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Posts Tagged ‘I like to cook’

Thank you all for your kind words on my last post. It’s so easy for that feeling of discomfort and awkwardness to spread until it’s stained every bit of me with self-loathing. I seriously never thought to consider my attempts to be friendly as… progress. I will try to do so from now on.

In the month since I wrote it, well. Life has gone on. Some of it good, some of it bad, some of it heartbreaking, the regular amalgam of living. And, listen, I don’t really want to talk about any of the reasons I might have needed comfort during that time period. (It’s nothing serious, although it felt like it was. In any event, everything is fine.) Today, I just want to talk about the comfort part.

What I turn to, when I need comfort, are distractions (reading, writing, TV) and comforting food. And the food is what I’m most interested in today, because I find it fascinating (and soothing, in itself) to learn what kinds of food people turn to in times of stress or grief.

Sure, food is primarily for sustenance. But it can also carry so much emotional weight. (No moral weight, though; I feel strongly about that.) (Unless you are killing endangered species because their XYZ is a delicacy. Then I’d have a moral objection.)  For instance, my first helping instinct is often related to food. When a neighbor lost her husband earlier this year, I immediately wanted to give her a meal. That just seemed the most useful, reasonable thing I could do, to provide some modicum of comfort to a person I know but don’t know well, a person who was likely reeling with shock and heartache and visitors and logistics and grief.

I looked online, as one does, and was surprised – probably naively so – to see what a wide variety of options people recommended. I always thought a casserole was the appropriate thing to give. A nice, hearty macaroni casserole. Or a lasagna. Something like that: easy to heat, carb-heavy. But the recommendations spanned everything from veggies and dip to cookies to fried chicken to stew.

(I ended up making a stew. It was delicious, and hearty. The death happened in the winter, and I thought it would be good for freezing or ladling out to visitors.)

Lately, after needing some comfort myself, and then remembering that stew, I got to thinking about Food As Comfort in general, and how my idea of Comfort Food might be totally different from yours.

When I am in need of comfort, I turn to the carb-heavy stuff. Chicken paprikas is my go-to favorite. It’s creamy and noodle-y and spicy, and it just makes me feel warm and cared for. It’s kind of weird that it should be my top favorite comfort food, I think, because I didn’t grow up eating it. Instead, it’s something my husband and I started making together back when I was in grad school. Well, maybe that’s the reason: I associate it with him, with cozy dinners at home together with the one person who comforts me more than anyone else.

Sometimes, though, the comfort I need is more primal – a bear returning to its cave to weather the icy winds, a newborn nuzzling up to its mother to nurse, a caterpillar spinning itself a chrysalis. I want to retreat to childhood, which was safe and loving, during which I was free from the horrors of the world. And there are many foods from my childhood that surround me with that kind of basic, fundamental warmth.

One comforting favorite is spaghetti with meat sauce. That’s the first meal I learned to make for my family, back when I was a kid. It reminds me of my childhood and of my own self-sufficiency.

Most recently, I turned to bagels. Another longterm favorite, my mom used to toast Lender’s bagels for me when I was a kid. Dripping with butter, they taste both decadent and simple, life’s complications reduced to its elemental truth: Warm bread. Melted butter. Sometimes honey, making its way in sticky rivulets down my wrist. When I was pregnant with Carla – and horribly sick for twenty-five weeks (I first typed “months” and yes, that’s how it felt) – I subsisted on bagels and pizza. The bagels would stay in my stomach when nothing else would.

Grilled cheese holds a special place in my heart. It was my mother’s go-to Miserable Wintry Day food. A crust of butter on each slice of bread. A thick molten heart of Velveeta. A glass of classic Coke on the side. The unbeatable combination of gooeyness and crunch.

And I’ll always have fond memories of Lipton noodle soup. My mom swears by chicken noodle soup; Lipton did the job just fine, and (a plus for me), has no unappealing chunks of white Styrofoam masquerading as chicken. I tore open many a paper packet and watched the tiny freeze-dried noodles plump up in a swirl of boiling water.

The comfort may not be permanent. But it does help.

What are your go-to comfort foods?

 

Chicken Paprikas 3

This is a ridiculous photo, but it’s the only one I have. I never eat this little. I eat a FULL BOWL, primarily full of sauce, which is the best part of any meal. 

Chicken Paprikas (adapted from Joy of Cooking)

Ingredients:

Approximately 6 servings

1 to 1½ pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast, chopped into bite sized pieces (pre-cooked is ideal; I’ve included a modification below in case you want to use raw chicken breast)

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 white onion, chopped roughly

1 Idaho potato, chopped roughly

1 to 3 Tbsp paprika

1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

½ to 1 tsp salt

4 cups low-sodium chicken stock

1 8-oz container sour cream (I use the fat free sour cream from Trader Joe’s)

3 to 4 Tbsp flour or cornstarch

1 package egg noodles

Directions:

  1. Heat vegetable oil in a stock pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion and paprika (and optional cayenne) to vegetable oil, stirring occasionally, until dark red and glossy.
  3. Add salt, chopped chicken breast, and chicken stock. When the mixture comes to a boil, add the chopped potato. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until you can stick a fork into the potato chunks and they slide off easily. I don’t know how to say this a better way; make sure the potato is cooked.

* If you have raw chicken breast pieces, you can do this step slightly differently. Add the raw chicken together with the salt and stock. Then, once it comes to a boil, simmer everything for 15 minutes until cooked through. Then add the potato and cook for another 15 minutes.

  1. Whisk flour/cornstarch and sour cream together in a small bowl.
  2. Add a ladle full of the stock mixture to the sour cream mixture and whisk until incorporated. Do this three times.
  3. Add the tempered sour cream mixture to the pot. Stir.
  4. Serve over egg noodles.
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We are having guests over for dinner in a couple of weeks, and they have some food limitations. It is making meal planning a challenge – but a FUN challenge, because I want to find the correct combination of things that will make it enjoyable for them. The limitations are as follows:

  • One family member has celiac disease and cannot eat gluten.
  • One family member cannot eat milk products.
  • One family member is vegetarian.

I keep thinking of The Perfect Food! and then realizing it is totally not perfect. (Mushroom lasagna! I’ll just use gluten free noodles! Oh wait. Cheese.) The best option I have come up with is a make-your-own-sandwich bar, where we provide lots of meats and cheeses and veggies and breads – and include some gluten-free rolls on a separate plate. But… then again, what might a vegetarian eat on a sandwich? Marinated portabellas? I don’t like sandwiches, so I am not really the best person to plan a sandwich bar, I guess.

Maybe what I am talking myself into is, in fact, a big SALAD bar. Then I can completely skip the bread issue by not having ANY and I can include some chickpeas and kidney beans as proteins for the vegetarian?

But I am learning that gluten is a sneaky bugger, and so I will need to be really careful that none of the dressings have gluten. And now I am thinking, sadly, that maybe children will not be as diggety-down with the salad bar as the adults might be. I can picture my daughter eating a handful of cherry tomatoes and then filling her plate with air. She eats air most days, so it wouldn’t be a big departure but I try not to purposely make food I KNOW she won’t eat.

Okay. So we could… grill hot-dogs and hamburgers and some meat-free burgers or portabella steaks. (I read that hotdogs can have gluten, so I will need to be on the lookout for that.) And have gluten-free buns. And gluten-free-mac-and-cheese for the kids. That seems doable, I suppose. The problem is, always, the weather. Which may or may not cooperate. I would rather have an inside-the-house kind of option, I guess. That also ensures that my husband isn’t stuck at the grill all night.

We could do a taco bar… but we did that the last time we had this family over, and I had black beans as the non-meat protein and even though my vegetarian guest was super gracious and didn’t say ANYTHING, I don’t think it was the most satisfying meal. Plus, I have served tacos the last two times we have hosted people (two separate families, don’t worry) and I am kind of sick of them. I want to flex my hostessing muscles, you know?

I was playing around with the idea of a make-your-own-pizza kind of thing, with gluten-free crust as an option… and providing a bunch of meats and cheeses and vegetables and sauces… But I wonder if the absolutely delicious-sounding-to-ME idea of a rosemary and onion and thin-sliced potato pizza would actually appeal to the dairy-free guest. Plus, the logistics of getting everybody’s pizza into the oven at once or on a rotation that wouldn’t mean half of the people are starving makes me feel a little panicky. Possibly I could make small pizzas for the kids and then two large pizzas for the grown-ups? And both could be vegetarian and dairy free? THAT might be fun!

Then we get to dessert. I am planning to make macarons with jam filling, because they tick all the boxes. And I was thinking about buying a few pints of ice cream (we have a local ice creamery that makes vegan ice cream, which is gluten and dairy free) and having some sprinkles (although around here they are called “jimmies”) and chocolate flakes available. The kids would like that, I think.

I really really like this family. Our kids get along. We have a great time together. And it would be so nice if I could gain some comfort with cooking for them, so we’re not always trying to wrangle our kids at restaurants or having to bring in takeout. And, of course, on the flip side, it would be really nice if they could see me as a TRUSTWORTHY host, who would have things they can ALL eat, things that taste decent and are filling.

I suppose the smart thing would be to just call my friend and ASK HER, but I a) want to figure this out myself and b) don’t want to put her in the situation of being all, “Oh, whatever you do will be fine!” and then not enjoying herself.

So: Do YOU have any experience in making meals for anyone with the above food restrictions? Do you have any experience BEING the person with food restrictions? Do you think my pizza idea is totally crazy? HELP.

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