December is never one of my favorite months. It marks the beginning of a long, cold winter. It’s when my activity level at work reaches a fever pitch. And it ushers in a whirlwind of holiday-related events that, fun as they may be, come far too quickly and frequently to be fully enjoyed.

In the past, I’ve been able to cope with all this by simply going with the flow and keeping my sights set on Dec. 26. But in all honesty, it’s been a little difficult maintaining that focus this year. In addition to all of the things I normally dread, I’ve been running a gauntlet of personal transition. There was a job change requiring a hasty wrap-up of some time-sensitive projects. Immediately following that was a five-day visit to San Francisco, where I presented at an international conference for the Association of Donor Relations Professionals. Then I returned home, where a local conference and a broken toilet awaited me.

At any other time of the year, these challenges would have been no big deal. But facing them in combination with December’s built-in stressors set my head spinning.

Fortunately, I know myself well enough to recognize when I’m reaching my breaking point. And I’ve learned that in most cases, I can stave off a potential meltdown with some good old-fashioned comfort eating. It’s not a vice that I’m proud of, but it keeps me from punishing my body with more destructive substances.

Since moving to Forest Park, Portillo’s has been my go-to source of stress-relieving food. It’s quick, it’s reasonably priced, and for me, it’s just a short skip across Roosevelt Road. I was fully prepared to make that trek last Saturday, until I stepped outside, face-first into that evening’s mini-blizzard.

Being too hungry to turn back, and too cold to move forward, I was faced with a tough dilemma. Should I push through my resistance and get my usual Portillo’s grilled tuna sandwich? Or should I cast aside my vegetarian tendencies for one night, and take advantage of my proximity to The Golden Steer?

Ultimately, proximity won out.

My decision wasn’t based solely on convenience. I’ve been curious to experience The Golden Steer for as long as I can remember, having heard it described as cozy, wood-paneled, and bustling. A quick glance around the dining room confirmed the restaurant’s dark warmth. I settled in at my small table near the kitchen, ready to inhale the fat and grease I so desperately needed.

Since I was dining alone, I opted for something quick. A Steer burger, medium rare, piled high with a slice of American cheese and grilled onions. I sunk my teeth into the thick patty, not caring when juice dribbled down my chin and onto my napkin-covered lap. Each bite brought me closer to releasing all the stress and anxiety I’d been feeling, until I was left with a pile of unfinished fries and a sense of contentment beyond compare.

Having said all of this, I realize that I should probably explore healthier coping mechanisms moving forward. But in the meantime I feel grateful that I live so close to two eateries offering meals that help get me through rough times.