Cooking up a Bowl of Comfort

by Jeanne


"We want to go back to a time when life was not so complicated — or, at least, when we look at it from a distance, it was one that seemed much simpler…”     Marian Burros

There are times in all of our lives when life is a bit too much in size.  Waves of uncertainty, confusion, absolute clarity and then back to overwhelm have washed over me the last few days.  My 98-year old paternal grandfather, “Pop” passed away this week, oddly at the same time as R.W. Apple. At the same time I learned that my father’s cancer has returned. Real and unpredictable I’m managing. What’s the adage, life doesn’t serve you up what you can’t handle.”

A recent news article suggests that the term "comfort food" first appeared in print in 1977, but really became more prevalent during the 1987 stock market crash “when, according to New York Times food writer William Grimes, "many restaurants took $30 pastas off the menu and replaced them with less expensive comfort foods such as macaroni and cheese.” We saw this again when many restaurants post 9/11.  Whatever the origin and use the idea of feeding the soul with food that heals is certainly not a new one.

Food nourishes your soul allowing you to connect to a place and a time and pull in strength that you can lean on. The steamy bowl of matzo ball soup, pork chops made with chicken noodle soup, the creamy bowl with a crusty top of macaroni and cheese, or the rich taste of a homemade brownie what we seek is personal, intimate. It’s the touch from our pasts that says, ‘all will be well again.’

Comfort food’s strength comes from its simplicity and certainty. You know it can bolster your spirit, offering reliability in its familiarities. It makes us feel protected and taken care of with its connection to home or past memories with friends.

For me the intersection in times of stress and personal crisis I retreat to the kitchen. Last night, I made a roast. Pop, a teamster who delivered bread and pies for Table Talk after serving in the Navy in WWII was of English descent. A proper meal was defined as meat, potatoes and a vegetable. My effort clearly therapeutic as I live alone and there’s now a cooked roast for six in the fridge was right. The aromas filled my tiny cottage for three hours transporting me back to Sunday dinners in the West Roxbury duplex with my cousins, the faint tinny sound of the Red Sox game playing on the radio. While that was the 1970s, the foundation may be the same my interpretation the Sunday roast is a coffee rub from Prather Ranch cooked in abobo sauce with a basting of local apple cider.

I’m not advocating sorrow as an excuse to mindlessly indulge in comfort food. But if you are going to seek refuge make it the best quality. Take care of yourself by wrapping yourself in the comfort of a chocolate chip cookie. This past weekend one of my comfort meals was a butternut squash with cheddar cheese biscuits. Next up it may be a cheesecake made with the brownies, an effort from Saturday, or a bundt cake or some pork tamales. The bowl of comfort is working its magic.

Cheddar Cheese Biscuits

Adapted from Recipes from Home © 2001

This recipe takes me up to today and my frequent Sunday dinners with S&K.  The recipes in this cookbook are a contemporary tribute to American cooking. 

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 tablespoon baking powder

Generous pinch of kosher salt

1/4 pound (1 sticks unsalted butter, chilled, cut into ½” pieces)

1 1/2 cups coarsely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1/2 cup cold buttermilk

2 pieces cooked bacon, thick-cut, chopped


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter and rub it in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Toss in the grated Cheddar. Gradually stir in the buttermilk, mixing only until dough is formed.

Divide the dough into 8 to 10 pieces and roughly shape each piece into a ball. Place the biscuits 2” apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.     Makes 4-5 biscuits;   Ed. Note Recipe can be doubled as the original recipe is for 8-10 biscuits.