Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Comfort Foods, Comfort Reading

Although there are many foods you turn to for the added bite of emotional encouragement they may provide--corn bread comes to mind as does chili, the fried egg sandwich, cold spaghetti eaten from the fridge, and that great ethnic dish from your father's side of the family, egg noodles with diced cabbage sauteed in butter--there is one comfort food that towers over the other contenders:  creamed tuna on toast.  In its ideal iteration, it is a chemistry of Campbell's cream of mushroom soup, a small can of Brandywine sliced mushrooms, a can of Chicken of the Sea tuna, and a can of petit pois peas, served over two toasted slices of, ugh, Wonder bread or, better still, the tangy rye bread available from the closest delicatessen.

As your sensitivities and awareness grew over the years and you did not have your mother to prepare such a dish, you experimented variously with the sauce, even dallying as far away from cream of mushroom soup to Hollandaise made from scratch, fresh mushrooms, either fresh or frozen peas, and tuna of Japanese origin.  At the very least, the bread would be sour dough, perhaps even a ficelle split lengthwise.  No question that the taste and nutrients were vastly improved, but the old comfort, the pre-puberty comfort, was off on vacation.

It came to you in later years that the dish was born in the Great Depression, its purpose to fill you, supply you with protein, and accomplish its goals with a minimum of expense in similar measure with Kraft Dinner, an ungodly mixture of macaroni and cheese, the mention of, to this day, causes within your lower regions a stir of protest.

At one point, long after you had moved out of the parental lodging and, indeed, out of Los Angeles, you habitually stopped for a visit after class.  On one such visit, you were offered your choice of delectable entrees for a late supper and when you chose creamed tuna on toast, your mother said, almost reproachfully, "I don't know why anyone would eat that."  It was then that you realized how it had been a product designed to render you safe and secure and so, no wonder it has become the quintessential comfort food.

There is comfort reading as well, to the point where you have at least three of them downloaded on iPod and on your new Droid phone.  You guessed it, Life on the Mississippi, Roughing It, and Huckleberry Finn.  They also nourish you in times of woe or weal.

In recent years, you have added Louise Erdrich, based entirely on Love Medicine, then ratified over the years by a dizzying display, most recently The Plague of Doves, but by no means to forget The Painted Drum.  And now you have cause to add yet another, whose work seems to you to combine both the food and the reading.  This is, of course, Jim Harrison, whose most recent, The Farmer's Daughter, has sent you over the top.  In the past, you have essayed some of Harrison's food suggestions, starting with the one you thought to be the most difficult of all to accommodate, the Spam and onion sandwich.  Although a bit salty to your taste, the first bite produced an awareness that there was a chemistry at work here, one that could ease considerably any thoughts of vulnerability you might have for yourself and the orb on which you live.

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