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Tag Archive: comfort food

Jan 06

January thoughts: comfort food is more than just food.

Old Fashioned Mac 'n' Cheese

 From my archived columns, first published in The Examiner on January 1, 2009. The Examiner is a daily newspaper, Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.

 

Food is the most primitive form of comfort. –Sheila Graham, columnist and author

Last January, I wrote my column about comfort food. This January, comfort food is all I am thinking about once again. I remember foods my mother and grandmother made, and that is reason enough to want them.

Cookbook author Molly Wizenberg explains, better than I, why we want comfort foods from our past.

“When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It’s also a way of getting at something else; who we are, who we have been and who we want to be (From “A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, 2009”).

I am not the only one thinking about comfort food. Just this week in fact, some friends invited us to a “comfort food dinner”, and we jumped at the chance. What a great idea, I thought. It is miserably cold outside, the skies are gray, and we are moping around the house with S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder—lack of sunshine). What could be better than comfort food to make us feel better.

Our hosts served a dinner menu that turned out to be exactly what I used to eat when I was a child. Food from the 50s and 60s, and I was in heaven or at the very least in time warp. Our hosts said that they think food is not about impressing people but more about making them feel comfortable, and that is exactly what happened.

Their menu from the past:
Old-fashioned pork roast, just like my grandma’s. Baked apples served on the side, cooked with cinnamon and Red Hots candy, just like they served decades ago at my elementary school cafeteria. Baked macaroni and cheese, all crusty on the top and sides that tasted exactly like my aunt’s. Warm cherry pie with the crumbly top, same as Mom used to make.

What can one do after a meal like that but sit down in an easy chair and sigh.

And dream about walking home from school on Monday (bread baking day) and smelling the waft of my grandmother’s baked bread and cinnamon rolls from as far away as the street corner. I long for my mom’s hot tapioca pudding whipped fluffy with egg whites that she made for Sunday dinner, and my dad’s unique cornbread-sausage stuffing recipe he made on Thanksgiving Day.

“Food, like a loving touch or a glimpse of divine power, has that ability to comfort,” said Norman Kolpas, cookbook author and editor.

In a harsh winter and in an unsure world, comfort me with food any old day.

Feb 23

Warm tapioca pudding, the classic comfort food

“Comfort food, so simple.” – Al Wong, chef, cookbook author and restaurateur

There is something supremely comforting about the thought, the taste and smell and the calm that warm tapioca pudding gives.

Maybe it’s the childhood memories of waiting for the silky, creamy, balmy homemade tapioca pudding to finishing cooking in a double boiler on the stove. Maybe it’s the smell of the vanilla. Maybe it is watching with child-like wonder, as the pearls of tapioca turn glassy when the pudding thickens.

Whatever it is, warm pudding is soul soothing.

Perhaps, your day went badly. Someone dented your car door in the parking lot, or you found out you owe money this year on your income taxes and are not getting the big return you anticipated. A Prima donna called you a brat in front of your co-workers, leaving you dumbfounded and speechless. Your dog ate the door while you were away.

Warm pudding to the rescue.

Made-from-scratch tapioca pudding is so smooth you can feel it slide down your throat all the way to the stomach. At that moment in time, you don’t really care about your miserable day.

When I was waxing poetic about warm pudding the other day to my friend Cyndi Johnson, she began to spout out a flood of childhood memories of her favorite warm pudding—butterscotch.

Now, that is something I’ve never tried, I told her.

“Back in the day,” Cyndi said, “We made pudding with real cream, which is not on anyone’s fat-free diet these days. Sometimes, we ate pudding for breakfast. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t a traditional breakfast food because it was warm and brought a sense of cheer and reassurance that the day ahead would be just fine. We had our pudding to get us started.”

Cyndi told me how her mother made slow-cooked butterscotch pudding in a double boiler because the recipe calls for brown sugar, and one must not let it scorch. The same is true of tapioca—one does not want to let it burn.

Cyndi also related how, in the day, you could take your warm pudding to school or work in a thermos that kept it heated for hours. We didn’t have microwaves, so we used a thermos. “I remember that I couldn’t wait to get to that pudding at lunchtime,” Cyndi recalled.

I love how Cyndi describes the warmth and calm that homemade warm pudding brings far better than I can.

“My mama used to say that there’s no love in a box. That’s why I love to cook from scratch because it is comfortable love that is in the food you prepare. The love inside you is coming out. You get to pass that love around to anybody who eats your food. It doesn’t matter who eats it because you share that love. And the flavors, oh my the flavors of warm homemade pudding!”

If you have time one day and want a soul-soothing treat, try making your own tapioca pudding on the stove, not in a microwave and not from a box. One finishing touch my mother used was to add beaten egg whites; slowly stirring them into the mixture after the pudding is fully cooked. It leaves little “pillows” of fluff in the pudding.

Here is a standard tapioca pudding recipe I am happy to share that my family has used over the years, but I am sorry to say I can’t help you on the butterscotch pudding recipe. I’ll ask Cyndi.

Tapioca Pudding With Fluffy Egg Whites
(Made in a double boiler.)
2 cups milk
3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca (not instant pudding)
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
Dash salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Optional: 2 egg whites beaten and stiffened with a little bit of cream of tartar or lemon juice (Sorry to say it’s not an exact science, beating egg whites that is, and most cooks probably can’t say exactly how they do it.)

Serves 4 (but I always double it).

Add milk and tapioca to top of the double boiler over already boiling water in the lower pot.

Let milk and tapioca mixture come to a boil. The tapioca will rise to the top and look translucent and glassy.

Add beaten egg and stir in sugar.

Then add a couple of tablespoons of hot milk-tapioca mixture slowly to the egg mixture to bring it to the same temperature as the milk and tapioca.

Slowly, very slowly add the egg mixture into the rest of the hot milk-tapioca mixture and stir continually until it thickens. Be patient.

Add the vanilla. Serve warm.

Optional: Fold in beaten egg whites to make fluffy pillows in the pudding.

“Food, like a loving touch or a glimpse of divine power, has that ability to comfort” –Norman Kolpas, cookbook author and editor

Jan 28

Comfort food is more than just food

Food is the most primitive form of comfort. –Sheila Graham, columnist and author

Last January, I wrote my column about comfort food. This January, comfort food is all I am thinking about once again. I remember foods my mother and grandmother made, and that is reason enough to want them.

Cookbook author Molly Wizenberg explains, better than I, why we want comfort foods from our past.

“When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It’s also a way of getting at something else; who we are, who we have been and who we want to be (From “A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, 2009”).

I am not the only one thinking about comfort food. Just this week in fact, some friends invited us to a “comfort food dinner”, and we jumped at the chance. What a great idea, I thought. It is miserably cold outside, the skies are gray, and we are moping around the house with S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder—lack of sunshine). What could be better than comfort food to make us feel better.

Our hosts served a dinner menu that turned out to be exactly what I used to eat when I was a child. Food from the 50s and 60s, and I was in heaven or at the very least in time warp. Our hosts said that they think food is not about impressing people but more about making them feel comfortable, and that is exactly what happened.

Their menu from the past:
Old-fashioned pork roast, just like my grandma’s. Baked apples served on the side, cooked with cinnamon and Red Hots candy, just like they served decades ago at my elementary school cafeteria. Baked macaroni and cheese, all crusty on the top and sides that tasted exactly like my aunt’s. Warm cherry pie with the crumbly top, same as Mom used to make.

What can one do after a meal like that but sit down in an easy chair and sigh.

And dream about walking home from school on Monday (bread baking day) and smelling the waft of my grandmother’s baked bread and cinnamon rolls from as far away as the street corner. I long for my mom’s hot tapioca pudding whipped fluffy with egg whites that she made for Sunday dinner, and my dad’s unique cornbread-sausage stuffing recipe he made on Thanksgiving Day.

“Food, like a loving touch or a glimpse of divine power, has that ability to comfort,” said Norman Kolpas, cookbook author and editor.

In a harsh winter and in an unsure world, comfort me with food any old day.

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