Musings on Comfort Food

Thoughts | Alex Whitwam

Mac and Cheese.jpg

Comfort food (noun). food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically any with high sugar or other carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking.

Nostalgia is an interesting phenomenon. Through the rosy lens of memory, something that would be completely unremarkable to us today is transformed into something we long to experience again. (Actually re-experiencing these things can be hit or miss.) It naturally follows that food, which is so closely tied to cultural identity, community, and family, is often the subject of this nostalgia.

The general concept of “comfort food” is essentially universal, but just about anything can qualify as comfort food to someone out there. Usually, these foods are hearty and cheap, stemming from the need of poor mothers to put enough food on the table to feed a hungry family without breaking the bank. This also means that most comfort food is not exactly what we would describe as “healthy”--produce and other nutritious food used to be unattainable for those on a tight budget. (Even today, with all the advances in agriculture and production making these things cheaper than ever, it can be difficult for many to afford a balanced diet.)

With the holidays in full swing and end-of-semester ennui set in, these types of meals are likely to make up a decent portion of what we eat. This is a time for friends, family, and food. Even if each of us has positive emotional associations to a different dish that conjures up thoughts of home, no matter what our upbringing was like, food can bring us together; it’s one of the most basic, fundamental ways people connect with each other and share our cultures.

Here’s what some of the Howl staff have to say about what comfort food means to them:

“My favourite comfort food is duck congee (specifically from King’s Noodles on Spadina) paired with a plate of salted donuts, because my family pretty much raised me on it. My mom, my grandparents, my aunt, and I would always go at least once a week, probably twice if everyone was stressed out, and I can remember them all just sitting around dipping the salted donut into the congee and enjoying the relaxation that came with a piping hot dish. It’s the first thing I crave when I’m stressed or when I miss home (and I’m probably so broke because I live so close to King’s Noodles now.)” - Sophia Sharp

“Mac 'N' Cheese is my go-to comfort food. My mum and my grandma both make their own amazing variations, but they are both ooey gooey cheesy goodness. My mum sent me her recipe when I moved to Toronto for school, and through experimentation I figured out how my grandma makes it too... if I have a stressful day I make one, or the other, or a combination of both, and it never fails to lift my mood, even if just slightly. Here's my mum's recipe [with some comments by me]:

Mum's Mac 'n' Cheese Recipe:

  • 1 can of cream of mushroom soup [I prefer cream of broccoli, but tomato soup also works well!]

  • 1/2 cup of milk

  • 2 cups of grated cheese [yikes! I usually don't put that much in... maybe 1 cup]

  • 2 cups of cooked noodles

  • [My grandma also uses 1/2 cup of bread crumbs for cronch!]

  1. Start boiling water in a medium-sized pot; add noodles and stir occasionally.

  2. Combine and heat soup and milk in the microwave for 2 minutes.

  3. Add cheese, 2 more minutes in the microwave.

  4. Drain noodles.

  5. Add cooked noodles, 2 more minutes in the microwave.

[Alternatively, you can preheat your oven to 350°F at the beginning; after you add the cooked noodles, instead of putting it back in the microwave, sprinkle bread crumbs on top and stick in the oven for 20 minutes, or until you can see it bubble on the sides].

Et voilà!” - Grey Spafford

There’s a reason we turn to comfort food when the stresses of life get a little too overwhelming. Subconsciously, we seek a return to a simpler time, when we had fewer responsibilities and a nice hot bowl of chicken noodle soup (or its equivalent) was all it took to forget our troubles. Food may not do much for bills or assignments that are due, and subsisting solely on the kinds of foods that tend to soothe us would probably be a bad idea, but there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself and indulging in a little culinary nostalgia. Some days, we could use a delicious blast to the past.

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