for release April 13, 2001
by Melodie Davis
What was or is a "comfort food" in your family? That's an interesting discussion starter in a group, and one group I was in recently offered everything from popcorn to homemade chicken noodle soup to mashed potatoes to macaroni and cheese.
A comfort food is something that you look forward to and that always makes you feel better, makes you feel loved, or something that was a tradition in your family. The authors of a series of "Comfort Foods" cookbooks say that these are foods that warm the body and soul, and connect us with special people, places, and time.
"Comfort food can be hot soup on a cold day, great grandmother's biscuits warm from the oven, rice pudding for someone ill, a pot of stew for a new mother, or a thoughtfully chosen meal for friends," say Laurana Rayne and Norma Bannerman. "Meaningful connections are formed between people through preparing, serving and sharing comfort food."
At one web site, macaroni and cheese rated as the number one comfort food. Chicken potpie and coleslaw rated as the second and third most favorite comfort foods. (Now what planet do they come from? Coleslaw?) Macaroni and cheese would definitely be my youngest daughter's comfort food.
I first became aware of this when she was asked to bring in and prepare her favorite family recipe for a class assignment. She chose our macaroni and cheese recipe. (See end of the column for the recipe.)
A modern day equivalent of comfort food for many families is Friday night pizza. Ironically for many of us, carryout or delivery pizza spells home. Throwing out rules about good nutrition and not eating in front of the TV, we draw up around the TV on Friday night and indulge in that wondrous greasy concoction of bread, cheese, tomato and maybe meat. (Of course, the pizza promotion council would argue that those ingredients represent the four food groups very nicely.) Unfortunately, pizza doesn't need much promotion in our society, and I'm as guilty as the next worn out Mom. Or Dad.
Sometimes, a comforting family "home" tradition is one like many families follow for Sunday night: everyone for themselves. You can fix any oddball thing you want. The kids come to like that freedom. Del found that out when he offered to stir up a gourmet meal on a Sunday evening. His children reacted with dismay: "On Sunday night? We want to just get whatever we want."
Then, sometimes all food is comfort food, and some families use food as a way to deal with conflict or depression. Have an argument? Eat so you feel better. And in some families, almost every meal is a "fix your own" affair. Too many meals are grabbed on the run and in front of the TV. I'm sharing my recipe for home baked macaroni and cheese because it is a very easy way to make baked classic macaroni and cheese without the hassle of making a white sauce. Warning: this is a "little of this/little of that" recipe that I've attempted to write down. I learned it from my sister-in-law, but each of our dishes turns out delightfully different so that we each favor the others!
Home Baked Macaroni and Cheese Without the Hassle Cook desired amount of elbow macaroni according to package directions (in salted water). I use about 2/3 of a 16-ounce box of macaroni to feed my family of 5. When cooked, put one layer of the macaroni in a 2-quart greased baking dish; dot with small bits of margarine or butter (about 5 dots of ? teaspoon sized margarine); sprinkle lightly with pepper; sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon of flour; add ? cup cubed sharp cheese. Then repeat with another layer of macaroni, margarine, pepper, flour and cheese. When done, add milk until the milk rises to about ? inch below the top of the macaroni. The dish then makes its own white sauce as it bakes. Cover and bake in 350-degree oven for about 40 minutes, then uncover and finish baking for 20 minutes without cover. (Or, to hurry up the baking, microwave the dish (covered) for 3-5 minutes until the whole mixture is very bubbly, and then baking time can be reduced to about 30 minutes, uncovering last 15 minutes.)
Enjoy this hearty comfort food! For more on comfort foods check out http://www.comfortfoodcookbooks.com/
Have you own favorite recipe or special menu for comfort food? Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 705 words; end material = 105 words
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