Comfort Food

That smell that puts you in your grandmother’s kitchen. That meal that evokes the snug security of childhood dinners around the family table.

Or the food your departed stay-at-home Dad made for you.

Mike packed Angelic Daughter’s turkey or peanut butter and jelly sandwich lunches. He’d usually include chips and maybe a banana.

He always had food ready before he left to pick Angelic Daughter up from school. She could count on coming home to a big plate of spaghetti with homemade red sauce and turkey meatballs. Or tuna patties with Kraft macaroni and cheese on the side. There was “pepper spaghetti,” (angel hair pasta mixed with a little olive oil, salt, black pepper, and seasoned bread crumbs). There was shrimp spaghetti, with chopped shrimp sauteed with olive oil, shallots, red pepper, and basil, then mixed with cooked broccoli and dumped into a big pot of pasta.

There was Dad’s magic chicken soup, never served without elbow macaroni for noodles. He occasionally made lasagna, and he tenderized and breaded thin pork chops and fried them in olive oil.

Mike kept bags of potato chips, and every type of chip that came in a screaming shade of orange with a name that ended in “os,” on top of the fridge. The cupboard always contained a three-row package of Oreos, several bags of Pepperidge Farm cookies (Chesapeakes and Milanos were his favorites) and a two liter bottle of coke sat on the kitchen counter.

When he didn’t feel like cooking, he’d take Angelic Daughter to pick up pizza, Chinese, or Mexican food, fried chicken, or hot dogs and shakes at one of the several local joints that specialized in those.

He resisted my pleas to cut down on the chips, cookies, shakes, and sugary soda, or to boost the fruits and vegetables. He’d get angry if I served Angelic Daughter a sandwich without a side of chips.

When Mike died, I instituted some Draconian carb reductions. No chips, no cookies, no sugary sodas, no noodles with the chicken soup, not even bread for sandwiches.

I made deals to phase out some her favorite “foods from out:” fried chicken and Chinese only once a month, hot dogs just once or twice in the summer. But no fries and no sugary desserts.

That was a mistake. The restricted foods took on a magical character. She craves them as reminders of her Dad, as if eating them, and having them around, somehow keeps him around.

Seeing her miss him so, marking the calendar for the second Wednesday when I’ll make “pepper,” and putting stickers or happy faces on any day that she could arguably define as a special occasion, softened my resolve. So I’ll make the noodles for the soup once a month. I’ll let her have the baguette that comes with the lunch from out.

Part of me thinks life’s too short to deprive her of comfort foods, while the other part worries that I’m not doing enough to encourage healthy eating, or discourage obsessions with foods she associates with her Dad. She uses the phrases “healthy choices” or “healthy food” with a sigh and a downward inflection in her tone that sounds like she thinks healthy eating is a form of punishment.

But she willingly chooses between green beans or asparagus. And sweets are still only for special occasions. I hope moderation is taking hold in the complex neural network of her mind. She’s forgoing the fries when she has lunch out with her companion, choosing soup and salad as often as she chooses sandwiches, and eating apples instead of chips for snacks. Hope for her future.

Mike will be gone seven years on August 24. Not a day goes by when Angelic Daughter doesn’t say she misses him, and repeat what I’ve told her, that he can’t come back, but his love is always with us. I’ve explained we’re going to miss him every day for the rest of our lives. I say it’s OK to feel sad, but not OK to get stuck on feeling sad. Dad wouldn’t want that.

But I know he would want me to buy her a bag of Oreos and some chips. I do that once a year, when we go for a summer picnic at his grave. I don’t think Angelic Daughter finds it comforting anymore. I don’t. It just emphasizes Mike’s absence. One day, we’ll “picnic” without the food, and try to find comfort in the breeze, or the presence of a now too rare Monarch butterfly.

Trying to figure out a way to balance comfort and health on the two-legged stool of our lives, I remain,

Your conflicted, indecisive, heartbroken when Angelic Daughter cries or wakes up frightened in the night, and admittedly sometimes reaching for my own kind of liquid comfort,


4 thoughts on “Comfort Food

  1. I loved the phrase “the two-legged stool of our lives.” Finding balance in all things I find is is a lifelong endeavor for me.


  2. I’m sure you had other intentions, but your article made me hungry, and I’m scheduled for my semi-annual fasting-blood-work in the morning. So, it’s too late to do anything about it now. Just know that I’m blaming you in advance for any weight I gain tomorrow. (But I’m sure that the shrimp and pasta will make it all worth it. 😉


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