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cook is to create. And to create well...
is an act of integrity, and faith."
More on Comfort Food
"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
of divine power,
has that ability to comfort."
Comfort Food 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
“In the childhood memories of every good cook, there’s a
warm stove, a simmering pot and a mom.” ~
Have you ever wondered just what it could be that draws us inexorably to
the kitchen in times of distress or crisis? Have you ever thought about the
difference between "cooking" and "fixing food"? I am honored to share
Regina Schrambling's words of wisdom on these topics with you...
When the Path to Serenity Wends Past the Stove By Regina Schrambling The New York Times, September 19, 2001
"When a friend called to say she had suddenly felt compelled
to bake an
apple pie last Saturday, I understood why. Anyone who cooks even
casually knows the feeling. 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.
The food is not really the thing. It's the making of it that gets you
a bad time.
On Thursday, I was motivated to make stew, and not because I had any
craving for meat. I needed to go through the slow process of rendering
pork, sautéing onions and shallots, browning the beef and simmering
hours with Cognac and stock and two kinds of mustard. Nothing
recipe, one I have made every winter since learning it in cooking school 18
years ago, could be rushed, which was exactly what I wanted. Sometimes
cooking is its own reward.
Experts theorize why it works, but to me it seems clear. Everything about
cooking engages the senses. There's a physical aspect to it, even if you use
a food processor more than a knife, and so at least a couple of endorphins
have to be involved. But the psychological impact is even more obvious.
you're all finished, you have something to show for the time and
loaf of bread, a batch of cookies, a pot of stew. On Thursday,
of putting one step after another led to a kind of serenity,
feeling that no matter what was happening outside my kitchen, I had
control over one dish, in one copper pot, on one burner.
But cooking also lets you cede control, if that's what you need. There's
reason they call it following a recipe. Sometimes it just feels calming to
know that a cake needs exactly one teaspoon of salt and no less than half
It's why I never try a new recipe when I cook to feel better, and I don't
think most people do. The familiar is what soothes. If I'm having a dinner
party, I search through cookbooks and clippings to find the most novel
appetizer or dessert. When I need solace, I pull out an old cookbook with
recipe for the corn pancakes with smoked trout or the blueberry-peach
have made more times than I can remember.
One of the sharpest observations my sister Johanna has ever made is that
there is a difference between cooking and fixing food. One is a fulfilling
project. The other involves combining easy ingredients fast. Quesadillas
food you fix. Stew is cooking. It's instant gratification versus
tion that builds slowly and stays with you. And yet so much of life
I know speed is of the essence in the cooking my consort and I do most
We buy fish and grill or broil it. We steam corn or broccoli. We sometimes
eat mesclun undressed right out of the bag. And we almost
When I cook for comfort, everything is different. I buy meat, like chuck
short ribs, and braise it for hours. I make
garlic mashed potatoes, an
elaborate gratin or potatoes Escoffier, with a whole stick of butter for
pounds of roasted Yukon Golds. And I get out the sugar and
The recipes that appeal most are the ones that layer on the richness,
prove more is better with butter. Abstemiousness is not an option
you're feeling low.
I have no desire for sweetness when I reach for the mixing bowls and
measuring cups. I just get profound pleasure out of making
almost caffeine cakes, flavored with espresso and loaded with chocolate
chips and walnuts. I like to see how different
turn out from batch to batch. And I enjoy the whole idea
of having to put
together three components for something as simple as
maple pecan bars, from
the shortbread crust to laying the pecans over
the gooey filling.
It's the reason I make céleri rémoulade every fall. I like being able to
the time to cut the celery root into tiny little strips and dress them
sour cream, mustard and parsley and then let the bowl sit until the
have come together. And it's why I feel so compelled to
time of year and let them marinate in olive oil and garlic. The
of charring the peppers and peeling them is almost more satisfying
eating them on warm bread. At some point, I slip into a more mellow
mind. I'm cooking, I'm making something, but it is not just food to
be consumed unthinkingly.
In a city where any food imaginable is normally available at any time of
day, cooking takes on more meaning. If we feel hungry, we can order in
rolls or curry. But if we feel hollow, we can bake
pumpkin bread or
cookies. Comfort food is what someone cooks for you.
Comfort cooking is what
you do for yourself.
And the reason you do it is very simple: cooking is the most sensual
activity a human being can engage in, in polite company. My stew
smell (onions softening, Cognac reducing), touch (the chopping,
stirring), sound (that sizzle of beef cubes hitting hot fat), sight (carrot
orange against the gold-brown of mustard and beef stock) and especially
taste. Making it was a way
to feel alive and engaged.
Whoever said cooking should be entered into with abandon or not at all
[Harriet Van Horne] had
it wrong. Going into it when you have no hope
is sometimes just what you
need to get to a better place.
Long before there were antidepressants, there was stew."
Dijon and Cognac
Time: About 3 hours
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
salt pork, diced
1 large onion, finely diced
3 shallots, chopped
2 to 4 tablespoons butter, as needed
2 pounds beef chuck, in 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons butter, as needed
1/2 cup Cognac
2 cups beef stock
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons Pommery mustard
4 large carrots, peeled and
cut into half-moon slices
1/2 pound mushrooms, stemmed,
cleaned and quartered
1/4 cup red wine.
salt pork in a Dutch oven or a large heavy kettle over low heat,
until fat is rendered. Remove solid pieces with a slotted spoon,
discard. Raise heat, and add onion and shallots. Cook until softened
browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a
2. If necessary, add 2 tablespoons butter to the pan to augment fat.
beef cubes with flour, and season with salt and pepper. Shake off
flour, and place half the cubes in the pan. Cook over medium-
well browned, almost crusty, on all sides, then transfer
to a bowl
onions. Repeat with remaining beef.
3. Add Cognac to the empty pan, and cook, stirring, until the bottom is
deglazed and the crust comes loose. Add stock, Dijon mustard and 1
tablespoon Pommery mustard. Whisk to blend, then return meat and
mixture to pan. Lower heat, cover pan partway, and simmer
is very tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
4. Add carrots, and continue simmering for 30 minutes, or until slices are
tender. As they cook, heat 2 tablespoons butter in medium skillet over
medium-high heat, and sauté mushrooms until browned and tender.
5. Stir mushrooms into stew along with remaining mustard and red wine.
Simmer 5 minutes, then taste, and adjust seasoning. Serve hot.
"Comfort food: quirky, quaint, quixotic. Personal patterns of
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
are heavy, they need gravitational and emotional equilibrium."
(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 blessings. Express your
gratitude. Some of the sentiments I shared with you around this time last
year bear repeating, as I mean them more than ever:
If you love someone (and surely you do!), tell them so. Today. Now.
They should not have to figure it out for themselves. Hug your spouse,
your children, your parents, your siblings, your pets, and tell them how
much they mean to you... Eat something delicious, nutritious, and
comforting. Make sure that you include some beauty in your life today,
be it in the form of flowers, music, art or your favorite hobby. Call a
friend. Live love. Be passionate about something. Give a damn!
“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
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
~ New York Times reporter Jere Longman, in Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back
seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love,
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
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