Sunday, November 25, 2007

Comfort Foods

(Note: another piece in my ongoing exploration of food as metaphor for life.)

There's something so comforting about certain foods. You know what they offer and they don't talk back to you. They're comforting in their kind of simplistic elegance. They reach us and feed us from the inside out.

A hot baked potato, or crusty bread slathered with butter for instance, with a sprinkling of good Celtic Sea Salt, ("goodie salt," as my daughter calls it), or a roasted Sunday chicken. It's so simple, yet so fulfilling when done right. It lends a kind of nourishment we long for at the soul level where everything is good and right and just.

Where some foods are fickle, requiring constant fussing and coaxing and maintenance, comfort foods are tolerant and forgiving, reliable as your ratty old pair of slippers tossed halfway under the bed. Left on the stove abandoned, they continue to gather flavor in their ever-inviting way, like a pot of simmering marina or a vat of chicken noodle soup.

Foods that go well together such as tomato and basil, balsamic and arugula, peanut butter and jelly, or lime and tequila, are like best friends, lovers even in their rightness, their togetherness. You can try mixing it up, do your best creative voodoo, a do-si-do shuffle out of shear boredom alone, but when you return them together, you are reminded of just how well they fit in that effortless way, the way you hope to one day fit with your own mate.

Some foods such as pasta take on an "I'll get along with anybody" approach, while others such as turkey and stuffing, apple pie and vanilla ice cream, are classic relationships we rely on time after time. Either way, I find solace and comfort in the predictability of certain foods and what they can offer…a deep connection to somewhere safe, somewhere nurturing, somewhere loved.

I took some green apples, turning and fingering them in my hands, considering their fate….big fat chunks, dotted with raisins, encased in the duality of an upstairs-downstairs house of pie dough. It would have been a classic, a nod to earlier, simpler times: thick, doughy, drippy pie, overstuffed and homey, (well, not my home but somebody's home nonetheless), and entirely comforting. Nothing wrong with that.

Yet today I wanted a special kind of comfort. I wanted to go farther.

My leanings went French, refined, a spiral of beauty, the apples lovingly roasted in cinnamon-sugar until caramelized in their own juices, then hand-mashed and slid onto the toasty golden deck of a buttery pâte sablé tart dough...

...then adorned only with more of itself: paper-thin petals of apple, a perfect spiral, drizzled in melted butter and dusted with a light snowfall of sugar crystals.

Baked off to define her edges, there she was in all her green apple glory. Tart yet sweet, simple yet sublime, open to the heavens yet pulling you into the pure heart of her: the apple elevated to art. True to, yet transcendent of, her original nature.

There is something quite fragile yet sublime about the immediacy of the consumption of food. It's a transient, disposable art form, easily dismissed as irrelevant and unimportant, perfunctory in fulfilling its task to placate hunger, or worse, something to be deliberately ignored or denied as we strive for an impossibly thin silhouette.

"Feed me," we ask, "I am hungry, I am longing, I am sad, I need connection, I need validation, I need nourishment," we plead. And lovingly (or not so lovingly) food obliges us.

Picked at the height of ripeness, cooked to reveal its greatness, served at the peak of readiness, all the while aware of the constant pull of imminent decline on the other side if ignored too long, great--even good--food strives to live up to and meet these in-the-moment demands. Sometimes it does. Other times it fails miserably. And taste can be tricky and subjective.

Yet we as a people consume unaware. Like some jilting lothario we move on to the next conquest. Unconscious of the very nature of the ingredients or the involvement of the chef-creator or the unspoken dance between inspiration and creation or even the limitations of materials to work with, we are unaware of the potential alchemy either towards death or rebirth available to us in every mouthful.

As we enter the holiday season, a time of many shared meals, feasts, and celebrations, I say send a hearty "thank you" to your plate, fully en-"joy" it (ie. infuse it with the energy of joy and deep gratitude) before you delve into it. Revel in the life it is offering you, a gift borne of inherent sacrifice.

Eat well, give thanks, and enjoy the bounty.
 May you be nourished as well as comforted.

Bon Appétit!


riversgrace said...

I would bless my food if it looked anything like that! You are SO on to something great. Keep going. It's beautiful - the creation, the writing, the spirit in all of it.


Carrie Wilson Link said...

Watch out - you're making me re-think my entire approach to eating/cooking/dining/sharing/celebrating. You're quite convincing!