[At home, Sebastopol, July 2009.]
I was up at my parents’ house this weekend — my house, really, though I don’t live there anymore — and got to thinking about the idea of comfort: what it means, what it is, how we find it. I think I started thinking about this during dinner Saturday night because my mom made what I consider to be a classic comfort meal: mashed potatoes, little green beans cooked crisp in olive oil and salt, portabello mushrooms sauteed soft and pliable (the vegetarian version, perhaps, of steak). Mostly it was the mashed potatoes that did it; really, is there anything more comforting than mashed potatoes? We exclaimed over how we so rarely eat them and why not? Life is too short not to indulge in these little decadent bits every so often.
I do love mashed potatoes, you know. If it’s been a long day — and if the fog has settled in very determinedly — I’ll come and home wanting not much else than to make a fluffy pot of spuds. I’ll turn on the classical or classic rock station, depending on my mood, then peel, slice, and cook red and/or new potatoes until soft, drain them, and lace them liberally with butter (hey! This is supposed to be comfort food, after all!) and milk (lighter version involves olive oil and soy milk and yes, it does actually taste pretty darn good). I salt them well and eat them either with a chickpea-spinach stirfry or a slab of tofu and some sort of vegetable. But what I’m really after is those melting, salty, wholly satisfying potatoes.
Comfort comes in all forms — it can come with the ease of talking to an old, beloved friend unexpectedly, and though you haven’t spoke in ages it’s like no time has passed. It can come in one of your best girlfriend’s mac-and-cheese or the lasagna with which she sends you home after a dinner party. It can come in the swipe of a sweet black lab’s tongue or the knowledge that your best friend will always answer the phone when you call (and if he’s sleeping, his wife will pick up instead and that’s its own lovely pleasure). It can be the spaghetti you cook in lots of good, Clover butter from the county in which you grew up, sprinkled liberally with pepper and a bit more salt and as much parmesan as you can stand; healthful it’s not, but it doesn’t matter because it tastes so darn good. It can come via cupcakes your mom bakes you (and the avocados she always has on hand when you come to visit) or the way you’ll always have a gin and tonic with lemon when you visit the house in the woods, Tomales Bay shining bare and still out the tall windows, predictable and there and home.
In short, the search for comfort is one of familiarity and memory wound into a shimmering coil of favorite meals and wistful longing. Its seeking-out is something that is a constant — patient and watchful, that solid undercurrent of desire.
Tonight the fog is back and I had a long day so I made something for dinner that used to soothe my sore muscles after a long run four years ago when I was training for the Marine Corps Marathon: a portabello mushroom salad, piled high with all sorts of vegetables and avocado, and a baked potato. For a chilly Monday in San Francisco — along with a beer — it was just the thing. I was indeed comforted a bit, and felt better able to face the week ahead. I pulled on my wool socks, happily thought about my nightly cup of tea, and tucked in.
[Saturday night dinner, July 2009.]
So along those lines, a few things that regularly bring me comfort (a.k.a. things I like a lot):
– A Friday night with no plans when I can meander home after work, maybe with a stop at the library to stock up on new reads and old favorites. Or if I’m feeling particularly flush, maybe I’ll get Out the Door vegetarian spring rolls and a grapefruit soda to take home and savor with a movie on netflix.
– Friday nights in general when I know I can sleep in until at least the very decadent hour of 9 a.m. the next morning when I’ll then wake to stretch luxuriously and just lie in bed for a few minutes anticipating my first cup of coffee and the farmers’ market visit.