A funny thing happened recently. The summer that just wouldn’t end was finally, almost, nearly, just about coming to an end and I was sitting inside my apartment with the air conditioner turned up high (or low…I guess). While it was 85ºF outside, it was 63ºF inside and I was happily wearing warm winter socks, jeans and cozy sweatshirt. I lit Yankee Candle Autumn Wreath candles to let the aroma of fall waft around my apartment, I drank mug after mug of hot Chrismas tea and cranked up my fall music (a long story, but think Fiona Apple, Mariah Carey, Diana Krall, Old Crow Medicine Show, Caro Emerald and classical). I was determined that after a summer where I felt rather uninspired to cook, to go into my favorite time of year with a plan.
As I rewatched the entire run of The Good Wife for the third time this year in preparation for the oncoming seventh season, I reminisced about what meals I had made over the past year (I treat the Autumnal Equinox as if it’s my New Years) and what might be good to include on the site. The list I began quickly expanded onto multiple pages. In the past, I had no plan. I would realize it had been over a week since I had posted anything online and I should probably cook something other than pasta and take some pictures. Usually, at the last minute, something else would then pop into my head and I would end up making that. Then I’d rush and write a post, try and deduce the recipe I came up with from my horribly scribbled notes (seriously, I would have to call friends from school when going over my notes to see what they had because I often couldn’t read my own writing) and take some pictures, quickly edit them and throw it all up in haste. It wasn’t a plan. It was a little haphazard and I was determined to FINALLY change that. Because Autumn deserves better.
After a week of generating said list, I sat down with a notebook and wrote down each recipe from my head. Or at least the basic idea of it. I now find myself cooking where I go into it and just start throwing stuff together. I don’t always measure. I know the process, but I don’t know how long or how much. But I knew what I would have to keep an eye out for when I made it again. After an hour, I already had about 25 recipes written and ready to go. Recipes I’ve made before. Recipes I know work. Recipes I know are delicious. And that’s when it all dawned on me.
When I started my original food blog, it was strictly about baking. After a while, I found that to be too constricting. So that’s when I switched it over to My Life With Food. I could talk about everything. It was freeing. But of course, like many things, it was too broad. There was no limit. I had no guidelines. I was fine with that. I was going to find my voice. I would just make some food, take some pictures, write a recipe and post it. Simple.
After my last trip to New Orleans, when I learned how to make authentic Gumbo and a a few other treasured family recipes, I toyed with an idea I had in my head for a while, to focus on Cajun/Southern food & New England food. To somehow marry them together and become A Connecticut Yankee in The Big Easy Food Court. I even made a list (I LOVE lists) of all the recipes I could make. So when I saw the recipes I had written down in the notebook recently, I realized what my food focus was: comfort food.
Whenever I write about a recipe or some food, it stems from a memory in my past. Not always a childhood memory. But it comes from a place where it’s recognizable to me. A happy memory. Something I want to recreate. I love making food that makes people happy. As much as I enjoy eating some complicated meals at fancy restaurants, it’s not my style. My style is simpler. I don’t always need a ton of ingredients. I don’t always need wacky flavors. I don’t want to make a dessert that has 50 components and is just three bites. Sure, it looks amazing and exquisite and like art, but other than one bite, it’s not going to be something I want to make over and over. That’s an event. To go out and treat yourself to something you wouldn’t make at home. Something that takes a lot of prep cooks and cooks and chefs to a make come together.
I love recreating recipes from the heart. The recipes you know. I always joke that I made it with a bit of love, but the truth is, I do. When you REALLY care about something, you make it the best it can be. You try your hardest. You do your best.
Now that I’m clearly defining this as a comfort food blog, does that mean you’ll never see a salad on here? That gobs and gobs of butter will be found in every recipe? That you’ll need to run around the block 5 times just to read a post? No. Comfort food has taken on a meaning where you think it’s all fattening. That it’s not healthy. Even I hear comfort food and automatically think: Shepherds Pie or Apple Pie or Spaghetti and Meatballs or Macaroni and cheese. Most of the food that makes us feel good emotionally, isn’t all the great for us. But I think comfort food can warm your soul. It brings back memories. A time in the summer when it wasn’t so unbearable and enjoying a grilled chicken salad outside. Or freshly picked tomatoes drizzled in the most delicious olive oil, flaked sea salt, cracked black pepper and ripped up bits of fresh basil strewn over. That’s comforting. A happy memory. A happy place.
There are, however, some recipes that are obviously not that healthy. Take Lance’s mother’s Shrimp Salad. It’s a delicious salad. Essentially it’s egg salad but with shrimp. It’s loaded with mayonnaise and it’s not that healthy…especially because it’s quite easy to keep loading up crackers with piles of the salad until no more remains. But I recently made a spin on that where the shrimp was roasted, the eggs were soft-boiled and the mayo turned into a light dressing. It become a constructed deconstructed version of that family reunion dish that was also a LOT healthier. And the flavors still evoked all the memories you would want it to, while also creating new ones.
I hope that you remain with me on this journey in celebrating new & old comforting food memories.