Saturday, April 28, 2007

Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples...The Song of Solomon 2:5

The effect could come from a sudden receipt of devastating news or as an end game to a longer, more foreseeable train of events. The need may be simple in nature or as sophisticated and complex as the inside of a dog's ear. There is no telling when the need for it will come upon you.

I refer, of course, to comfort food, the nourishment and sustenance we crave when all hell appears to descend onto the landing site of our shoulders.

Comfort food--the thing mother made when things went aft aglay and left us nought but grief and pain for promised joy. The cookies and milk grandma (paternal) offered when Reality chose an agenda that was too painful to contemplate, the Jell-o grandma (maternal) provided when disappointment scrolled across the horizon like an electronic news sign. These are the things we turn to when nothing else seems to help.

Comfort food is the polar opposite of Not-That-Again food, things like the Kraft Dinner some client of your father, who was then into selling health and accident insurance, gave your father one terrible week during the Great Depression in lieu of his weekly premium payment. 

 To this day, the thought of Kraft Dinner macaroni is enough to boggle the mind and bowel. The same client, desperate to keep his policy from lapsing, also came up with a case of dented cans of Campbell's Cream of Asparagus soup, and for the longest time, your mother enhanced her sauces with this unworldly concoction, severely damaging your respect for anything green.

To show your budding populism and a willingness to forgive, the real comfort food for you had as its base Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup.  When mixed with a can of green peas, another can of mushroom stems and pieces, then a large tin of Chicken of the Sea flaked albacore tune, the entire concoction slathered over two pieces of toasted Wonder bread became your comfort food par excellence. 

 Creamed tuna on toast lifted your spirits, raised your sense that the world was not the scary place you might have suspected. Creamed tuna on toast, made to those exacting stanrards, was your Prozac, your transportation to a shift in mood. Once your father suggested the addition of a splash or two of Worcester Sauce, but that spoiled the chemistry. Your sister, who seemed to favor ketchup on everything, tried to induce you to consider this bit of creativity, but you knew perfection when you saw it; you held the line.

Over the years, your sister came at you with a large Kaiser roll, sliced horizontally, each half given a slab of cheddar cheese and a slice of tomato before being put under the broiler for exactly ten minutes. This, too, became comfort food. So did Camp Fire marshmallows, impailed on a wire coat hanger, then extended gingerly over the flame from the gas oven.

No matter how filled you were from more conventional fare, these comfort foods always worked, always made you feel a thumping, vibrant optimism, the sense that the world would soon improve and whisk you along with it.

For a time you flirted with Jello-into which were floated cross-sections of banana. Your mother's from-scratch chocolate pudding and the lesser but effective Jello butterscotch pudding. There was also a time when your mother's banana cake with chocolate icing was on the A-list, followed by her lemon pudding and whipped cream cake. Good as these were as individual efforts, they were merely the tail of a passing comet.

The true comfort food was and is creamed tuna on toast.

You have had some occasion in recent years to revisit this dish, to see if it worked, the last time shortly after you were diagnosed as having an aggressive tumor of IIIa rating on your bladder and the possibility that cells from that tumor could be abroad in your circulatory system. It took some doing, securing the two pieces of white bread, a concept and construct long since alien to you. 

After some fancy talking, you were able to secure the bread from the Xanadu Bakery, directly across the mall aisle from the supermarket where you bought the tinned tuna, the stems and pieces of mushroom, and the Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup. Bad enough the white bread, no way in the now cancerous world were you going to buy a can of green peas. A bag of frozen Bird's Eye, left to defrost, and no one would be the wiser.

Spooning the mixture onto the toast, I recalled another ingredient from my original comfort food days--coarse ground pepper.


The mere thought of comfort food is comforting. It worked then and it works now, creamed tuna on toast for all time to come. It needs no further explanation, no defense, no religion to support it. Creamed tuna on toast evolved from the primordial ooze as Darwinian in its purpose as a comfort food can be.

Eat up. Help is on the way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My mother would make this dish when it seemed that it was all she could find in the cupboards. Spread across a cold piece of toast and half melted butter, mmm brings back memories. She would usually make it after a long day at work, it was a quick and easy.