When my son was in the hospital, I ate cookies and candy because I had them, big, heavy restaurant-sized meals. I ate whatever plate or dinner people brought me. It didn’t matter how hungry I was or if it was what I wanted (don’t get me wrong, people brought us good stuff); I just ate.
But after he died, when I was home, I cooked.
I made soups and stews, mac and cheese, scalloped potatoes, chicken pot pie. I sautéed greens that I got at the farmer’s market. I toasted bread from the bakery, rubbed it with garlic, drizzled it with olive oil, sprinkled coarse salt.
Maybe I was trying to satiate a hunger not related to food. Maybe I just needed food from home after not being there for three months. Maybe the rhythm of the kitchen soothed me, kept me busy enough without requiring too much thought or energy.
I cooked and I ate, and although the grocery store was a gauntlet of anxiety—ignore the birthday cakes, don’t go down the baby aisle, hold your breath hoping the cashier won’t ask anything about kids—I shopped for food. I went to farmers markets. I paid more for cheese than I should have. I got a farm share of meat and bought local eggs and honey.
I hadn’t worked for almost seven months and was limping along trying to get my sluggish brain to function enough to get through the projects that fell on my desk. B. was going to quit his job come fall to go back to school. I had no business spending extra money on food, and months later when B. actually did quit his job and I readied for another self-paid maternity leave, I gave up the farm share, started buying conventional eggs more and more, cut back on the cheese.
But still I cooked. Still I ate well, and I still took comfort in food.
These days, I still cook, still like to choose good food, still like to do something with the veggies I bring in from the garden. Though with little ones pouting, “I won’t eat that” without even trying it, some days I want to go on a hunger strike, holding out on making food until they are hungry enough to eat whatever it is.
Last night I made potato leek soup with potatoes and onions and carrot and herbs from our garden. I served it with garlic toast with cheese. We started dinner with two whines, but eventually one ate the soup and one at the grilled cheese (it worked better when we put the toast together and called it that). I sat back and enjoyed both.
It was a chilly day, and soup was comforting and warm as the darkness gathered. Comfort food isn’t just for hard times; sometimes we just need to feel cozy at home.
What’s your favorite comfort food?
Potato Leek Soup
olive oil or butter
1 stalk celery, diced
1 large carrot (or equivalent), chopped in half rounds (or quarters if the carrot is fat)
1 ½ cups chopped leeks* (approximate)
salt and pepper
2 quarts broth **
5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
large splash heavy cream (optional, but recommended)
- Sauté the carrots, celery, and leeks until softened. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Add the broth, potatoes, and herbs. Bring to just a boil and lower the heat. Simmer for a long time until the potatoes start to break down.
- Look at your soup and debate whether to bother puréeing it. Take a taste. Wonder if you should add milk like you usually do. Take a Facebook poll.
- Use an immersion blender to smooth out the soup, leaving some small chunks. Taste again. Add a hefty splash of heavy cream if you have it.
- Serve with garlic toast, cheesy or not, and hope your kids will eat it without too much of a stink.
* I actually used Egyptian walking onions in this version. I included any green parts that looked vibrant. They fade as they cook, but still taste good.
** I used homemade chicken broth this time, because I happened to have it in my fridge and wasn’t in the mood for chicken soup, but I’ve made great soup with canned/boxed chicken or vegetable broth. I went heavier on the salt because I knew my base was lower in sodium.