Nov. 4, 1999

This is my contribution to Connected Recollections, the journal collaboration project for the new MEMOIR webring. The topic this month is:

Comfort Foods

Comfort. The older I get, the more important it is and the more I allow myself small luxuries for the sake of comfort.

Everyone in my house has their own personal fuzzy blanket, courtesy of me. (I actually have two of my own.) Cozy chenille sweaters seem to keep finding their way into my closet, and CD's just keep on coming as well. We won't even talk about my collection of stuffed penguins..
I also own a few too many super-large coffee mugs.

I remember, as a child, taking comfort in books. Later, as a teen, it was books, music, the telephone, and boys (not necessarily in that order).

Food and I have had rather an uneasy relationship through the years, though. My mother adhered to the belief, widespread in the 1950's, that if you could see a child's ribs, that child was unhealthy. (There has never been any subjective evidence that I even HAVE ribs!)
I wasn't "fat" I was "pleasingly plump". I don't know who was pleased by my weight, besides Mom. Certainly not me. So starting in my early teens I dieted, with some (albeit temporary) success. I certainly have eaten for comfort but that comfort came at too steep a price, and the associated guilt more than cancelled out the good feelings.

Then there's the issue of food cravings and binge foods. I don't think that's the same thing though.. it's like the difference between having an occasional social drink, and drinking yourself into oblivion every night alone in your home. The eating doesn't so much provide comfort as reduce the pain of the craving.

Comfort foods are typically high in carbs and fat. Raw veggies are not comfort foods.. nor are most raw fruits, although bananas, watermelon, and cantaloupes come close. I guess the stereotypical comfort food would be mashed potatoes, preferably with butter, or even schmaltz (chicken fat rendered with fried onions..... yum!) Ice cream is a close second, especially in hot weather. Foods that nourish the spirit aren't necessarily the ones that are best for the body.

Sometimes the best comfort comes by surprise.. as when you first taste the hot rice pudding and are immediately transported to another time and place. It's the sense of smell that does that, really. Taste buds on the tongue are limited to salty, sweet, bitter, and sour sensations, and everything else that blends in for the flavour is perceived by the nose! Just try smelling a bouquet of fresh dillweed and see where it takes you. Or non-edible smells, for that matter.. the species of pine tree that grew in the forest behind your house as a child.. or your girlfriend's perfume and how it evolved on her body.

I don't know if coffee qualifies as a comfort "food" but it does for me. I drink it without sweetener and use milk, not cream, so calories aren't an issue. The guilt over being caffeinated is something I can live with, and having a hot cup of coffee constantly at my disposal is another of my small luxuries.

Being fed is the earliest source of comfort that we know. Whether it's bottle or breast feeding, the act of getting nourishment is bound up with being held by loving arms, feeling warm and protected. Is it any wonder that as adults we insist on attempting to recreate that blissful state of being by using food? Unfortunately if it works at all, it works only for a fleeting moment. Give me a plump overstuffed penguin any day.


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