I normally don’t read O Magazine, but a friend who knows my passion for food just forwarded me an essay entitled “Love, Loss and What I Ate“, the title obviously cribbed from Ilene Beckerman’s wonderful book Love, Loss and What I Wore (which was recently adapted into a play by Delia and Nora Ephron).
In the essay, author Lisa Kogen reminisces about the foods of her life and the emotions they trigger, like hope (pizza from Buddy’s in Detroit) and familial love (beef soup, the veggies hand-chopped). Books by women, from Kate Jacobs’s Comfort Food to Erica Bauermeister’s The School of Essential Ingredients to Laura Esquivel’s Like Water For Chocolate have always played on the intimate connection between food and emotion. In Kogen’s essay, the kicker is her description of her go-to food in times of tragedy, the “dessert potato.”
Upon breaking up with my first true love, a delightful young gentleman whom I still affectionately refer to as “evil incarnate,” I invented the ultimate my-boyfriend-has-just-dumped-me food…Steve Jobs created the iPod, but let the record show that it was I who brought the world the dessert potato.
Yes, the dessert potato, because nothing says “I’m hurting” quite like a woman who hasn’t showered in nine days chowing down on a Yukon Gold that’s been slathered in sprinkles and marshmallow fluff while the greatest hits of Janis Ian play on in an endless loop of sheer misery.
Personally, I think the dessert potato sounds kind of icky. But hey, I’m not going to judge people for their comfort food–whatever works, eat it! The English make endless cups of tea in times of crisis, we Southerners have a casserole for every occasion–the active ingredient is usually at least one variety of Campbell’s condensed soup–and chicken soup “aka Jewish penicillin” will cure whatever ails you. Unfortunately, stress gives me a stomachache and kills my appetite dead, so in times of loss, I only want what I absolutely love: pudding, tortilla chips, slabs of cake. We know that eating sugar releases seretonin–the body’s natural feel-good chemical–in our brains and that people with low brain seratonin crave sugar. All those yummy sweets and starches, including the dessert potato, are cheap anti-depressants.
For me, family togetherness is my grandma’s Elston casserole, named for a long-ago Mrs. Elston who belonged to my family’s church and used to bring the casserole to church suppers. Strangely, it’s full of stuff I do not like and/or rarely eat–like ground beef, Campbell’s condensed tomato and mushroom soup and Velveeta cheese–but one bite makes me feel comfy and nostalgic and satisfied. Celebration means chocolate icebox cake, which I made for the Harpies at my birthday party this year; it’s possibly the most delicious food known to humankind. And, of course, bacon just means joy and indulgence no matter when or how it’s served.
Love, loss, a good meal…What’s your favorite comfort food? Serve it up in the comments!