Feeding my soul.

I love food.

I’ve noticed over the years that when I recall vacations or events, I generally add something like, “Oh, and remember that lasagna we had?” or “Those were the best Huevos Rancheros I’ve ever tasted.” I make memories with food, associating the good times I have with the good things I eat. A few years back, realized I was taking as many photos of the plates in front of me as the scenery around me.

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When I was little, I was kind of a picky eater. I loved things like broccoli and lima beans, the stuff kids usually hide under their plates or ‘accidentally’ drop for the scavenging dog. But I steered clear of a long list of foods, from understandable items like sour cream and tomato to head-scratchers like jam or pie. What kid doesn’t like pie?

One year, as a teen or young adult, I decided that one of my New Year’s Resolutions would be to try all of the foods I thought I didn’t like. I had a sneaking suspicion that my stubbornness was getting in the way of some pretty good eating. I also know that a person’s tastes change over time. So, away I went, trying avocado (um, hello!), cherries, tomato, pies…and discovered that while there are a few foods I don’t necessarily LOVE, I really like just about everything. My food perspective was wide open now, and I’ll try anything. Chukar just shot by John that morning? Uh, ok- why not? Raw oysters? Sure! Who knows? I might find a new favorite food!

(Disclaimer: The one thing I tried and still cannot eat is MELON. Watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe- NO, thank you. It can’t even touch other food, and please remove it from my plate. Quickly. Thank you.)

As I was peeling through the last couple of issues of Cooking Light, tearing out the dog-eared pages of recipes to try, I read about the March issue’s “Top Ten Comfort Foods” theme. I was entertained to explore the lists of readers, to see similarities in some lists and wildly individual preferences in others. A common theme was how a dish made the person feel- the nostalgic memories of the people who’d made it for them, the situations in which the dish was appropriate. Food memories.

It got me thinking about my own Top Ten. It’s not easy to narrow down a world full of incredible food into ten items on a list, but it’s a solid representation of stuff that makes me say “Mmmmm…” every single time I eat it. In no particular order…

My mother’s chicken soup. Even at 37, when I don’t feel good and she suggests chicken soup, it’s never the same as when she makes it for me. I like lots of egg noodles, celery and carrot, and big chunks of white meat chicken. Basic is best.

Pasta Carbonara. I had a carbonara in Siena, Italy once. I’m sure the environment added to the magic of that bowl of pasta- dining al fresco on a cobbley street in Italy, a bubbling glass of Prosecco in my hand. But the simplicity of the flavors are burned into my memory- the smoky pancetta, the creamy parmesan cheese, the fresh pasta. I’m still trying to replicate it in my own kitchen.

Chips and salsa. This is a staple in my family. My mom can whip up salsa pretty quickly, and my dad makes crispy, salty tortilla chips. That’s my preferred way to enjoy this snack (though a pre-made salsa and bag of chips also brings the same contented mmmm.) Bonus: fresh guacamole.

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Christmas morning breakfast. Ok, this is a whole meal, but it’s a meaningful one to me. After the present-opening madness, the ladies in my family sip mimosas while the men make breakfast. They don’t do it like we’d do it. It can be entertaining to peek into the kitchen and see a few guys bumping into each other in their pajamas, my dad wearing his USC-logo Santa hat. But whatever they do, it works. Eggs, pancakes, and always a lot of pork products.
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My grandmother’s toast. Oh, what I would give to hear my grandma’s voice ask if I want a piece of toast. For years, I’ve tried to figure out why it was so good. There are no distinguishing ingredients to make it special. White bread (maybe buttermilk?), a toaster oven, a stick of butter in the dish kept on the counter. Golden brown, generously buttered, served on a paper towel at her counter. The flavor and texture is embedded in my mind, so vivid I can practically taste it now. Nothing says “comfort” to me more, and I wish she was here to make me a piece now.
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Eggs Benedict. This one is new. I was a scrambled egg girl for most of my life, only recently venturing into the less-firm world of over-easy. My best version would be eggs over-medium with ham leftover from Mom’s Easter dinner on English muffins that are still crisp. The key here is the hollandaise sauce, and I like crispy hashbrowns along with it. Every time we find a new diner, I have to try the Bennie. A close second: Huevos Rancheros.
Mt. Tam Triple Cream cheese from Cowgirl Creamery. Just like chips and salsa, cheese and crackers are a staple. A good extra sharp cheddar is another favorite, but the buttery, creamy texture of the Mt. Tam smeared on any simple cracker is a decadent mouthful of joy. I like a little Cholula on top. Mmmmm.
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My mom’s mac n’ cheese. She gave me this recipe years ago, and I make it often. It’s hard to beat homemade baked macaroni and cheese when you are craving comfort food. Her version is a simple cheddar cheese béchamel sauce, baked with golden-brown bread crumbs on top. Sometimes I mix it up by including gruyere and adding pancetta or maybe a veggie, but the basic recipe is scrumptious as-is. A close second in this genre: John’s grilled cheese sandwiches.
Cinnamon ice cream. I love cinnamon. It’s the only thing I put in my coffee (if anything). I add it to recipes all the time. Cinnamon just has a warm comfort to it; its aroma and flavor are both very comforting to me. Nothing beats a big bowl of good vanilla bean ice cream with cinnamon stirred into it. Sometimes I crumble Biscoff cinnamon cookies on top- you know, the kind Delta airlines gives you (I hoard them). That makes for a big bowl of YUM.

The tenth thing on my list of comfort foods aren’t foods- it’s a trio of beverages. But each of these brings me such a contented feeling that they can’t be forgotten.

Coffee. Strong, black, and a lot of it. Particularly first thing in the morning.

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La Crema Pinot Noir. It’s not the most expensive bottle of wine out there, but it’s absolutely delicious with every sip, food or no food to accompany it.

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Milk. I talked about it here. It’s got to be ice cold, 1% or 2% lowfat. I sometimes drink it out of the carton because it just tastes better. It is my preferred beverage all the time, and one glass is never enough.

My kitchen is one of my happy places, and I love to cook. Challenging myself to try one new recipe each week has only made me want to experiment more. Pizzas made with homemade crust are leagues above the stuff you have delivered, and it’s fun to learn that I love a brand new food (even if I can’t pronounce it).

Thinking about my favorite foods made me hungry. Excuse me while I go make myself a snack…cheese and crackers, perhaps.

What is your favorite comfort food?

14 replies »

  1. Mine would definitely have to be Jack-O-Lantern cookies. My mom made them every halloween, and I couldn’t wait for them every year! It is marshmallow cream and hershey’s sandwiched between to oatmeal cookies with eyes, nose and mouth cut out to look like a jack-o-lantern. The best ever!! Now all grown up me and my mom and my sister all make them each year and we LOVE them!

      • I have never made it at home, however when I have had it at restaurants there was always a citric acid element to it, such as lemon juice or white wine vinegar. You could try a traditional french method of pan searing the fish in a brown butter sauce with lemon and caper. I love fish cooked this way.

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