Monday, February 7, 2011

Gwen's Comfort Foods

Brought to you by homemade oatmeal cookies.
Believe it or not, I used to be a really really picky eater when I was a little kid. The list of things I'd willingly eat was very short, and dominated largely by peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread. Hot dogs, grapes and/or raisins, juice, my grandmother's pepperoni pizza, and Top Ramen rounded out the list. I couldn't stand milk, and wouldn't drink it until my mom discovered acidophilus. Twinkies were my favorite dessert. I was one of those kids who wouldn't eat a food I liked if it was even sharing a plate with a food I didn't like or found suspect, and if those foods were touching each other, it was the end of the world.

At some point hovering around high school I actually started trying a lot more kinds of food. Living in a major port city on the Pacific Rim, there were plenty of food choices: Korean, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Moroccan, Lebanese, seafood, fusion cuisine, soul food, pub grub... you name it, my hometown's got it, and got it good.

I also gained a greater appreciation for the feasts my family would put on, based on decades of tradition. Thanksgiving dinners at my dad's parents' house involved turkey with all the trimmings; green bean casserole, cornbread sage stuffing, mashed potatoes, homemade gravy, and grandma's pumpkin pie rounding it all out. My mother's family, with their roots in the British Isles, brought the richness of roast lamb and beef, twice-baked potatoes, popovers, and apple pie with sharp cheddar cheese.

I love food. That should be obvious; after all, I write a food blog with my BFF, and I wouldn't do it if I weren't utterly enchanted by all the sensual possibilities food has to offer. It doesn't just fill you up and keep you alive, food is an integral part of social interaction, and - for me, anyway - a pleasure critical to my mental health, not just nourishment for my physical well-being.

Arguably, any food is comforting in its own way: if it looks good, tastes good, smells wonderful, has the right texture and temperature in the mouth, and leaves a satisfying feeling in the belly, food is a success. But comfort foods are a little bit different: a lot of my comfort foods aren't things that I'd normally eat. Maybe they're a funny color, or they're not that healthy, or they really don't taste that good, except in the moment that I eat them. And I eat comfort foods when I'm driven by a particular mood: I eat them when I need succor and soothing. They're often the foods of childhood, and what comes with them is a remembrance of how I felt when I ate them as a kid.

I eat comfort foods in moments of vulnerability, when I've had a crappy day or week and need time alone to recuperate. These are solitary foods, rarely eaten in the company of others (unless it's a night in with the girls, spent commiserating about life's downs). This is not the kind of food that cements relationships, but the kind of food that helps get you through a long dark teatime of the soul.

Here's my list. Feel free to post yours in the comment section.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (white bread, creamy peanut butter, grape jelly)
Popcorn with salt and butter
Baked potatoes with butter, salt and pepper
Boiled red potatoes tossed with dill and butter
Hostess Twinkies or Golden Cupcakes (the latter are hard to find)
My grandmother's potato salad (bland, simple, starchy)
Macaroni and cheese
Tea with cream and sugar, and little cookies
Biscuits and gravy
Southern cooking (sweet tea, hush puppies, fried chicken, sweet potatoes, etc.)
Blueberry pie with vanilla bean ice cream
Beer milkshakes
Chicken pot pie
Chicken noodle soup
Chili dogs


  1. Mmm... Top Ramen. BBQ Pork Humbao. Roast Lamb. Avgolemono. Nutella. Takes me right back to my Toenails count?

  2. Only if there's toejam involved.