January 15, 2008

Southern Comfort

Cropped portion of a photo by Mikkel Vang from Gourmet, January 2008

A few days ago, Alicia at Posie Gets Cozy wrote a wonderful post reminiscing about childhood comfort foods. The responses were overwhelming with current comments totalling 216! Some delicious and less-than-delicious-sounding memories were culled from her readers and it was incredibly nice and heartwarming to read about such recollections.

I love art. I love design. But a love that stems deep for me is also in food and cooking. Now I don't always feel like cooking but I rarely mind dreaming about it or the results of such efforts real or imagined. And when I do feel like it I can really relish the work. I don't know if it's some parental urging in me but I love to feed people. Truth be told, I think that stems from one part ego and another part care. Caring for others, feeding them, and not just their stomachs but something deeper, is enormously satisfying. The creating (or the attempt) of true satisfaction.

Cropped portion of a photo by Ditte Isager from Gourmet, January 2008

Food is such a powerful force in our lives. The way it conjures up cravings, memories, experiences, etc. And nothing gets me going quite like Southern food. The fact is, it is the American cuisine. Certain regions of the country have their specialties but the South is the only region that seems to have brought forth and entire lexicon of cooking with far-reaching effects. Fried chicken, barbecue, sweet potato pies, butter-this, and cream-that. It may not be the healthiest for the body but it certainly is for the "heart" (if you will), and it is as likely to raise your cholesterol as it will the corners of your mouth in grinning delight. Whether it was born out of the need to heal the hurt of our history it is food that comforts a nation.

Edna Lewis 1916 - 2006
(Photograph by John T. Hill)

In my January issue of Gourmet Magazine they feature Southern cooking in its glory. Fortunately, they also feature the late great Edna Lewis. She was an extraordinary woman and the doyenne of Southern cooking despite its more current association with Paula Dean. Gourmet Magazine has a wonderful short film about her life on their website. (Which also profiles the unusual but profound friendship developed between her and chef Scott Peacock.) (NOTE: Vegetarians may find it less than visually pleasing...I'm just sayin'.)

So with all that said, I'm curious...what foods do you take comfort in? What was special to you as a child? Care to share? C'mon, pass the love.

What? Me? My comfort foods? Well, my childhood list would be toasted tomato sandwiches, lettuce sandwiches, hard-boiled egg cut up in a bowl and drenched in melted butter, curried spaghetti, fried chicken hearts (I'll admit it. But I know, I know...eeeww!), and sherry cake. As an adult, I'd have to add fried chicken, pho, Vietnamese roast pork sandwiches, and lo mein. Okay, and probably some ice cream in there somewhere. Ooooh...and homemade biscuits, and practically anything with cheese (homemade mac n' cheese, for example)...did I mention almost anything made with cinnamon and/or vanilla? Oh boy...this is getting bad....really, really bad.

Okay, now it's your turn.

Cropped portion of a photo by Romulo Yanes from Gourmet, January 2008


  1. Heya UB - I have been enjoying your blog all year (!) and this one entry finally moves me to post.

    I adore Edna Lewis. Ironically, I have been enjoying the kind of old fashioned, pure and processed food she speaks of in "Taste of Country Cooking" since I have moved to the city. Huzbeau and I go to the Ballard Farmers Market every week where we gather up not only our veggies, but fresh eggs, raw milk and home raised chickens from Sea breeze farm on Vashon island.
    Good Lord that chicken!! I had fresh eggs on Bainbridge, so I am used to those, but on the occasions we go out to breakfast, I am in quite the snit over my eggs. (Unless it is brunch Tilth of course!) Viva la Edna!!
    I have so many childhood comfort foods, but the two that come immediately to mind: my paternal grandmother's refried beans. She made them everyday and my sister and I just CANNOT duplicate them!! We finally came to the conclusion that it was the pan she used. She never really washed it - just wiped it out with paper towels, so that must be the now long lost secret.
    My maternal grandmother was Texan and she made biscuits for breakfast every morning. Served up with fresh butter from the neighbor's dairy farm and her own peach preserves.
    I could go on and on, but then I'll have to take myself out for breakfast and I don;t have time for that today!

  2. Oh! a guy after my own heart! Me so love Pho and fried chicken and Korean BBQ and the list goes on. I'm not fat for nothing. I pride myself in being good at ordering from any menu!

    What is Lettuce sandwich? It sounds like a Ethiopian Special.

    Ever since this low Carb crazy I've been guiltlessly enjoying pork ribs! Yummers!!!

  3. Mari...was it lard that was the secret perhaps? But an unwashed seasoned pan can really make a difference. Fresh biscuits?! I should've added those to my list!

    Dana...a lettuce sandwich is not nearly as exotic as it sounds to you. Two slices toast, copious amounts of lettuce and mayonaise, and that's it...delish! And trust me...no one would ever describe me as "picky". Know what I'm sayin'?

  4. Thanks for stopping by as well. Glad you liked Polyphonic Spree. I just downloaded the entire album and find myself singing at the top of my lungs to several other songs.

    On the subject of food, well, this is one of my favorite topics. We seem to be on the same page here.

    I just spent two days in the kitchen to prepare a special birthday meal. Rather than seeming like a task, it was a gift to myself as well as those I was feeding and the greatest fun because cooking can be an extraordinary creative venture.

    I'm a native Texas but ironically don't consider myself "southern". Perhaps it is because we do homemade bread rather than biscuits?

    Comfort foods....
    homemade bread warm from the oven with butter (or without)....
    my great grandma's peach coffee cake (I've never been able to master it and I've never tasted anything else like it)....
    hot chocolate with chipotle (new favorite)....
    thai chicken soup with ginger....

    Okay, I'll end here. My mouth is watering now and the list is really quite long.

    Cheerio, Cheryl

  5. ooooh, such a great topic.

    From my childhood: OJ and 7up mixed together when I was sick. Air popped popcorn drenched in butter,grilled tuna sandwiches and tomato soup. Peanut butter and honey on saltines, KFC (very special occasions only),my grandma's pancakes (very thin and perfectly round), my mom's chocolate chip cookies, and ice cold Coke in a can drunk through black licorice vines!

    Now? All of the above (substituting the KFC for Ezell's or fried chicken from Kingfish )and... brie on baguette, almond croissants, chocolate milkshakes, and strong black tea with cream.

    I'm so hungry..


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