The idea of comfort food came to mind as I read through your comments about healthy eating. Comfort food is a powerful thing, isn’t it? With one taste or even just an aroma wafting through the air, it can simultaneously send you happily back to a wonderful memory and cause you to miss it desperately. I’d love to know what food takes you home, and I asked three friends to begin the conversation. Tell me: What’s the one dish that makes you homesick and feel completely content, all in one bite?
Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle et Vanille:
I grew up in the Spanish Basque Country where the rolling hills of the Western Pyrenees Mountains hit the Atlantic. My grandparents on my father’s side were farmers and my maternal grandparents ran a pastry shop – a pastry shop that defines my upbringing and that shaped who I am and what I cook today.
Memories of my family and how I grew up are very tied to the changing seasons and I could not pick a favorite recipe without taking the time of year into account. Apples in the fall, hearty lentil stew in winter, peas in the spring, and refreshing salads in the summer. As spring approaches, I thought of the recipes that make me long for my family back in the Basque Country and that I continue to cook for my young family now miles and miles away.
I remember my grandfather’s garden and the baby carrots that he pulled out of the cold soil for us to taste. I remember them crunchy, sweet, and with a slight pepperiness that ended up in a simple carrot soup similar to this carrot and apple soup I make today.
For dessert, there was always arroz con leche (rice pudding). Cinnamon and vanilla-scented milk and rice that simmered on the stove for over an hour. Those are the smells of my childhood.
Jane Flanagan of Ill Seen, Ill Said and Coterie:
The one dish that makes me simultaneously feel homesick and completely at home is a simple meal of soft-boiled duck eggs, Irish soda bread and greens. This is one of those perfect breakfast-for-dinner meals and also the meal Mum would make us when we were under-the-weather as children. At home, the duck eggs would come from a Co. Wicklow farm. Many housewives sell their eggs straight from the farmhouse and we’d often drive those winding roads, eyes peeled for signs on driveways.
Here in Toronto, I buy duck eggs from a Mennonite farmer at my local farmers’ market. They’re larger and much more flavourful than regular chicken eggs and such a beautiful shade of blue. Irish soda bread recipes have been handed down mother to child in our family for a long time and naturally I follow that Flanagan family recipe. It’s a secret I won’t share, but this Avoca recipe is very, very close. I love baking it and feeling connected with my family and homeland.
Karey Mackin of Mackin Ink:
I live in a constant state of homesick. Our little family has moved so much, and I feel like I’ve many third-world tastes and not-so-local dishes on my list of foods that will comfort even when I’m feeling all kinds of uncomfortable.
I grew up in a home with a mom who hated to cook. There were seven of us, though, and she couldn’t find a way out of it! It still makes me smile at how frustrated she’d be in her curlers and half of a cute outfit and traces of quickly applied shadows and blush, warming up a turkey loaf and unwrapping a Pepperidge Farms cake and mashing a million potatoes. It was an annoyance. I could see that she felt a little lost, too, much more comfortable in the stacks of the library or in the backyard inspecting my Daddy Long Legs hospital after usually-accidental amputations, or on a long bike ride over country gravel roads where I complained the entire way. She kept Juicy Fruit gum in the junk drawer and Twinkies in the freezer and was a sucker for a hot fudge sundae.
But now there are five of us, and she grills salmon and spinach and makes the perfect oatmeal and allows herself only a little sugar now and then, although she is still a sucker for a hot fudge sundae. No one ever asks her what ingredients she’s used; it’s all right there. And it’s this pure and simple love-on-a-plate that my girlies three crave when they’re feeling homesick, and exactly what they need to fill them up with home again. Me, too. No matter where we’re calling home.
It’s funny. I’m the same kind of mother in the kitchen – lost and more than a little annoyed – but hopefully half as good as she was and is the rest of the time. If you look in my freezer, hidden under the spinach and salmon filets, you’ll find one box of Twinkies. And I will always be a sucker for her.
Thank you, ladies. You’ve made me hungry – for good ingredients and home, wherever that may be! Your turn, Friends. Will you tell me the one dish that makes you homesick and feel completely content, all in one bite? I can’t wait to hear your memories; my stomach’s already grumbling!
The first three photos were taken by Aran, the fourth by Jane, and the final image was supplied by Karey via Justaholic.