"Cooking is almost always a mood-altering experience, for good
or for bad, and at its best it is do-it-yourself therapy: more calming
than yoga, less risky than drugs." ~ Regina Schrambling, The New
York Times, 9/19/01
"Food, like a loving touch or
a glimpse of divine power,
has that ability to comfort." ~
Comfort Food Revisited September 2002
“For it's a
long, long time
from May to December
And the days grow short
when you reach September
And the Autumn weather
Turns the leaves to flame
And I haven't got time
For the waiting game
And the days dwindle down
to a precious few
~ September Song, Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson
September. No longer do we have the carefree days of summer
a bounce in our steps. Nor can we rely on the hope and bright new
promise of spring to uplift our spirits. September sings a much deeper
Melancholy. In a minor key. The approaching autumnal equinox.
It was difficult for
me long before the events of 11 September 2001, so it
is no small wonder
that I find it particularly painful this year. Like many of you, perhaps, I
really do not want to think about it. The haunting memories, the horrendous
images engraved so indelibly just beyond our consciousness are stored in
cache, easily retrieved. Sometimes they appear without our permission.
Agonizingly painful. But I refuse to bury my head in the sand.
We dare not seek to eradicate these
ghosts, however tempting that may
be. We dare not forget the fact that there
are those fanatics still active in
the world whose hatred of all things
American is so strong that they find
the very fact of our existence heinous.
So heinous that they will go to any length to destroy us. If these United
States of America are to survive, we
dare not forget the events of 11
September 2001 at the World Trade
Center, at the Pentagon, and in a once
wreckage-filled crater in a rural Pennsylvania field. Those who died so
horrifically that day deserve to be remembered. They deserve to be honored.
They deserve our tribute.
Our tears will dry.
This is not
intended to be a political statement. Nor is it my intent to propagandize in
any way. United we stand. I only regret that I have no solutions to offer
you. This is nothing more than a statement of where I
find myself today.
“Your Webmistress, Up Close and Personal.” Perhaps
it will help. Perhaps
not. Be that as it may, all I have to offer you is what
I know based upon my
own personal experience. I can tell you unequi-
vocally that I do not welcome
the prospect of an all-out, full-fledged war
(we are already at war, of
course). Just happened to hear "Ain't Gonna
Study War No More" on
WWOZ (the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage
Station, 90.7 on your FM dial) this morning as MissSophieDog and I
making our rounds. I thought to myself almost immediately, "But I
studying war!" I seriously doubt that the occupants of the World
Center were studying war a year ago either. We dare not forget. "United We
Stand". The sign is still planted on our front lawn, and our
flag is still
flying. We see that display as a privilege, an honor, and a sign
A salute, if you will.
So. Where am I?
Considering the haunting nature of the year just past
and the daunting
prospect of the near future, I must tell you that I am experiencing a
tremendous degree of pain today. My precious Miss
SophieDogAngel is curled up at my
feet as I write (as is her wont).
I must tell you that I need her here
beside me. Her beauty and her
loving presence are curiously reassuring.
Comforting. These words
do not come easily.
It has always been
difficult for me to distinguish between emotional
and physical pain.
Sometimes they are both present, feeding off of
one another like so many
leeches. Sometimes not. Today I know that
my pain is primarily emotional,
psychological. I am also well aware of
its physical ramifications. Headache
from hell, for starters. The aching
chest that comes from trying to choke
back tears, stiff neck, tight
shoulders, lower back pain. Smacks of tension,
does it not? And then
there is the hunger. Ravenous. Which brings
course, to food.
What? You find this frivolous? Please do
not think for one instant
so daft as to propose mashed potatoes
and gravy as the Utopian
solution to the world’s gargantuan problems. But
this is, after all, a
culinary site, remember? La Belle Cuisine.
is to provide a
beautiful, relaxing atmosphere,
designed to inspire,
entertain and inform
It is a well-documented fact that comfort food is
right up there
with music and hot tubs when it comes to diminishing pain and
soothing frazzled nerves.
“When life is hard and the day has been long, the ideal dinner is not four
perfect courses, each in a lovely pool of sauce whose ambrosial flavors are
like nothing ever before tasted, but rather something comforting and savory,
easy on the digestion - something that makes one feel, if even for only a
minute, that one is safe.”
~ Laurie Colwin, "Nursery Food", in Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
Yes, indeed! “…something comforting and savory, easy on the
digestion - something that makes one feel, if even for only a minute, that
one is safe.”
So. Is it any wonder, then, that I found myself concocting a huge pot of corn chowder yesterday? Not at all. And stewed tomatoes today. Yum,
yum, yum. Nothing fancy, just canned stewed tomatoes (Del Monte is my preference),
butter (more than usual today) and a couple of pieces of white bread or
rolls, torn into bite-size pieces. A few grindings of black pepper. Heat
through until you have a nice, gloppy, gushy, comforting mish-mash. Calms
“Chowder breathes reassurance. It steams consolation.”
~ Clementine Paddleford
And tomorrow? Pot roast.
(You do remember The Major, right?) And we ain't talking fancy here, folks. Can't you just hear him? One
of those solid meals.
as Jane and Michael Stern
like to say,
in their gem
Square Meals: America's Favorite Comfort Cookbook
Why soup, chowder, pot roast for comfort? Well, because:
“In the childhood memories of every good cook, there’s a large
warm stove, a simmering pot and a mom.” ~
I would add that if the heart-warming, soul-soothing kitchen
memory is not
present, we bring it to life through fantasy. And then
turn that fantasy
into reality. Even if Mom is no longer around.
Here it is:
The Major's Pot Roast
4 pounds beef roast (chuck roast or similar
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons salt [or to taste]
1 tablespoon fresh-ground black pepper [or to taste]
2 tablespoons bacon drippings
3 pounds potatoes
1 pound carrots
1 large onion
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons flour
Dash Kitchen Bouquet
Salt and pepper to taste
Trim any really huge chunks of fat or
gristle from roast. Mix flour, salt
and pepper. Sprinkle over both sides of
roast, patting into the meat. Heat
a large, heavy skillet (preferably
well-seasoned cast iron) over medium-
high heat, add bacon drippings. [Said
skillet would have to be really large
to accommodate roast and vegetables,
no? A heavy Dutch oven works
well also. I use my treasured 4-quart All Clad
on all sides. Peel and quarter potatoes and carrots. Peel and
Add potatoes, carrots and onion to pan. Top with bay leaves,
add 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup red wine, cover, heat until the liquid begins
and transfer to oven [which you have preheated to 325 degrees F]. Roast
at least 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until the
meat is very tender and separated from
any bones. What you choose to do
during this time is your business. Or
hers. [How about a hot bath and a
quick nap? Lull yourself to sleep with
a little Mozart or Brahms. But do not
forget to set the timer...]
Transfer meat and vegetables to serving platter. Keep warm.
Make gravy. Place skillet over medium high heat on stovetop. Add flour,
and let brown. Add two cups water, beef broth or
(you do have some in your freezer, right?) and bring to simmer, stirring
thoroughly with whisk or gravy whip. Salt and pepper to taste and let simmer
for 5 to
7 minutes. Stir in a bit of Kitchen Bouquet for color. Just in case
roux was not brown enough to do the trick.
Open another bottle of red wine. Light some candles. Crank up the
Serve. Enjoy. And be grateful. Anyway.
Dessert, you say? But of course! It would be really difficult to top
Howsomever. In consulting The Major, I
find that his choice for the
ultimate homey comfort dessert is
Shortcake. (Hmm. Our Scrumptious Strawberry feature starts out
with an excellent Strawberry-Glazed Cream Cheese Cake. Not a bad idea
either! But make it a day in advance.) If it happens that you cannot find
suitable fresh strawberries
during this season, no problem. Use whatever
fresh fruit jumps out at
you. We still have beautiful peaches and
nectarines. Just remember:
KISS! Keep it simple, silly. Or something like that. Okay?
Speaking of which, I cannot believe The
Major did not suggest his infamous
Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce. An excellent dessert.
Trust me. And there are some beautiful pears out there right now...
I simply cannot resist repeating one of my
favorite comfort food
Sarah Ban Breathnach, who just happens
to be one
of my all-time
"Comfort food: quirky, quaint, quixotic. Personal patterns of consolation,
encoded on our taste buds past all forgetting, as unmistakable as greasy
fingerprints. When the miseries strike, and you’re down in the dumps,
food transformed by love and memory becomes therapy... When hearts
are heavy, they need gravitational and emotional equilibrium."
Sarah Ban Breathnach (from Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy
Amen, Sister Sarah! What I said yesterday and the day before still goes.
Until next time, remember... Be well, stay safe, enjoy your freedom.
And please. NEVER take it for granted! Count your
your gratitude. Some of the sentiments I shared with you
year bear repeating, as I mean them more than ever:
If you love someone (and surely you do!), tell them so. Today. Now.
should not have to figure it out for themselves. Hug your spouse,
children, your parents, your siblings, your pets, and tell them how
they mean to you... Eat something delicious, nutritious, and com- forting. Make sure that you include some beauty in your life today,
in the form of flowers, music, art or your favorite hobby. Call a
Write a note. Live love. Be passionate about something. Give a hoot!
“We always thought we were secure inside our borders in this country.
And the one day where we realized we weren’t, we lost control for a few
hours. And these people, literally and figuratively, tried to take control
back for us. And I think that will resonate for many, many years, and
will be remembered as a defining American moment.”
~ New York Times reporter Jere Longman, in Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back
"It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love,
are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think
of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I
am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the
love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and
fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one." ~ M.F.K. Fisher,
The Art of Eating