Food is such an important part of our lives, but at times it can be easy to just think of it as fuel for our bodies and ignore all the other benefits it imparts, like amazing taste, sight, smell, and textural experiences, or emotional comfort. Whenever we are feeling sick or sad or down in any way though, we realize just how much food can affect us and just how important it is beyond simple nutrition. After all, why else would the phrase “comfort food” exist?
Last night, I stood in desperate need of comfort food. My prolonged cold had morphed into what I am pretty sure is a sinus infection, and besides all the pressure threatening to explode my face into a million, throbbing pieces, I was so congested that I couldn’t even hear very well. I was physically exhausted. In short, I felt pretty darn crappy. I really needed something warm and homey to make me feel better. My dinner of choice? Loads of orange juice, steaming chicken broth (I might just maybe have been a little dehydrated…), and piping hot banana peanut butter oatmeal. Kind of an odd mixture, I know, but I was craving each of those items so badly. The fresh-squeezed orange juice was simply amazing. The chicken broth was soothingly hot and savory. The oatmeal made me feel like I had my mom there to take care of me… there’s just something so endearingly comforting about that warm, soft cereal sliding down your throat. I had trouble tasting the peanut butter and banana because I was so congested, but just the familiar texture of the oats was enough to warm my cranky heart.
Again, the other day, all I wanted was cornbread. I craved the comfort of something hearty and warm to make the cold of winter go away for a little while. I think I was also needing the comfort of feeling like I was in a family environment – I shared a big pot of the chili and a big pan of the cornbread with roommates and friends, everyone crammed in around the extendable table in our miniscule living room. The warmth and comfort of the food went perfectly hand in hand with the cozy, amicable atmosphere.
I think a lot of times, food is comforting mostly because of the memories that go along with it. For instance, every time I have oatmeal I think of breakfast on the high stools at the raised counter back home at Mom and Dad’s house and of going oatmeal crazy with my old roommate Laura during that last year of college – we would try new flavor combinations all the time and gleefully report back to each other on our latest discoveries. Whenever I have a cup of steaming chicken broth, I think of turkey broth and egg noodles at Grandma’s after Thanksgiving, everyone sitting around the big old wooden table, and of Mom serving us Top Ramen and Saltines when we were sick, with a little piece of ice thrown in when we were little so that we didn’t burn our little mouths. And whenever I eat chili and cornbread, I think of dinners at home in Shafter and with my roommates in Davis, everyone always meticulously rationing out the delicious cornbread to make sure we all got an exactly fair share (although Dad usually seemed to end up with extra somehow…), conversation flowing freely in between blowing on spoonfuls of hot chili and big mouthfuls of cornbread drizzled with honey.
Maybe this is why I love cooking and sharing food with people so much – I love forming new food memories and contributing to those of all my friends and family… Viva la comida!