What is comforting to you? Specifically what food does your body long for, and do you have any traditional ways of serving that food? I am flying back to Chicago and reading The Gastronomy of Marriage, A Memoir of Food and Love and the following line prompted me to think. Michelle Maisto writes:
Where do our ideas about what’s comforting come from? Is it what we’re fed when we’re young? When we’re sick? Is it the foods of our families?”
I had these grand ideas of what I would cook for my mother when I went to help her. But after I cooked a dish that was new to me, now known as Mom’s Mexican “bowl” according to her specifications, she liked it, and thanked me. “That’s comfort food,” she said, “It comforts me.” She told me the same thing after I’d cooked a casserole she’s so fond of. These certainly weren’t foods that her mother cooked for her; in fact, these dishes were new to her repertoire; something she’d discovered after I had moved out.
When I’m ill, whether it’s from sickness, or sadness, I crave foods from my childhood bowl. It’s plastic; it’s Tupperware. It probably leeches toxins into my body since it was made long before companies began testing the materials used to make our dishes. But when I eat something from it, I immediately feeling at ease. I don’t know if it’s because my mom used that bowl for my cereal (Malt-O-Meal is a favorite!) and for soups when I was sick, but that bowl is a symbol of my mother’s love and comfort when I needed it. Every time I use it, it’s like she’s there with me. I now have a favorite “adult” bowl. Although it does not have any fond memories attached to it; it is a “special occasion” bowl nonetheless.
After an illness, I tend to crave pure, bitter cold apple juice. I don’t know if my body is craving the nutrients the juice provides, or if it is the “safest” introduction of flavor I can take after days of saltines and broth. Other times “mashed” potatoes-not creamed do the trick. Salty, buttery, often lumpy, sometimes cheesy, peppery potatoes eaten with a spoon. Once I’d asked S. to make me some and he used Vanilla Soy milk because he couldn’t find the cream in my fridge. I won’t go into details, but I could not eat them and for a while didn’t trust him to make my comfort foods, though I was grateful that he tried. He’s learning; I’m teaching him as it goes.
Since I leaving home, I have discovered new tastes that I now crave in moments of stress and doubt. My palate is growing, and I am finding new possibilities. There are things that S. cooks that, after a couple of times, I ask for a little more often. I wonder what dishes I’ll introduce to my children, if I have any.
Oftentimes we take for granted that things are only cooked one way. Someone will offer to cook for us and we’ll tell them what it is we want. But when it is placed in front of us looking unrecognizable and strange, we will feel a little insulted and puzzled. What is this, we’ll ask, a little offended. They’ll reply, “it’s the macaroni and cheese you asked for.” Before thinking, we’ll say, “But it’s not how mom makes it” or something to that effect. Unfortunately, the cook will be insulted and become defensive. How do we reconcile these differences when each person expects the same dish cooked their way?
When I reach my destination, I know I’ll be starving. I’ll be craving something simple, and creamy, and salty. S. is picking me up. He won’t know what I’m feeling or thinking, or that I’m sad because I’m missing the one person who has known me my whole life and can easily read what it is I’m needing and know pretty much exactly how to make it for me. I’ll take it easy on him and suggest that we eat out at a place that can make my transition “home” a little easier, and make him feel good too.