When I started writing this online journal, I didn’t think of it as a food blog.
As it turns out, it’s sort of a food blog. More accurately, it’s a personal blog about happiness and gratitude and family and friends–which, in my mind, often brings us to food. What makes you happy and grateful? What do you do to share happiness and gratitude with your family and friends? My answer to that question: I cook.
For the past few days, we happily and gratefully celebrated the long holiday weekend by borrowing the retreat haven of some of our best friends. We know the place by heart; we’ve been fortunate to be invited there numerous times since they bought it. Familiarity is certainly one of the requirements of a comfort, don’t you think?
We were in the Hudson River Valley–possibly one of the most humbly beautiful parts of our country. There are rolling hills, cows grazing everywhere you look, small villages that were established in the 1600s by hard-working Dutch folks, beautiful views of the river, the cornfields, and the sharpest blue skies to be seen anywhere. The Husband, The Boy, and I arrived on Friday after a long but exciting week for the grownups in the family. One decision I made early in the week was that we would “pack in” everything we needed for our 3+ days of R and R. That plan made it possible for us to rustle up a quick and delicious meal of homemade whole wheat pizzas within an hour of unlocking the door. It also meant that we never needed to leave the premises all day on Saturday. The Husband and I went out for an exhilarating 3-mile walk on the country roads, we relaxed, enjoyed a bottle of wine, and watched old movies. I made shrimp tikka masala for dinner, with jasmine rice and naan bread. Indian isn’t our culture, but the meal incorporated many of the elements that I think are essential for edible comfort: rich sauce, simmered protein, and a starchy base to absorb all the flavors.
Sunday, we went to the Rhinebeck Farmers Market, which is open indoors on alternate Sundays in the winter. What a bonus for us that we lucked into a market day! We bought maple syrup (the sap is running early this year due to the season’s mild weather), fresh spinach, yarn (which I did not cook, but which will make a gorgeous scarf), sausage, bread, pastries, and a perfect red onion. I took lots of pictures of the wonderful array of products and produce.
That evening, I made another comfort meal. And again, although Italian isn’t our culture either, how can you go wrong with this menu, and the delicious aromas that emerged from cooking that onion into a sweetened, delectable bread topping? Or the earthy, herb-infused scent of a spicy sausage ragu, simmering in the background? I served the bread and pasta with that beautiful fresh spinach, and spread the caramelized onion and some fruity rosemary onto fresh bread dough to make a yummy focaccia. . The perfect meal on a winter night. And again, a lot of the same features as the previous night’s meal.
So–what are the necessary elements to a “comfort meal?” Sunday featured pasta and bread (hearty starch), meaty sauce (slow-cooked protein), and a flavorful vegetable. That combination can be re-defined and adapted in countless ways. Macaroni and cheese doesn’t need a protein (unless you’re counting the cheese). Braised short ribs seems to fit the bill in every way. Black beans and rice is an inexpensive and versatile vegetarian option, as are lentils and barley, or polenta with an earthy mushroom sauce. Turkey stew is certainly a comfort meal. These are winter foods, rich with herbs and spices, warm and dense, familiar and filling. Wrap yourselves up, friends. Build a fire, open a bottle of dark red wine, and snuggle with someone you love. It’s all good.