Reheated comfort food

As is the case with many flu- and bug-stricken folks around the country, the last few weeks have been a battle for me as I struggle with super bugs of dizzying sorts that I just can't seem to lick.

Yesterday, though, I felt a bit better than I have been. At least enough to actually cook dinner, compared to the frozen foods and fast foods Jim and I have been feasting on for far too many meals.

Considering I was still feeling fairly cruddy, it should be no surprise that I chose to make one of my favorite comfort foods: biscuits and gravy.

While I stirred the gravy, sausage bits swirling around the spoon as I waited for the milky goodness to get thick and creamy, I considered how much I love biscuits and gravy, how much comfort it provides when I feel not quite myself, physically or otherwise.

Yet I wouldn't give biscuits and gravy top billing on my list of favorite comfort foods, for that belongs to another dish.

comfort foodI wrote about that particular dish — my very most favorite of all comfort foods — for Victoria magazine nearly 15 years ago. (Well, it was actually for the "Friends of Victoria" reader newsletter, which is neither here nor there, though, as I was paid just the same.)

Because my brain is still rather foggy and creative juices haven't been flowing well of late, I decided that today I'd simply share with you that little story of my favorite comfort food, word for word as published by Victoria magazine.

It goes like this:

A Taste of the Past
Simple pleasures are the best

I remember days from my childhood walking home from school for lunch through the frozen Minnesota landscape. Snow covered the ground and a thin crust of ice formed across the top. As I balanced each step, I tried to guess how long I could stay atop the snow before the crunchy crust gave way.

After trudging through the cold, I was greeted by an unexpected welcome. Inside our old farmhouse, bowls of warm macaroni and tomato sauce awaited my brothers, sisters, and me. Perfectly cooked, perfectly plain elbow macaroni bathed in brilliant red tomato sauce straight from the can, with just a sprinkling of salt.

What Mom prepared for us those winter days was love pure and simple, no extras added. In my memory, those simple lunches must have been right around Christmas, because I remember the contrast of the red sauce and the white of winter making a lasting impression.

Ever since then, I've turned to macaroni and tomato sauce whenever I'm in need of comfort. My high-school boyfriend and I used to enjoy it as an after-school snack, although his mother tried to convince me to add a little butter to my simple recipe. The butter makes it creamier and better, she explained, but to me, it no longer tasted like Mom's.

When I was pregnant with my first daughter, there were times I felt scared about my future role as a mother. Many days were comforted by the simple taste of home and those early memories of Mom boiling up a pot of elbow macaroni.

Now that I have three daughters and a slightly more sophisticated approach to cooking than I did in my first few years of marriage, I rarely make macaroni with tomato sauce. Our tastebuds prefer a bit of basil, a hit of garlic, or a sprinking of cheese — and elbow macaroni is rarely the pasta of choice these days.

But there are days when the kids are in school and I'm home from work that my husband comes home for lunch. If either of us feels under the weather, we satisfy our craving for comfort by cooking something simple. The first thing we reach for is the macaroni and tomato sauce — always kept on hand for just such emergencies. The soothing smell seems to curb some of life's worries and I find great satisfaction in knowing that my husband's enthusiasm for my lunch of choice is as strong as mine.

It is then I am completely reassured that I've made the right choices — in meals and in men.

— Lisa Carpenter, December 1998

Today's question:

What's at the top of your list of comfort foods?