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Comfort Food

Day 21

Nothing says home like comfort food. The smell, the taste and often times the simple thought of it induces a feeling of well being and happiness. It can be a memory from our past or some flavor combination that maybe stimulates something in our distant DNA. I am not a scientist, so I do not know, but what I do know is that food and memory go hand-in-hand.

Breakfast

eggs and toastThis morning was chilly here in the foothills. The overnight temperature hit 42 degrees F. We have not yet hit the freezing mark, but we have danced around it several times. Our house has a lot of windows so the house is not always toasty warm in every nook and cranny. I have already donned my fleece pants and sweats to keep me warm.

When I started thinking about breakfast, I knew immediately I wanted ‘chopped up hard boiled eggs’ — a breakfast meal we had many times growing up. It is a homey concoction of hard boiled eggs chopped up with butter and salt and pepper. Always served with buttered toast. It is warm and inviting and says everything about home and sitting around with family in our PJ’s enjoying a meal together. My husband has never tried it. He thinks the idea of putting butter on hard boiled eggs is not at all appealing.

Most of my comfort foods I associate with growing up seem to revolve around breakfast. My grandmother made pancakes — hotcakes as she called them — always served with butter and warm syrup. The syrup had to be warm. I am sure a warm breakfast meal was always important as it was often very cold in the valley where I grew up.

My other breakfast favorite was leftover biscuits, sliced and toasted under the broiler, served with butter and syrup. I am seeing a pattern here – warm foods, butter and warm syrup. Maybe I just respond to carbs more that the average person.

Of course there were meals I did not like AT ALL. We often had oatmeal to which my grandmother added raisins and brown sugar. Lord, save me from warm puffy raisins. Ugh. The other was ‘corn meal mush’. Cornmeal cooked in boiling water served hot with milk. Yuck. It was especially bad when I bit in to a lump of dry cornmeal that did not get mixed well with the water. Nope. Do not miss that at all.

Cast Iron Cooking

Cornbread seems to be served in one or two basic ways. Sweetened or unsweetened. I like both okay, but warm unsweetened cornbread with melted butter (butter again!) is a food I will never tire of. Always baked in a cast iron skillet in a hot oven so you get an amazing browned crust.

I remember one meal at my maternal grandparents house. We sat down to eat when my grandmother brought a plate to the table, slices of delicious warm cake — or so I thought. It was cornbread. My paternal grandmother never sliced her cornbread, it was always broken, so sliced cornbread was new to me. I was sorely disappointed (even though I love cornbread) to learn I was not destined to have cake for dinner that day.

The other comfort food always made in a cast iron skillet, was pineapple upside down cake. Again, butter in the skillet, slices of pineapple and brown sugar topped with a rich batter and baked in a fairly hot oven. My mouth waters just thinking about it. We never had cherries on ours and it is still my preference not to have cherries. But it must be warm.

Every southern cook has a cast iron skillet. It is used for everything from eggs, to cornbread, to frying chicken and even dessert. Definitely a must-have in my kitchen.

My Mom

My mom was a great country cook. She made wonderful fried chicken with biscuits and milk gravy. I have never been able to achieve her level of expertise in frying chicken. She would never buy a pre-cut chicken – it always had to be whole so she could cut the pieces the way she wanted them. It was the best – hot or cold.

The other thing my mother used to make was a salad/dessert we just called ‘banana salad’. It was simple – a banana sliced in half lengthwise. The flat surface of the banana spread with Miracle Whip, then topped with chopped peanuts. The idea of this delicacy seems to turn more people’s stomaches that any food I talk about. But, it was so delicious. Unfortunately, I developed a minor peanut allergy late in life, but I discovered that it is just as delicious with chopped cashews.

Cool Weather Fare

Panang CurryNow that we live where there are four seasons, we are getting back to eating more hearty meals. Especially in the winter. We look forward to sweater weather and pots of homemade soup. I absolutely love Trisha Yearwood’s recipe for chorizo and kale soup. It is so good and one we eat often (with cornbread of course). My husband also makes a killer homemade vegetable soup that has also become a winter staple.

It’s not just food you make at home. It’s food that speaks to us. Last night it was take-out Thai food from a great local Thai restaurant. I had Panang Curry as I always do. My daughter got me hooked on it and it has become one of my favorite comfort foods. Maybe I will even try to make it myself someday if I can find kaffir lime leaves somewhere locally.

Comfort means a lot in this crazy world. I do not eat the foods I mention often, but they are foods that mean home to me. And home means comfort.

“Food is a lot of people’s therapy. When we say comfort food, we really mean that. It’s releasing dopamine and serotonin in your brain that makes you feel good.”
Brett Hoebel

 

 

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Home Cooking

Day 16

Nothing says home like a meal taken to the table and eaten with those people we love. It is our very identity. Food is such an important part of our heritage and cooking says a lot about our relationship with the people who raised us.

Gardens As a Food Source

IMG_7213My families were great cooks. We grew up with meager means, but heck, I didn’t know it. I thought we had everything. My mom, my step-mom and my grandmothers were great cooks. They cooked simply – everything taken from their environment. We were farm to table before it was a thing.

It started with the garden. Planting a garden was a lot of work. It started in the fall. Often old plant stems were plowed under so they could again become part of the soil. In spring, the soil was turned over (a term for plowing under) and the dark rich earth was brought to the surface.

Planting and tending the garden was everyone’s responsibility. I learned early on how to plant, fertilize, weed and hoe a garden. We did not think of it as work – it was just part of what we did.

Harvest Forward

IMG_7214Once plants were mature, the harvest began. Again, as children, we learned to pick and string green beans at a very early age. Pulling onions, ‘hilling’ potatoes, picking cucumbers and tomatoes was just part of the routine of growing up country.

We had a small grape arbor where we grew the most amazing concord grapes. Those were picked and turned into jam and jelly and even a little wine – which we were never allowed to touch. Thinking about it, I can close my eyes and picture the bees swarming around the fallen grapes and tasting the warm grape right off the vine. It was divine!

We sat on the porch and shucked corn, snapped beans and sorted potatoes. It was a communal time of conversation and just getting the work done. After we were finished our jobs, the preserving started.

Mothers and Grandmothers

I came from a fabulous line of amazing cooks. None ever used a recipe, but I have watched them cook more times than I can remember. In late summer and early fall we ate fresh vegetables but it was also time for ‘putting up’ food for the winter.

Tomatoes were canned and turned into tomato juice. Fruits were turned into jellies. Cucumbers were turned into pickles. Beans were canned. Beets were pickled and potatoes were put into the cellar where they would stay cool for use all winter.

My paternal grandmother made grape jelly. I was always fascinated by the paraffin wax she melted and poured on top to seal the jelly from any contaminants. I used to sneak behind her and put my fingertips in the hot paraffin and then, once cooled, pull off my fingertips in utter amazement — fingerprints and all! My maternal grandmother made apple jelly from a pound apple tree in her front yard. It was so clear you could see right through it.

Recipes? What Recipes?

Recipes were few and far between. There were some that may have been clipped from a magazine or some were written if acquired from a neighbor. But, for the most part, all the ‘know how’ was in their heads. They cooked, they tasted and they served the most amazing meals.

IMG_7229I do have my maternal grandmother’s recipe for ‘Angel Biscuits’ but mine never rise high and fluffy like hers did. She made the BEST ‘Angel Biscuits’ I have ever tasted. She also wrote down her ‘Fool Proof Piecrust’ recipe for me — but I think I might be a fool!

I cook much the same way, although I do love cookbooks. I have a few favorites that I consult over and over again. Tonight I tried a new recipe. It turned out well, but I am already thinking about how I would alter it. That’s just the way we learned to cook.

My son recently asked me to cook for him on his 40th birthday. He asked for flank steak and mashed potatoes. It was one of our staples when my children were growing up. I bought flank steak because it was cheap – not so much anymore folks! It is his memory of the comfort food that he is after, not so much the food.

The Legacy

Both my children are good cooks in their own right. They both cook for their families frequently. My daughter makes THE BEST meatloaf ever. I am not sure either of them really use recipes much, but this I know — they are building memories and a lifetime of comfort for their children.

And that makes me proud.

“No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.” 
Laurie Colwin