Thursday, August 28, 2008

Comfort Foods

In a world of burgers and fries, there are a number of ways to be enlightened and uplifted by food. There's fancy restaurants costing hundreds of dollars and requiring reservations months in advance. Sometimes simple is better though and I've been thinking the last few days about some of those foods. (This is probably due to the fact that very soon I will be leaving the wonder that is free gourmet food, cooked for me three times a day and be returning to the real world. In the real world, I don't make 4 types of salad, two types of pizza, a meat, sauteed mushrooms, and two desserts. Perhaps I would if I was a professional chef, but that's not very likely.)

So what do I want to eat when I'm feeling down/lonely/cold/tired/like-winter-will-never-end/hot/like-summer-will-never-end? Well, it depends a lot on the season. Here's a snapshot.

Winter: My ultimate comfort dinner would be a plain fresh (warm) loaf of bread with a bowl of soup. The type of soup isn't very important although broccoli cheddar or squash with pancetta and thyme would be fantastic but I've been thinking this week about broth based soups like a minestrone. These soups must be homemade. If it comes out of a can it doesn't count, although I admit that I don't make my own broth. I realized while thinking about the fact that this is one of my ultimate meals that I very very rarely make soup. In the past three years I can think of only two soups that I've made: the aforementioned squash and a Brazilian black bean stew. Soup isn't generally something I think of as an option for 1 person, but 2 might be more reasonable.

Winter desserts: These range from the simple (boxed brownies) to the complex (cheesecake). There are two things I associate with winter dessert comfort things primarily though. The first is rhubarb. I've learned that in California rhubarb is a foreign plant. The grocery clerks have no idea what it is. In the mid-West people beg you to take some of theirs (the fruit equivalent to zucchini). The easiest preparation is just simmering the rhubarb with some sugar and serving the resulting sauce over vanilla yogurt or ice cream. The other winter dessert that comes to mind is rice pudding. This (if made properly) requires patience, for you start with uncooked rice and slowly cook it in the oven, constantly stirring. (Now I really want rice pudding.)

Summer: Comfort foods for summer are simple, in part because there's no energy left to exert for cooking and people generally want to stay out of the kitchen. So food is simple. Two cobs of corn with butter and salt. That is my ideal meal. Add in a BLT and I'm completely sold. The tomatoes should be perfectly ripe and dripping down your hands, the cheap white bread, though toasted, melting as it succumbs to the juice of the tomato.

Summer desserts: Again, simplicity is everything. Strawberries that have been sitting out at the farmers market for 2 hours so that they're warm and juicy. Raspberries with the perfect touch of sweetness. Peaches and nectarines, like tomatoes, dripping all over you and leaving strings in your teeth. Cherries that you eat and then spit the pits around the yard. Watermelon that brings refreshing cool on the hottest of summer days.

The interesting contrast between my summer and winter menus is that I spent my whole life eating the winter menus. We've always had the ingredients for soup and bread and rice pudding available. (Rhubarb we don't grow in Kentucky and it seems silly to buy.) But the summer menus are things I used to dream about. Growing up in Alaska we didn't have sweet corn or tomatoes, cherries, peaches or nectarines. It was always a treat coming down to Ontario and getting sweet corn, even if I did have to have it cut off the cob because of my braces.

This summer I've taken advantage of the wonderful farmer's market that's a short bike ride from my house (I'll blog about it soon) and I've had meals of corn, watermelon, and berries. It's been wonderful. Now, with fall in Minnesota coming, I'll have to break out my cookbooks and reaquaint myself with the world of soups. It's a long winter, but the idea of eating warm buttered bread and hot soup while watching the snow fall makes it seem a lot more like home and a lot less like neverending torment :)


Anonymous said...

I have some good soup recipes I can give you.

Also, why is rhubarb a winter food, when it grows in the summer? To me, it is a food of early summer, like memorial day. Mom would always make a strawberry-rhubarb dish if we went to a party for the Indy 500.

Katie said...

I'd love your soup recipes.

I think in my family rhubarb was a winter food cause my family couldn't eat it all and would put it either chopped or stewed in the freezer. I guess we also had it a lot in the fall as the days were getting colder and winter was approaching (as it is a fall & spring crop). We also never had it with strawberries, so the spring timing wasn't essential. It also probably didn't start growing until mid-June.

Those are just conjectures. It might just be a crazy thing I've made up. I don't know.