Two days after Thanksgiving I am still happily dishing up a dinner of leftovers. The same thing as the last 5 meals. My exceptions have been greek yogurt with fruit and a green salad. I do not grow tired of the turkey, yams, stuffing and cranberry salad. As I try to decide just how much stuffing is appropriate this evening, I find myself thinking of comfort foods.
Comfort foods evoke feelings of being safe, loved and cared for. Like the macaroni and cheese (Kraft please) that my mom always made when my sister and I would return from a visit with my dad in Indiana. It didn’t matter if we’d flown ‘red-eye’ and it was 5am, mom would make mac ‘n cheese and we would happily eat it. As a result, mac ‘n cheese became my comfort food for home-sickness.
Campbell’s chicken noodle soup…or simple tea and toast…if I was too sick to go to school. Mom would drop me off at grandma’s, where I would lay on the couch watching the Price Is Right, comfort food just a TV tray away.
My sister and I were home alone for a few hours after school each day and I craved warm food. No cold sandwich for me. Mom and I worked out some options that I could cook myself. Mashed potatoes and gravy was a favorite of mine, but the potatoes were a lot of work! Instant potatoes either did not exist when I was young or my mother could not bring herself to purchase such an abomination to our Irish heritage. I could manage the gravy packet however, and “Bread and Gravy” was born! Tear two slices of bread, pour ‘brown’ or ‘chicken’ gravy over the top. Similarly, I could make pudding. Add milk, cook, stir and pour. Chocolate, butterscotch, pistachio, vanilla…oh how I loved (and still love) the puddings!
The infamous milk noodles. You don’t know what milk noodles are? I believe these came from my grandmother, probably desperate to find a way to feed those 9 children on my grandfather’s enlisted salary. Boil elbow noodles, drain, add butter and milk, salt and pepper to taste; a soup of macaroni, in milk and butter broth. Then there was the stuffing. Somewhere around 5th grade I discovered that an entire box of stove-top stuffing was easy to make and delightfully satisfying. And so it went, through all of my school years and into college, a full and comforting meal could be made of simple carbohydrates. Milk noodles transitioned into ramen, bread and gravy gave way to instant potatoes that I had no qualms about. I suspect that I avoided nutritional deficits by my firm attraction to fruits, including lemons and limes that I would cut into fours and eat just like that.
Over the years, as my culinary interests matured, I tried to shake up Thanksgiving dinner. From Matzo ball soup to collard greens to quail eggs. My mother and sister sometimes played along, willingly trying my new endeavors. This year I announced that I would make the sweet potatoes healthy; roasted rather than candied. But somehow, rather than olive oil, I used an entire stick of butter. And rather than make a brown sugar glaze for the side, I made a cinnamon, brown sugar syrup that went over the whole dish. I am not sure how it happened. They were so decidedly unhealthy that when I arrived at my mother’s she decided to put away her “traditional” sweet potato dish she had made (for the poor souls who didn’t like mine). “Just put some of these marshmallows on top and we’ll just have yours,” she said cheerfully.As I eat the last of the buttery yams and stuffing tonight, I declare the entire Thanksgiving dinner to be a comfort food. The rest of the year I will bake my yams and I will feel healthy. But for the third week of November I will eat candied yams and stuffing. And I will feel warm and cozy and safe!