Comfort food often gets a bad rap. Eating with your emotions in mind??? ZOMGDEATHONASTICK! But you know what? I’m in favor of comfort foods. I’m in favor of eating something gooey over falling into despair or taking a hockey stick to a deserving person’s face. I’m in favor of renewing emotional ties that come with tucking into a dish that means something to you.
But the funny thing is just how broad a spectrum of foods are comforting. When I went looking for an illustration for this article, I was thinking mac and cheese or – as pictured – tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. But in addition to those items, Google tossed up photos of: meatloaf, loaded potato skins, chicken and waffles, fish tacos, s’mores, tonkatsu, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken noodle soup, saag paneer, pancakes, shepherd’s pie, lasagna, fried chicken without waffles, waffles without chicken, biscuits, quiche, hamburgers, mashed potatoes, lo mein, roast chicken, challah bread, potato chowder, cupcakes, a fried egg on baked beans… and the list goes ever on and on.
The lesson here? Comfort is a highly personal thing. It comes in many, many forms and sometimes we don’t know the reason why it’s so comforting.
I know why I find mac and cheese so comforting. My mother made a killer mac and cheese with a combination of five different cheeses that resulted in gooey, gooey goodness on a plate. For me, mac and cheese needs multiple cheeses. For some, mac and cheese comfort requires a box with day-glo orange cheese powder, but my comfort is made from scratch.
But I also find tomato soup one of the most comforting things I can possibly eat, and I never had it growing up. Mom never once made tomato soup in my lifetime. I don’t think I ever even tasted it until I was in my teens, and then it was something instant that bore no resemblance to the flavor of actual tomatoes. So I don’t know why it soothes my nerves and settles my soul. I only know it does.
When I first started dating Mr. Twistie back in the Dark Ages, when he got down, he wanted ‘a hot meal’ to make him feel better. During our dating days and the early days of our marriage, I tried making all kinds of good, hot meals to make him feel better. I roasted chickens, made soup, spent hours over a good beef stew, only to have him say mournfully that what he really wanted was ‘a hot meal.’
We’d been together for ten years before he finally explained that ‘a hot meal’ is a specific combination of eggs scrambled with sausages (preferably chicken apple, but they can be any kind of sausage he’ll eat including hot dogs), onions and garlic with a side of steamed rice.
Then again, he can also find comfort in tonkatsu and a couple specific kinds of sushi that don’t involve fish.
One day last week I had a hellish day. Everything went wrong. I got some bad news from a friend. Every time I tried to get something done I got interrupted at a really inconvenient point in the proceedings. It was One of Those Days, and I slipped into a nasty little funk. It doesn’t happen often, but I wound up in a Very Dark Place emotionally and I couldn’t pull myself out.
By the time Mr. Twistie got home, I was sitting in the dark sniffling. Moments later I found myself bundled up in the car. He was taking me to dinner at the place he knew had the best mac and cheese ever: the Pacific Coast Brewing Company in Oakland.
One cup of potato leek soup, one house made root beer, and one bowl of killer mac and cheese with ham and bacon, melting with a mouthwatering blend of cheeses later, I was a new woman. I did thieve an onion ring from Mr. Twistie’s plate (What? they were beer battered and served up with a really garlicky aioli), too. I took half the mac and cheese home to eat the next day. It was fabulous cold for breakfast with a good cup of black coffee.
And you know what? I was able to face the rest of the evening not only with equanimity, but with joy. One good meal did that for me. When Mr. Twistie got home from work the next evening, there was a lovely balanced and delicious meal waiting for him and a ridiculously chipper wife.
Good foods, properly applied, can do wonders for us emotionally. They just have to be the right foods for us.
So what’s your comfort food? Do you have more than one? Have you ever had an experience where the right meal at the right moment did you more good than anything else on Earth could have?