Saturday, October 27, 2012

Comfort Food Redux

The can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup in your pantry was nearing the use-by date, prompting you to check for a quick inventory of the "other" ingredients, a tin of white albacore tuna, and either canned or fresh mushrooms.  Of course bread.  Of course green peas.

Good to go on all counts.

Thus was today's lunch your number one comfort food.  The fact that you did not existentially require comfort food made the experience all the more meaningful.  To take comfort when you do not need it is an act of self-examination and reflection.

To  the best of memory and ability, you concocted the creamed tuna on toast the way She--Annie, your mother--made it.  Off to a shaky start in the sense that Annie always buttered the toast and you cannot recall the last time you've had butter in the vicinity.  Nevertheless. Unbuttered creamed tuna on toast induced a considerable sense of comfort.

You were chomping away with comfort until you reached the halfway point, whereupon your comfort became so comfortable you were forced to stop for a moment of reflection to see what the message or, plural, messages were.

Number one was the awareness that creamed tuna on toast still seemed a good idea.  A solid balance of elements were combining before your eyes into a meal fit to see you through some point of woe and possible sorrow, nourishing your game determination to prevail, to recover.

Number two was the message of seeing if there were any changes to the recipe.  If the "old" comfort food worked so well, mightn't a "new" version work better?

First thing to approach was to drizzle some balsamic vinegar reduction into the remaining creamed tuna.  You've come by a particularly viscid and tangy version, which imparted a light, fruity essence.  So far, so good.  The remains of a jar of roasted red pepper and caramelized onion slid into the creamed tuna base as though they'd been intended all along.

After a forkful or two, you said fuck it and added a few capers remaining in a jar tucked behind some pickled herring snacks in sour cream (which you most certainly did not introduce since it is well known that tuna and herring do not get along well).  Some tiny Greek olives you'd intended for a quick, impromptu pasta, asked to join the party.

In the space of a few moments, your meal had grown from one you quite liked to one you began to see as having spectacular potential.  Imagine, you thought, this entire concatenation spooned with generosity over a mound of broad egg noodles or a rascally corkscrew pasta.

You've come a long way from the more or less stove top version of your favorite comfort food to the state of it being a production.  The needs for comfort have matured in direct proportion with your culinary tastes, prompting message number three:  When your universe has gone to hell in a shopping cart, the shopping cart should be from Whole Foods or Gelson's, or Trader Joe's.  Comfort food should bring to tummy and mind the immediate sense that you are an adult, seeking nourishment to cope with adult issues.  As if to reinforce this received wisdom, you, long a fan of caramelized onions on such varied dishes as hamburgers, quiches, omelets, and souffles, have only in recent months learned how to bring an onion to that delicious state.  This ability plus a more or less stable reflection of the contents of your refrigerator to reflect your growth beyond Annie's Creamed Tuna on Toast does not guarantee smooth sailing over the seas of woe and travail, but it does speak volumes to your ability to get a culinary handle on it.

There is no escaping the need for comfort food nor indeed the events that will come along to trigger it, but you must not let that information stop you from being prepared.  Each time you go to the market, you must look beyond the ordinary, what both Annies in your life referred to as staples.  Another way to look at it:  cornstarch is only as important as the sauce it thickens.

You are in fact already congratulating yourself for having on what seemed a thoughtless whim, tossed in a can of Aunt Penny's hollandaise sauce into the shopping cart.  Come to think of it, that can sits next to Amore brand anchovy paste, and perhaps--this is only a supposition--that triangular-shaped tin of liver pate was meant to go next to the tinned Vienna sausages, which you'd bought in case Sally needed some comfort food in the future.

You two are no longer going to be content to hunker down against undifferentiated disaster; you're both going to dine well in its face.

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