popularity this year among cow milk haters and it has the added benefit of having a relatively low environmental impact. I found it to be pretty good in coffee, soups and sauces. A quarantine favorite, whipped coffee, is a mixture of coffee grounds, sugar and hot water, and in all honesty, falls short of traditional coffee. Why only have a dollop of whipped coffee on top of milk when you could have a full steaming mugfull or a tall glass of it on ice? Whipped coffee seems to be one of the very short-lived trends of 2020, gaining popularity in the early stages of the spring lockdown, and falling off the path soon after. Both matcha and boba are two foods that originated in drink form, but spread their wings throughout 2020. Matcha was a common ingredient in teas and lattes this year, rapidly spreading to matcha flavored baked goods of all sorts. I have to recommend a matcha and raspberry flavored cake -- it is simply divine. Boba, the small, round, cassava starch balls often found at the bottom of milk tea or smoothies, was extremely popular this year. People experimented with different flavors and shapes, and it even became a popular topping for pancakes and cake.

Lunch/Dinner: The vegan/vegetarian movement saw major successes with the inclusion of Impossible Burgers and Beyond plant-based based meats into major restaurant chains. Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks and Burger King, amongst others, now offer plant based meat on their menus. The meat alternative is surprisingly tasty, and a good option for vegans, vegetarians and anyone just trying to eat less meat. I tried a Starbucks Beyond meat breakfast sandwich and had a hard time differentiating the delicious patty from real meat. A version of Vodka pasta, popularized by supermodel Gigi Hadid, was a spicy pasta dish that had its own moment in the spotlight. Do many now miscredit Gigi with the invention of vodka pasta? Yes, but the dish is still the perfect meal for a cold winter night. This year's versatile vegetable was definitely cauliflower, dominating in all food forms. It became a meat, pasta and pizza crust alternative that was a fan favorite among low carb and healthy eaters. Cauliflower gnocchi is definitely a miss, being way too gummy, cauliflower steak has a misleading name, but it is scrumptious, and cauliflower pizza crust can be a hit or miss depending on the brand. A popular Mexican dish, Birria Tacos, also saw lots of the spotlight this year. These tacos are a juicy, meat filled, decadent dish that certainly deserved all the attention they recieved. If you're looking to find them here in Naperville, El Gran Agave has got you covered.

Desert: It wouldn't be fair to talk about food without ending on desert. A recent desert trending just in time for Christmas, hot chocolate bombs, are the perfect festive treat. Small chocolate balls filled with marshmallows and cocoa powder dissolve in hot milk to form the perfect treat for a winter night. Another desert especially stood out this year -- Minimalist cakes. With three layers and simple, elegant decorations often consisting of pastel colors, this definitely took cake of the year. After all, the only thing better than cake is a pretty cake. I myself bought one, and honestly, best decision of the season. I had cake for dessert for a week straight.

So, while this year was certainly long, tiring and oftentimes difficult, food was certainly a bright spot. It has a way of bringing both people and cultures together, bringing a little bit of happiness along with it regardless of what may be happening in the world.

Credits:

Created with an image by geralt - "new year's day coffee cup"