Last weekend I baked bread, which is not something I do very often. Hors d’oeuvres, soups, meats and of course dessert make much more frequent appearances on my cooking schedule. But something about baking bread hit just the right note for me. It has been a lot of out lately, and spending the afternoon in seemed very appealing. Maybe it was knowing that I would have to dig in and really use the heels of my hands to knead the dough, or maybe it was the line in the recipe that directed me to give the dough a couple of good whacks with the rolling pin. Both good for working out some of life’s stresses, and all part of the alchemy of comfort food.
Some of the joy of this bread is that it’s made from a recipe straightforwardly titled, “Mom’s White Bread.” This is the bread of my later childhood, when my mom did most of the baking of the bread we ate. It’s funny because my childhood and the one experienced by my older sisters seem to have been marked by different phases of domesticity for our mother; they got the seamstress and I got the bread baker. Picture this: In college when others were getting care packages of cookies I was getting care packages of bread. I must be harkening back to comfort food that is parent-related, in fact, because the day before I made pancakes, straight from the Biquick box, of course. This was the specialty of the house whenever my dad was making breakfast. No Mickey Mouse ears or other funny shapes, just darn tasty pancakes.
Comfort food is any of this, all of this. The very act of making it reminds you of good times. The second you taste it you’re hit with memories. The process fills a need (which in my case last weekend was whacking at something with intention). And sometimes it’s comfort food because it’s reliable; you know it’s going to taste good.
The bread I made took forever to rise as much as it did, and consequently it’s a petite loaf and a little more dense than it should be. But it was a beautiful golden brown, made my place smell like Macrina Bakery first thing in the morning and tasted none too shabby to boot.
Often it’s the act of someone preparing something for us that makes for the comfort in comfort food, but when that’s not an option -- when Mom isn’t knocking on my door with a pan of orange rolls fresh from the oven -- I go straight to the old standbys. For me, sometimes it’s food I make: vegetable barley soup, peanut butter pie, Japanese curry. And sometimes it must be acquired elsewhere: sushi from Musashi’s, pork vermicelli noodle bowl from Green Leaf, lamb burger from Matt’s in the Market. Bring on the new, interesting and inventive food most of the time, but there will always be a place for comfort food for me, sustenance of another kind.