The Comfort Food Notes

It’s both Monday and Earth Day. I am one of those freaks who actually likes Monday. To me, it’s a chance to start over again, a time to reset the world.

After last week, we certainly could use it. There was the bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon followed by the capture of the still-living suspect on Friday, and a fertilizer plant in Texas blew itself to kingdom come, taking out an elementary school and a nursing home with it. And then we had several earthquakes.

Oy. Scary stuff. What’s the first thing you want to do in response to such a week? For many people, the answer is “eat.” Preferably something with fat and carbs. Something your parents or grandparents might have made.

We are hardwired to do that. Physiologically, carbs, especially white ones, trigger off seretonin production. Fat enhances the mouth feel. Celery is a comfort food, said no one ever, because of this. Psychologically, it reminds us of perceived simpler times, of visits to Grandma’s when we sat with her at the kitchen table enjoying milk and cookies with her. 

Is eating for comfort a bad thing? Not necessarily. If you are eating with the clear and deliberate intent of evoking memories or of indulging your inner child, and you are doing it with a conscious intent while savoring the food and the memories, that’s one thing. It’s the absentminded munching to quash discomfort that’s problematic.

In Sarah Ban Breathnacht’s book of days Simple Abundance, she has several entries about nursery food and how sometimes you just need to eat something that reminds you of the days when someone reassuringly whispered “there, there” while stroking your hair when you were upset. Gingerbread, soup, pasta? What’s yours?

I made mac and cheese. My dad would save the odds and ends of cheese, then make a big 9×13″ pan of it. My own recipe goes like this: Pour some pasta into a pot, suca as elbows or bow ties or ziti. Then pour in enough milk and chicken or veggie broth to not quite cover. While it simmers (don’t boil–if it boils over, it will create an unspeakable mess), grate some cheese. I used cheddar. I don’t know how much; sorry. You will also need to mix about a tablespoon of flour with the same amount of water. When the pasta is done and has absorbed most of the cooking liquid, add the flour/water mixture and cook while stirring for about two minutes. Then add the cheese. Keep stirring. It’s ready when the cheese is melted. I like a sprinkle of nutmeg and black pepper on top.

Yes, I had some broccoli with it. No, I didn’t scarf it down in one sitting. I had enough for lunch the next day. Had to keep the seretonin levels up, you know.   



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