Friday, March 3, 2017
Making granola and other Comfort Foods
Seasonal foods are great. They are perfect luxury goods without being actually luxurious. Come on! The pumpkin spice granola I made last night will remind me tomorrow morning of Thanksgiving. I'll sprinkle it on my oatmeal, and as I'm chewing on a pumpkin seed I'll wonder if there's any dark meat left (there is no more turkey anywhere in my house). I'll contemplate cranberry sauce. though I'm pretty sure I can't find cranberries in the supermarkets anywhere by the end of February. Everyone KNOWS that the cranberry fairy starts hibernating after January 3rd.
Granola is my memories of summers' past food. I don't care that the pumpkin granola recipe isn't my great-aunt Nita's Granola recipe, which she was sure she had whenever we came to visit her up in the middle of nowhere, Vermont. It tasted of cold mornings warmed up by berry picking afternoons, It tasted of fresh corn, and swatting mosquitoes that came from everywhere while looking out at the flowers in the front yard. It smelled of fresh air that couldn't have come down from the mountains, because I think Nita lived in the mountains themselves. It tasted of goodness, of simplicity like the people who had once built the Community House had wanted.
The Community House was a simple white building down the road that looked like it might have been a Shaker Meeting House. It had walls. It had benches. It had nothing else.
The granola I make now isn't even the right recipe. I have Nita's recipe; it's in the Moosewood Cookbook, thank you very much, and I should make it, but I think it will taste different in my city apartment than it did in Nita's country house. And since I can never get back to Nita's house (she died in the late 90s), I don't really want to alter my memories of Vermont Granola. A granola that tastes simply of the ingredients needed and love.
Vermont Granola tastes of the promises of youth. Nita used different raisins or something. We often visited her at the end of August, just when the freedom of somewhere was getting a little wearing. But the sparse nature of her house, added to the need to be aware of everything I could taste. There were simple pleasures at Nita's house, I just had to stop whining about having to put a heating pad at the foot of your bed before I went to sleep.
But I have pumpkin granola now. Made it last night from a recipe I found in November and had made once earlier. Foods should be about more than just how we nourish our physical bodies; Food should be how we our selves, our mind.
Do you want something that you don't really have to chew right now? Do you have the chest bug that is making the rounds, and is the mucous setting up house in your lungs? Then I have your recipe! Cook up a third of a cup of brown rice with about three quarters a cup of chicken stock. You want more liquid than truly necessary because you want to be able to slurp it down when you've finished eating the rice. You want to something easy to digest because your body really isn't up to doing much more than moaning and coughing. And the chicken broth will help with that chest congestion.
The fact is, the rice cooked in chicken broth is my perfect comfort food because my mother told me to make it for myself when I had the flu as a grown up. I felt achy and slept more than people normally do, and I thought that I should eat something, but I couldn't really figure out what.
"Do you have chicken broth in the house?" My mother asked.
"No, I don't think so." I said, wondering what she was going on about.
"Go get some. The supermarket should just have chicken broth. Buy it with some rice and cook it with the stock instead of water. It'll make you feel better."
I may have muttered something about not wanting to go outside, but I didn't really have any other option. My parents lived 40 minutes away, and this is what I got for insisting I wanted to move out and live on my own. What does independence get you? It gets you the privilege of having to go out and buy your own goddamned chicken soup when your sick, that's what.
But she was right. The fact is, the only thing you have to worry about when you're making chicken broth with rice (or Chicken Soup with Rice if Maurice Sendak needs a prop right now) is not falling asleep before the broth all gets soaked up by the rice. It's HOT, it's got PROTEIN, it's bland, but it's got just enough salt in it to replace whatever your body is losing by sweating out a fever. It's GOOD stuff.
And thus that is my comfort food for when I'm sick.
Comfort foods are sort of a luxury good, too. Many people eat solely to keep from dying. Anyone who has the time to think about what they're eating and why they want that particular food is extremely fortunate. Perhaps that's the best comfort of all, knowing how lucky some of us are.