Why comfort food comforts

9 mins read

Hi. It’s me. I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while. Nothing really terrible happened. At first, I couldn’t figure out exactly what I wanted to say and then life took over and I couldn’t find the time and space to write. 

To recap the months since I last contributed, I worked too much, swam almost as much as I wanted and grew a fine garden. The latter required many hours in the kitchen processing the harvest so we could enjoy beans, tomatoes, kale, carrots, etc. through the winter. There were also garden gifts shared by friends; more beans (because I can never put-up enough green beans), pears, apples, cherries, corn, cabbage, etc. I went into such a canning & preserving frenzy this year that I both used EVERY SINGLE JAR in my possession and filled every cabinet and storage spot in the house. Ryan finally resorted to putting up shelves in our cellar to consolidate everything into one spot. What prompted his initiative? When I asked him to look under the bed for a jar of salsa :-)

Last month when I settled on an idea and set aside the time to write, pandemic life intervened and instead of writing about and documenting the holiday gifts we gave from our garden and kitchen (fruit vinegars, pickles, preserves and jams), I was focused on surviving a quarantine, keeping up with the mountain of laundry and sanitizing. Always sanitizing. 

And this is where my lifetime of kitchen training kicks in. I may not be able to find a COVID rapid test anywhere in Franklin County or expedite anyone’s recovery, but I can make sure your basic needs are met and your tummy is full. At these moments, I don’t make recipes from a cookbook or experiment with new dishes, I make food I have known forever. I cook food that I watched Momma or Granny cook time after time. Dishes I can make from muscle memory. Things like potato soup, chicken bog and manna sandwiches. 

Comfort food should not be confused with emotional eating. Comfort food is accessible, it promises solace as much as it offers fuel. It brings us together around the table, unites us and can be an expression of love. Comfort foods remind us of our social relationships and help us feel a sense of belonging especially when we are so distanced and often isolated. When we eat comfort foods, it brings back happy memories from our past. Sometimes even the smell of comfort foods can trigger these positive memories. The smell of Momma’s Kitchen Sink Soup and a pan of cornbread in the oven is home, safety and comfort to me.  Psychological research shows that smells are powerfully linked to areas in the brain that are associated with memory and emotional experiences. 

I also think these foods can offer a sense of normalcy because they are familiar and that can be needed in times of uncertainty. When we have control over the foods we are making and eating, we also have a little more control over how we feel. Our brain tells us that when we eat that familiar food, things can’t be so bad and times will get better.


Potato Soup

8 slices bacon (or 3 tablespoons unsalted butter if you don’t do bacon)

1 bunch scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced separately

1 small onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 pounds potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I leave the skins on, but peel if you prefer) 

⅓  cup all-purpose flour

2 cups milk

½  cup half and half

2 cups chicken stock

Kosher salt to taste

½ teaspoon black pepper

⅛ teaspoon cayenne

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon dried thyme

¾  cup sour cream, plus more for serving

¾  cup freshly grated cheddar, plus more for serving

  1. There is a regular way to make this soup and a quicker way. The quicker route has you microwaving the whole potatoes while you prep everything else to shorten the cooking time. 
  2. The regular way is to fry up the bacon until crisp & set it aside, saute the onion, garlic and white part of the scallions in the rendered grease until softened and then add in the flour. Cook 1-2 minutes and then transfer to the crockpot. 
  3. Next, add the milk, stock, seasonings and potatoes to the crockpot and cook on low until the potatoes are tender (5-6 hours). 
  4. I use the potato masher to break up some of the potatoes, add the sour cream, crumbled bacon, remaining scallions and cheddar cheese.  
  5. Adjust the seasoning to your taste and serve with extra sour cream (or plain greek yogurt) and shredded cheese.


Chicken Bog 

(It is called Chicken “bog” because the chicken gets bogged down in the rice.)

4 cups shredded boneless, skinless rotisserie chicken (about 1 rotisserie chicken)

4 cups chicken stock (I make mine by boiling the carcass and bits from the rotisserie chicken)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 chopped onion 

3 chopped carrots

3 stalks chopped celery

4 cloves chopped garlic

2 cups uncooked long-grain white rice

1 cup frozen peas 

½ lbs kielbasa or other smoked sausage, sliced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¾ teaspoon black pepper

  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high. Add onion, carrots, celery and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Add rice, salt, and pepper, and cook until fragrant and rice begins to toast, about 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until rice is just cooked through, about 18 minutes. Uncover and stir in chicken, peas and sausage. Cook until chicken is heated through, about 5 minutes.



Manna Sandwiches

(It is a hot, sloppy hoagie stuffed with seasoned ground beef, melted cheese, and a creamy sauce that originates in Southeast Georgia). 

½ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup French dressing

2 tablespoons ketchup

2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard (preferably Gulden’s)

2 tablespoons sugar

1 sweet onion, diced 

¼ cup soy sauce

¼ cup of water 

1 tablespoons dried parsley

1 ½ teaspoons dried basil

½  teaspoons garlic powder

2 ½  lb. ground beef (or turkey or chicken)

12 slices Swiss cheese

6 6-inch hoagie rolls

  1. Combine the first 5 ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, cook ground beef until no longer pink. Drain fat. Add diced onion, ¼ cup of water and soy sauce. Add herbs and garlic powder and cook for 5 minutes, or until liquid is mostly reduced, about 10 minutes. Drain off fat.
  3. Split the rolls. Spread them with sauce, and put cheese on top. Place them under the broiler until the cheese melts, 1-2 minutes. Heap ground beef on each sandwich and serve with a dill pickle spear and a side of coleslaw.
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