Comfort comes in different flavors. One of my neighbors was taken away by ambulance this morning. Once I knew he was stable and in good hands, I immediately thought about rounding up food for his wife. It’s not just that he’s the primary cook or that we often share recipes and dishes, but food is a basic need and I understand how overwhelming it can feel to meet that need when we’re stressed.
Our grandmothers, great aunts, mothers, and cousins understood this too. That’s why there’s a tradition of delivering food to sick friends or those who have lost someone. It’s a simple gesture that meets a need and brings great comfort. But comfort does not have to arrive wrapped in a specific flavor profile. Individual preferences for comfort food vary, but as long as you consider known allergies, intolerances, and dislikes, whatever you offer should be well-received.
Most of us have a favorite go-to. When I was young, my mother made Chicken Spaghetti for such occasions. I took a big gluten-free pot of it to the luncheon before her funeral. She probably wouldn’t have approved of me bringing a dish or the fact that the family didn’t parade into the sanctuary behind the casket. She was a stickler for the rules of tradition and convention. I sometimes find them a bit too confining. Nonetheless, I often wander back to the comforting foods I remember from family gatherings.
My grandmother served canned pears topped with a dollop of mayonnaise and grated American cheese. This was called a Pear-Cheese Salad in the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. I haven’t eaten that combination in years, but I can still taste it in my head.
When my exchange sister visited from the Netherlands a few years ago, she wanted Mom to cook Goulash because that’s the comfort food she remembered from the time she lived with my parents and sister. I’m pretty sure that recipe also came from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. It contains cubes of beef chuck roast, onion, flour, salt, paprika, tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, garlic, some kind of oil, and a spice bag filled with bay leaf, celery, parsley, and thyme.
My sister and I wildly preferred my grandmother’s beef and noodles to everything else. It was always our favorite and our most frequent request. Last year, I braised some beef and accidentally mimicked the flavor so closely I was shocked. My sister now wants this as her standing birthday meal.
Other common dishes were Green Rice, Swedish Meatballs, Poke Salat, and Hot Spots. Hot Spots go by other names. They’re crunchy crackers made using cheese, flour, crispy rice cereal, butter, salt, and red pepper flakes. My ex-husband loved my grandmother’s so much he adopted the recipe and still takes the crackers to parties as one of his signature dishes.
Your family may prefer Mac-n-Cheese, Lasagna, Clam Chowder, Crab Cakes, Buffalo Chicken Wings, Tamales, Enchiladas, Green Bean Casserole, or Sushi because comfort comes in different flavors.
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