At the suggestion of my friend, Joan, I have been reading a book called The Comfort Food Diaries: My Quest for the Perfect Dish to Mend a Broken Heart, written by Emily Nunn. Nunn is a freelance writer who previously worked for The New Yorker as an arts editor covering both theater and restaurants. She also spent seven years as a food and features reporter at The Chicago Tribune. The Comfort Food Diaries is a memoir that essentially starts in the middle with Emily’s time at Betty Ford (that she refers to affectionately as Camp Betty) to face her addiction to alcohol, travels back in time to her younger days in a pretty dysfunctional family in Virginia and forward again as she navigates her life post rehab.
By sharing her family’s history, she attempts to unravel for herself and the reader how she came to be in crisis and more importantly, what action she would need to take to pull herself out of it. Her strategy was to use her strength (cooking, writing) to reconnect with people from her life that made her feel like her authentic, genuine, old self. She needed to go back in order to move forward if that makes any sense? On her Comfort Food Tour as she called it, she visits college roommates, cousins, aunts and uncles who become surrogate parents and along the way uncovers a lot about herself. She also makes observations about how these various hosts provide and receive comfort themselves. Interwoven into the many chapters are recipes she has either picked up along the way or written herself based on her experiences.
A few of the lines in the book have made me think. For example she says, one person’s comfort food may be another person’s nightmare. She illustrates this by describing a visit she made to a boyfriend’s parent’s house where she was served his absolute favorite dish, a green jello salad. She further suggests that you can’t really know what another person’s comfort food is, unless you ask, or appreciate it unless you try it preferably with them.
She also references the routine of bringing casseroles to the home of someone who has experienced a loss and I will expand that to say a new baby or a new home. I sometimes struggle to figure out what to bring in these situations, largely because I want the recipient to eat and enjoy what I make and worry that I am imposing my interpretation of comfort food onto them.
And what about comfort food she asks? Do you always gravitate towards it when you are feeling blue? Or can you enjoy it on a regular Tuesday just because you love it?
Reading the book took me back to a difficult time in our lives in 2017 when we had a death in our family. We spent a lot of time away from our home, helping out and I’ll leave it at that. I remember a lot of food was brought to the house in large quantities that sometimes was difficult to manage but was always welcome. I also remember that two of our family members sat quietly at the kitchen island and ate large bowls of the most delicious looking tomato soup. I don’t know why this memory has stuck in my head but I think why it does is that it looked like it was the most soothing thing imaginable at the time.
Maybe that’s why on the first day of summer camp, lunch was always tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, a reminder of home? Or at least a reminder of a home that made that for lunch?! A comforting, homey dish.
In any case, after one of the very long days that we spent away from our home, one of my friends offered to bring us dinner at our house which was so incredibly nice of her. A few of my friends did actually and I was extremely grateful. This friend, Deedo decided to bring us a delicious homemade soup and I remember that I was so tired that the act of simply bringing a spoon to my mouth and swallowing the soup was about all the energy I wanted to expend eating.
It was revelatory. It completely made me rethink the notion of comfort food at least for me. Cutting food when you are dog tired or grieving seems almost too much to ask of someone. And so for me right now, when I look for comfort or want to give comfort my mind immediately goes to soup, often tomato as when it’s made well it is completely delicious, warms the stomach and the soul.
It was fitting that Ina’s Roasted Tomato Basil Soup was on the home page on the Food Network when I was looking for something else. The recipe appeared in her very first cookbook, The Barefoot Contessa that will always be one of my favorites. It’s the perfect time to make it with tomatoes and basil from the garden, or you can make it with the plum tomatoes called for in the recipe as I did, along with a few cherry tomatoes from our garden. The recipe also uses canned plum tomatoes, although I used canned cherry tomatoes which are a bit sweeter and because I am trying to use up what is in my pantry!
The recipe makes quite a bit of soup so you may want to cut it in half or expect to freeze half unless you are feeding a crowd. It’s a perfect weekend recipe as it takes a bit of time start to finish but I promise you’ll love the results. I have been enjoying it all week.
What about you? Do you have a comfort food? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Tomatoes getting ready for the oven. I put some extra thyme on the roasting tomatoes which wasn’t called for in the original recipe. Why not?!
Until next year…