Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Comfort Food Chronicles

While many folks greeted the new year with determined resolutions concerning what and how much they would eat in 2010, I seem to be on a just-as-determined course in an entirely different direction.  Part of it has to do with an eating trend that started with the visits we made over the holidays and part is just karma and coincidence. But, whatever the reason, my diet has suddenly centered on a great American eating tradition with a wonderfully descriptive name: 
Comfort Food.
During the first days of the year, our little kitchen has produced the following tasty, comforting, but possibly life-threatening dishes:
Seafood chowder (the seafood part sounds healthy until you add a quick quart of half and half), ham and scalloped potatoes (featuring a family sized, artery-clogging can of cream of mushroom soup),  an hors d'oeuvre featuring equal parts of ground pork and cheddar cheese melted on toasted cocktail rye bread, and a casserole that, inexplicably, includes both corn and macaroni glued together with--wait for it--an entire block of Velveeta.
If that doesn’t sound like enough of the good stuff, I also made a mildly successful attempt at producing my own version of an enchanting food item I encountered on our recent trip to North Carolina: Cheese Biscuits. 
Not to be confused with the cheese-battered biscuits found at Red Lobster and some other places, these little sinkers are the real deal, a heart-stopping delight that’s found, apparently, only in Eastern Carolina. I looked online for a recipe, but discovered that the secret behind them is about as closely held as the science behind, say, nuclear fission. Just about as dangerous, too, in the quantities I was consuming them.  While a specific recipe was not forthcoming, I did find some descriptions of the things on an aptly named website called  An example:
“For those of you that don't know, many independently owned and small chain convenience stores in eastern NC sell delicious cheese biscuits, which is basically just a biscuit that has hoop cheese melted in it.”
I know it sounds simple, but there’s a unique flavor going on that far outshines either biscuits or cheese as I’ve known them before. Maybe it’s the biscuits, which probably included both lard and butter as basic, essential building blocks of life. Or maybe it was the hoop cheese, an old-fashioned “wheel” cheese that’s so difficult to make via automated process that it’s all but disappeared except in that small part of the country. In any case, they were something I’ll keep trying to re-create until I make my way south again.
According to Wikipedia, the free (online) encyclopedia, “Comfort foods are familiar, simple foods that are usually home-cooked or eaten at informal restaurants. They are foods that are often emotionally significant to a person or group of people and are sometimes related to pleasant memories of childhood.”
And that’s the secret.
Because those comfort foods--the ones we really cherish--come from a time and place when people worked hard.  And, when possible, they ate well, too.  It all balanced out that way, with little concern for calories, cholesterol, fat and carbohydrates.  
Put simply, food meant love, especially when served with healthy portions of conversation, warmth and togetherness. 
Of course, my household will again start to moderate our intake a bit, One of us is re-embarking on her “oatmeal for breakfast and workouts at night” regime, while a full slate of high school basketball will, again, find me on a steady sportswriters’ diet of popcorn and coffee. We’ll both try to watch what we eat, because that’s the right thing to do. Plus, if, as they say, you are what you eat, I probably don’t want to become a lard-laced cheese biscuit. So we’ll try to do better, while still remembering that there’s something to be said for comfort. And for food. 
And for love.

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