by Mary Jo
Nicola is first:
I’ve been a comfort eater ever since I was a teen and over the last couple of years my eating did rather spiral out of control as a result of all the stresses in the world, macro-sized ones and personal challenges. One bag of crisps became an entire family sized bag I had to myself and the same went for chocolate. When I realised that I needed an entirely new set of clothes to accommodate me and my eating habit, I realised I had to stop.
So I signed up for a programme to help me change my mindset towards food. It wasn’t a diet because it didn’t need willpower, which was good because I don’t have any when it comes to eating. Instead it sort of reset my attitude towards food. So the brilliant thing about it is that I can still eat all the lovely comfort foods I enjoy – cheese and onion crisps, chocolate mini-eggs, hot buttered toast – but as treats rather than in huge quantities. And I’ve discovered the comfort of eating stuff that’s actually good for me: luxury jacket potatoes, lovely rich casseroles in winter.
But when it comes to the ultimate in comfort food then I seek out baklava. For those who haven’t yet discovered it, baklava is a layered filo pastry dessert filled with chopped nuts (my favourite being pistachios), sweetened with honey and spiced with cinnamon and cardamom. When it’s warm the filo pastry is all soft and gooey with the honey mixture, and the spices are subtle and delicious. You can cut it into square pieces to eat as sweet treats – as large or small as you like. It’s scrumptious and there’s a wonderful recipe for it here:
I know I’m the odd one out, story of my life. But I am not a food person. When I want to check out for a while, I reach for music and books or go for a long walk in the sun. I swear my batteries operate on sunlight. I’ve never been in the habit of snacking. I suppose, growing up, we never had snacks so it wasn’t a habit I developed. I do remember as a college student working impossible hours and taking an overload of classes with no chance of seeing the sun. I used to stop at the candy counter in the store where I worked and buy a quarter’s worth of malted milk balls every day to compensate. So I do understand the concept. But I was always aware that it was an appalling habit and stopped the instant I had a chance to get out of that deep dark ditch.
So about the only comfort food I can offer is tea. I do enjoy a good tea on a cool morning. If someone offered me a cookie, I wouldn’t throw it back at them. <G> And during Covid, when flour was almost impossible to find here, I got quite desperate to bake something, anything. But I think that was more the power of denial. If I can’t have it, I want it, and I want it NOW. But once the worst was over, the cookies went into the freezer, and we picked them out occasionally for an after dinner sweet.
So give me sunshine or a cuddly blanket and a good book and I’ll hide until the rest of the world calms down.
While I do turn to comfort eating from time to time, there's no particular food I turn to again and again. Sometimes I want the simple foods of childhood — hot buttered toast, maybe with a scrape of vegemite, but just as often, only butter — real butter, not margarine. And the bread has to be thickly cut, from a crusty white loaf — which I don't usually buy, but occasionally bake.
Another comfort meal is a poached egg on toast. Sometimes it's soup I want — vegetable soup like Mum used to make, thick with all the vegies available, or a bowl of hot, luscious pasta. At other times it might be salty crisps, straight from the packet. And fruit. Cherry season has finished, but peach and grape season has arrived and I'm eating lots of both. And then, of course, there's always chocolate.
Sometimes I'll crave what I think of as my "Paris breakfast", which is what I ate most mornings one time when I stayed a few weeks in the Marais, in Paris. I ate at the same little cafe every morning, sitting at an outdoor table, and had a piece of baguette (about as long as a hot dog roll) fresh and soft inside with a crackling crispy crust. It came with curls of fresh butter and a little bowl containing apricot jam. Accompanying it was coffee, which came in two silver pots, one containing hot, fragrant, freshly brewed dark coffee and the other containing hot milk. That simple breakfast used to set me up for the day, and every now and then I crave it, and head to the bakery to buy a fresh white crusty roll and take it home to have for breakfast with butter, apricot jam and a big mug of coffee.
My instant reaction to this question was CHOCOLATE! Clichéd, I know, but I usually turn to chocolate for anything from celebrations to a cure for depressing news, and everything in between. Basically, I’m a chocoholic and just one square of dark and creamy Cadbury’s Bourneville can calm me down no end (although four or five would be even better). But thinking about it, sometimes I need something more substantial if I really need to improve my mood.
I tried to pinpoint one specific dish or food item that would do that for me, and originally came up blank because there are lots of different ones that give me comfort. Home-cooked dishes that remind me of childhood, Swedish baked goods like cinnamon buns, and various delicious desserts could all do the trick. Or a huge bag of salty popcorn. Even something really simple like a piece of toast made from a fresh white loaf with lots of melting butter. In an attempt to choose just one thing, however, I flicked through my recipe book and had a lightbulb moment – apple pie and custard!
My dad made a very specific type of apple pie with a very simple, crusty base and open lattice-work top, which I adore. It has to be eaten with cold custard (in my opinion) and is one of my absolute favourite desserts. I only make it for myself as a treat, because I know once I start eating, I won’t be able to stop, so it definitely qualifies as comfort food. It’s simple but delicious, as well as easy to make. In fact, now you’ve reminded me, I might just have to have some this weekend
Comfort? Give me hot tea, dark chocolate, and the occasional pizza, and I'm happy. A mug of strong hot tea is how I start each day – that's a necessary comfort, and a really good tea is often a go-to treat at other times. A current favorite is Harney & Sons Victorian London Fog, a combination of black and oolong teas, bergamot, lavender, and vanilla. I add a dash of oat milk (no dairy for me, thanks!) – and it's heavenly.
If I want something more, dark chocolate is just the thing – a small chunk of really good, really dark chocolate is perfect, and just enough. I don't have a big sweet tooth and have some food sensitivities that make it easier to pass up goodies, so I've learned to back off the treats and go for simpler comforts.
However . . . I am a fool for pizza. Now and then I just want a hot, gooey, crusty, loaded veggie pizza (no meat, thanks). I can be good most of the time about the sensitivities, but put a pizza in front of me and all bets are off. Sometimes it's just worth it; I know I'll recover and go back to hot tea and squares of chocolate and be good until the next time someone says "how about pizza tonight?"
Andrea reports in:
I feel pretty lucky in that my tastes seem to run to healthy foods in general. I love fruits, veggies, whole grains and legumes . . . rice, quinoa, oats, barley, beans . . . bring them on! A favorite comfort food is fresh baked whole grain bread with some butter or olive oil. A nice grilled cheese also lifts the spirits.
But that said, I do have a real weakness for sweets.(The richer, the better!) When I’m really feeling down in the dumps, something involving chocolate, brown sugar and butter is my go-to indulgence. A chunk of dark chocolate always works magic. And then there are chocolate chip blondies, still slightly warm from the oven so the chunks of bittersweet chocolate melts on the tongue. (Fluttery sigh.)
Another go-to favorite are blondies made with golden raisins and walnuts, topped with a lemon sugar glaze. (Knowing that you all would want to see that particular confection, I took it upon myself to bake a batch—for photography purposes only, of course!
Mary Jo contemplates comfort food:
I have a confession to make: I am NOT a chocoholic! (This may get me tossed out of the romance writers sisterhood.) I belong to the fruit loving category. Give me warm berry pie (heavy on the red raspberries) with a flaky crust and with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yummm…..
I've also made friends with many an ice cream sundae. Start with coffee ice cream, add hot fudge sauce, a couple of spoonfuls of crunchy peanut butter, and a dollop of whipped cream. The cherry on top is optional. <G>
But comfort food is more than desserts. Since I've worked at home for many years, I have my everyday indulgences, which prominently includes bowls of hot, delicious soup with crunchy whole grain toast on the side. I make most of my soups: 15 bean with smoked sausage, potato kale with Italian sausage, chicken matzo ball soup–all yummy and at least a little self indulgent. I also sometimes buy commercial baked potato soup and tomato basil. They all make for wonderful lunches. The tomato basil bisque with a toasted cheese sandwich is particularly self indulgent, especially on snowy days.
But not being a chocoholic doesn't mean I dislike occasional chocolate if it's in the right form, such as really first class truffles. For years Baltimore County has been blessed with a European chocolatier named Kirchmayr whose extraordinary confections make for great gifts and occasional crazed madness. The business closed down during the pandemic, but a long term employee bought it and recently opened in a new location. And I'm here to say that the hazelnuts dipped in dark chocolate are as good as ever!
What comfort foods call your name when comfort is needed?
Mary Jo and all the other Wenches