Seasonal living and the sensual, sensate life.

Comfort Food: When you gotta have it, you gotta have it

I have to admit things have been a bit stressful up here on the mountain lately.  Mom is back in the hospital, this time with a broken hip, and I’m running all over Boulder/Niwot/Lafayette delivering clothes and snacks to my mom, buying food for her cat, doing laundry, picking up mail, coordinating care for the next 6 weeks, all the while teaching at two colleges, cooking on the side and taking care of my own geriatric dog.
   The week before my mom went into the hospital I had started one of my “clean” eating periods, trying to avoid too much bread, eating lots of veggies and grains.  After spending one whole breakfast and lunchless day in the ER, where you sit in a cubicle and at least a dozen people come and ask you to explain what happened before they admit you to the hospital 8 hours later, I have to admit I ran home to feed mom’s cat and grab something to eat before going back up the mountain.  What did I pick? No, not the Greek salad or the turkey wrap or the puny container of tabouli.  I bought chicken fried steak, a tin of mashed potatoes and sausage gravy, and pea salad (peas, cheese, eggs, mayo).  And I ate them reheated in my mom’s microwave while standing at her counter and making a list of the things I needed to do. 
So many food rules broken there.
But what are you going to do?  The steak was mouth-melting tender and I just swiped it in the mashed potatoes and stuffed it in my mouth.  It was a better end to a bad day.
I am an emotional eater.  I come from an emotional eating family.  Food meant love and sometimes, anger, in our family, but food also was my friend.  When things were turbulent (and they often were), I had something that made me feel better. 
  When I was in grad school in Milwaukee, hating the Midwest more than I ever imagined possible, I turned to Sunday night roast chicken dinners, made with mashed potatoes and green beans (one great thing about the Midwest is the yummy, fresh green beans) shared with my dog, elvis.  We’d sit in the “TV room,” which was a narrow room off the 2nd story deck (probably an old closet), on a divan that just fit the space and watch “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” on the television propped up on the water heater in the corner.
  elvis loved roast chicken, and I think he looked forward to our little ritual as much as me. Afterward, I’d eat some Ben and Jerry’s (New York Super Fudge Chunk) and we’d call it a day, and I’d go to bed thinking that if I could have roast chicken in the Midwest, where it seems like something that fits with the landscape and climate, it couldn’t be all that bad. 
Of course, I also gained about 20 pounds while living in the there.
Eventually,  elvis developed a chicken allergy to my dairy allergy and I cut out sugar, so roast chicken, while on the menu, is not usually had with the potatoes, unless of course, I’m feeling a little shaky or sad.  And no more ice cream.
  Apparently there’s some chemistry to all of this.  A shrink once told me that craving fat—that is ice cream, fat laden carbs like mashed potatoes, things swimming in butter and cream—calms the brain. Our system is hard wired to help itself, and one of the things it does is crave certain foods to help out when moods turn sour.  I like to think of this when I’m thinking about beating myself up over chicken fried steak and sausage gravy, something I eat once in a blue moon.  But I also think about it when I’m eating the ice cream, too.  I notice the way my brain (not my body) feels soothed. 
Of course I can do other things to calm my brain:  meditation, yoga, long walks, a nice glass of wine.  And I do.
But sometimes you need the chicken fried steak. 
So, in all things, balance, and if your mom is in the hospital for the 6th time in 18 months, I say go for it.

Here is a list of my favorite comfort foods (I’ll post the recipes for the * ones on the recipe page; + indicate recipes previously posted):
Lemon Rosemary Roast Chicken with Garlic & Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes+
Ice Cream (any kind that’s chocolate, really)
Baked Potatoes with lemon, butter, sour cream and sweet peas
Chicken Cacciatore with Creamy Polenta
Creamy Corn Chowder+
Dried Apple, Maple Sausage and Sage Stuffing with Cranberry Sauce*
Cranberry, Goat Cheese and Pecan Stuffed Pork Chops and Acorn Squash
Rigatoni with Parmesan Cheese Bread*
Karen’s Meatballs with Marinara*

Basically, anything I can eat by sopping it up in a piece of French bread laden with butter.

And for dire emergencies–of course, there’s always cupcakes from Safeway (the kind with
about 3 inches of icing).
–Happy Eating!
Karen


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