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May 26, 2012

Food Friendly May: A Plate of Comfort

Filed under: Food — Twistie @ 12:36 pm

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?


  1. For me, comfort food is Chicken Makhni and naan, from a local Indian restaurant. It’s got chicken, cashews, veggies, lots of spice and a hint of cream. Super rich and yummy, especially with the raita then invariably give us for free on the side.

    Comment by dr nic — May 26, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

  2. dr nic, I, too, take great comfort in good Indian food. One of my fondest memories of the time I spent in London was the fabulous little street cart down the block from our hotel that sold samosas the size of a large man’s fist for a pound. They were fresh and filled with delectable spiciness and oh so satisfying on the way to or from a long day of museuming. Now anytime I even get a whiff of a samosa, I’m transported back to one of the best weeks of my entire life.

    And really, is there a bread more comfortable than naan?

    Comment by Twistie — May 26, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

  3. Ms Twistie, please post your momma’s Mac & Cheese recipe. I could really use it.

    As for comfort food, any recipe from my grandmother will do…

    Comment by Txbunny — May 26, 2012 @ 4:22 pm

  4. I have two kinds of comfort food — the kind of comfort food that comforts me while eating it, but makes me feel like crap afterwards (i.e. potato chips), and the kind of comfort food that is actually nourishing.

    For the latter, my mom’s lasagna recipe never fails to deliver. Mind you, it also takes 4 hours to make, so it’s not good for quick comfort needs.

    But when all else fails, there is a warm Dempster’s baguette, fresh from the oven, with lots of real butter. It brings me straight to my happy place. Especially if it’s accompanied by a glass of Cabernet.

    Comment by La Petite Acadienne — May 26, 2012 @ 9:38 pm

  5. Fresh warm bread with butter… excellent honey (I once won some raw organic stuff in a giveaway and OHMYSTARS it was good) is a lovely bonus, but not necessary for baseline comforting. Cold glass of milk alongside.

    Or egg noodles with butter and parmesan cheese. I’ve discovered that spaghetti tossed in hot olive oil and starch water with some parmesan and black pepper is a great grown-up substitute for this when I feel like I should class it up a bit. :)

    And of course, tomato soup and grilled cheese… but sadly, my husband totally disagrees on the tomato soup part.

    Comment by KESW — May 26, 2012 @ 10:34 pm

  6. My comfort food comes not from my childhood but from the early days of my marriage when we were poor as church mice and at times wondered where our next meal would come from. Many a meal was made of daing (fried dried fish) with adobong kangkong (swamp cabbage stewed in vinegar and soy sauce with onions and garlic) and steamed rice. Kangkong was the cheapest vegetable around, and daing was the cheapest protein. Twenty-five years later, we are much better off and worries about our next meal have been replaced by others not so immediate. Still, when I come back from a business trip to another country, the first meal I look for is my daing, kangkong and rice after being stuffed full of pasta, bread, steaks and the occasional foie gras. It means I’m home.

    Comment by lali — May 27, 2012 @ 1:11 am

  7. What?? He just sat there mournfully? Why didn’t he just tell you what “a hot meal” was? Or make it himself??? That is so incredibly bizarre. I can’t even imagine what sort of person would do that.
    Anyway, I’m glad you worked it out…?

    Comment by EI — May 27, 2012 @ 4:24 pm

  8. @El: The breakdown in communications came from his assumption that a ‘hot meal’ was such an obvious concept that everyone knew precisely what it is… and my assumption of pretty much the same thing. He would eat the hot meals I made after a while, and tell me they tasted good, but I knew they weren’t what he wanted and he couldn’t seem to explain what I’d gotten wrong. One night I finally sat him down and wouldn’t let him leave the room until he defined ‘hot meal’ to me.

    Mr. Twistie is an amazingly awesome person… but he does have his quirks.

    Comment by Twistie — May 27, 2012 @ 4:31 pm

  9. I have a couple comfort foods, most of which my midwestern born husband won’t eat (which means more for me)!
    1. (heated) boiled peanuts
    2. rotel dip & chips
    3. steamed flour tortillas slathered in real butter & guacamole
    4. a nice batch of beans & rice (preferably a day old or more)
    5. my husband’s cheesy meatloaf (the KitchenAid recipe, it’s amazing)with my creamy mashed potatoes (cream cheese AND 1/2 & 1/2)
    6. a nice wild Alaskan salmon filet (that my Daddy caught) on the grill with butter, garlic & dill

    1-4 are flavors of my old (& ancestral) homes & 6 is the best flavor of my current home. 5 is just warm & good!!!

    Comment by Leah — May 28, 2012 @ 12:29 am

  10. Spicy tofu basil curry fried rice from my favorite local Chinese restaurant. Fixes me right up every time I have to come in contact with my ex. Ahhhhh.

    Comment by Melody — May 29, 2012 @ 9:26 am

  11. Grilled cheese, tomato soup optional.

    Comfort food helps me when I’m blue, but it also helps me when someone I care about is hurting and there isn’t much I can do for them aside from providing a meal or a plate of cookies. It may or may not make them feel better, but I feel like I have to do something, and it is “something.”

    Comment by thinposter — May 29, 2012 @ 10:31 am

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