Now we need comfort foods
By Janice Lindsay
I came down with the measles a few days before my little sister did, so I felt a bit better by the time she was at her worst. Days passed as I lay in my bed across from hers, watching her struggle in a haze of fever and delirium.
Finally, the fever broke and she began to stir. Our mother begged her to eat something. Chicken soup? She refused. An orange? She refused, even though she loved them. She even said no to ice cream.
Our mother had run out of ideas, when my sister said weakly, “If you make some spinach and cabbage, I’ll eat it.”
Was she still delirious? What child in her right mind prefers spinach and cabbage to ice cream? Our mother didn’t believe it, either, but she cooked a big bowl of spinach and cabbage and my sister ate every ugly wilted leaf of it.
As a child, I never heard the expression “comfort foods” but, if I had, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have included spinach and cabbage.
I’ve been thinking about comfort food lately because we could all use some. Maybe as you read this, warm weather has returned, and the ice and snow have melted in the sunshine. But as I write, temperatures hover around 15 degrees, snow is piled high beside the deck, and the only sign of my garden after this long cold winter is the tip of a dried lamb’s ear stalk visible above deep ice-packed snow.
We are all winter-weary.
When I hear “comfort food” I think “macaroni and cheese.” The usual variety will do, but my grandmother’s version works best. Instead of milk mixed with the cheese, she used stewed tomatoes. She spread slices of American cheese on top, and baked it in a tall brown crockery pot that was wide at the top, narrower at the bottom. The stuff was lusciously yellow and red and bubbly and toasty brown around the edges. I’ve never been able to duplicate it. I’ve never had her recipe; she probably didn’t use one. And I never had her pot. The right pot can make all the difference.
When we were little, my mother’s idea of comfort food was milk toast. You make toast, pour hot milk on it, add a little salt. She loved it, and frequently offered it to my sister and me when we weren’t feeling well. We had seen milk toast. We would have nothing to do with it.
Ice cream. I was once in a car accident in which I could have been seriously injured if I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt. My beloved little car was totaled. I escaped with a mild bump on the head, but I was considerably shaken and had no appetite for a couple of days. When I began to come around, my first thought was, “Ice cream!” Preferably chocolate, and preferably containing something to chew, like chocolate chunks or brownie hunks.
Peanut butter. A friend and I used to get together for lunch with our little children. Lunch was often peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. How tasty and soothing they were when she made one for me, much more so than if I made one for myself. It was the little extra comfort of affection that she put into each one. Like my grandmother’s pot, it made all the difference.
We all have our favorite comfort foods. As this winter lingers, may we all find the comfort food we need to see us through. Maybe spinach and cabbage would help.
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