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the warm fuzzies of mac and cheese

Charlie on the Turnpike is perplexed as to my mention of comfort food in the post below.
There it is again! Comfort food. Am I the only person in the world to whom this reference is completely meaningless? What is this strange phenomenon around certain foods? Why is 'baked ziti' considered ordinary (therefore not comforting) yet the seemingly cherished 'mac & cheese' the stereotypical comfort food of all comfort foods?? Aren't they in the same genre of foodstuff?
As I tried to explain to him in his comments:
Comfort foods are foods that give you comfort not in a taste sense, but in that they remind you of good things, like sweet childhood memories.....My favorite comfort food is pasta and meatballs because it always reminds of me of Sundays at Grandma's house. It's like eating your memories. Or something like that.
Would you, dear readers, please help me explain Charlie what a comfort food is and why we eat them? Oh, mashed potatoes. Talk about comfort. I could fall asleep in a pile of garlic mashed.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference the warm fuzzies of mac and cheese:

» Because I am an authority on the subject from scrawlville.com
Michele has a post up looking for the best in comfort foods. Go contribute.... [Read More]

» Comfort Foods from Diggers Realm
Everyone has their comfort food. Some people however don't seem to understand anything about comfort foods. Mine, like Michele's over at A Small Victory, is Mac and Cheese and Mashed Potatoes. She likens it to "eating memories" and it's true.... [Read More]


Hmm... the best in comfort foods. All my comfort foods relate to one person: my great Aunt.

She used to cook a breakfast that, specifically, stirs emotions in me I can't quite explain. Blueberry pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs with cheese and grits with cheese. (Also known in the south as cheese grits and eggs, respectively.)

The smell of those blueberry's tartly toasting in a pan of hot butter can somehow take away whatever crap I'm currently dealing with in life.

Similarly, I have eaten entire pans of her squash casserole. When cooked properly and served in the right setting, that particular recipe for squash casserole could make you weep.

But it's not just the quality of foods she made that made those foods special. Like Michele said, there is a story and a memory that goes with each one. It's why I can't eat a Lane Cake without thinking of her admonishing me that the only thing beer was good for was making Lane Cake. Or how she would make a caramel cake from a mix that, given the exact same mix fifteen years later, I can't replicate.

I actually have a cookbook for just comfort food. Of course, there's no real need for the cookbook since all comfort food is available in microwave, easy-make pouches and boxes. But apparently, some people find additional comfort in making the stuff themselves as if they lived in a pre-Kraft and pre-Birdseye universe still.

Comfort foods - generally foods made for you by a loved one in your childhood or given by a "mommy type" when you got hurt or were sad ...Campbell's Chicken Noodle, mac & cheese, cookies, ice cream.

Also - things that are very satisfying (full of fat) like chips & dip, candy...

Kraft Easy Mac is discomfort food. Part of the importance for me is the process of boiling the pasta, making the sauce (NOT from a packet, tyvm), then assembling and baking for an hour so that the entire house smells like Grandma's used to.

That's an important part of comfort food I forgot to mention: half the comfort comes from making the food, and from the aroma that fills your house as you do.

I don't even have to eat the macaroni to feel comforted. It's the smell of the olive oil, tomatoes and herbs filling the house that does it for me.

Garlic. Sitting in the den watching holiday football while garlic and tomato wafts from the big pot of spaghetti in the kitchen. Crispy garlic bread with parsley and parmesan cheese. And don't forget Cuman--the secret ingrediant of the best chile and posole. These are the spices of life. These Comfort Foods make me giddy just remembering the smells.

Macaroni and cheese really isn't a comfort food for me. Spaghetti and marinara sauce, with lots of parmesan is, though. So is scrambled eggs with cheese and buttered toast. Oh, and homemade cocoa with marshmallows that you toast juuuuust a little bit over the gas range first, with cinnamon toast. And tomato soup with crackers. And my mom's potato salad.

Comfort food isn't about a definite list of actual foods, it's about the subjective associations of the individual. Maybe that's the part Charlie isn't quite getting.

Tomato soup and a grilled cheeze (sic) sammich. For those days when you faked sick to get out of school, they knew you were faking and let you stay home with Gramma anyways.

My comfort foods are those some of you may have heard from your grandmother's. My Pennsylvania Dutch mother really knew how to do comfort foods. And since she had to feed a large family on a small amount of money (budget was too big a word for her amount of money) we had a lot of "gravy bread". White gravy made with the pot drippings of whatever meat, chicken, beef, or pork she had cooked. Put that on good bread and it is TOTAL comfort. We also ate a lot of rice and beans. When we were ill we had milk toast, the same good bread toasted, buttered and floated in hot milk. And pot roast, and I could go on and on but just go to a smorgasbord in Amish country and you will get the idea, even though it was in Oklahoma and Texas in the latter part of the Great Depression and WWII.

Second that, Timmer. To me, grilled cheese and tomato soup is the ultimate "let's have a special lunch because it's cold outside" food.

Homemade bread, definitely. The smell is almost the best part. Or Grandma's butter rolls.

Roasted (at home, of course) pumpkin seeds.

I think the requirements for comfort food are simple: food with enjoyable associations, usually involving more senses than just taste. Michele actually said it best: it's like eating your memories.

What is he, a Vulcan?

Don't forget the separate category of comfort foods that actually do provide comfort, as in "Maybe eating the greenish-yellow shrimp last night wasn't a good idea" or "Should have passed on the 12th G&T" and can't keep anything else down. A big pile of saltines, maybe, or large mashed potatoes from KFC.

Beef stew and Toll House cookies.

First off, thank you for your input! I never imagined so many responses.

Nope, Jim, not Vulcan, just of Italian/Irish/Norwegian decent. Perhaps since there was always something cooking in my home (and at grandmas) made the difference? I don't know.

I can appreciate the aromas of all the foods listed here, and I enjoy eating many of them as well.

It's just that the times I've had a long, hard day, or have had something go completely wrong, I have never found myself saying 'Boy, I could sure go for a plate of ....'

Of course, some might suggest my childhood was bereft of love or happiness; nothing could be further from the truth. I simply can't place any food associations on them, I suppose.

Gee, the very phrase "comfort food" seems self-definitional. I always think of my grandma's chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy (white, not brown) and fried okra. We didn't have it often when I was growing up -- my mom couldn't make it quite the same way -- so it conjures up memories of great times at Grandma's.

Now that she's passed away, having that meal is much like having her right there with me, and she was always a comfort, too.

Charlie, I don't get it, but to each his own. For me, "comfort" food isn't about eating your sorrows away; it's more primal than that. How to explain Triscuits? A Nabisco pre-packaged food?

When I was about 12, my mom had this humongous spread of finger-food for Christmas Eve. I really went for the Triscuits & cheese. My mother noticed. To this day, on Christmas eve when I bring my family over, she has a big box of triscuits waiting for me - and I'm 40 years old now. I now avoid them the rest of the year, because Christmas Eve triscuits are so special to me now.

Perhaps that's it? Comfort food is regular, normal food, with the secret ingredient of a mother's love?

not much food from my childhood was any good to begin with. Almond butter & Apple Butter on Pritikin bread, lentils & rice, boiled zucchini, buckewheat pancakes, cast iron oatmeal with wheat germ.. that was the diet in our household. It wasn't until i moved out that i got to eat good stuff, and that was only when i had enough money to buy something besides Mac n Cheese or Ramen.

So I'm with Timmer about the Grilled Cheese & Tomato soup. That meant, "hey. I made enough money to pay my bills AND buy some FOOOD this week!" and it always makes me feel kinda rich. hehe.

The canned, gelled cranberry sauce is something that makes me think of my gramma, so it's on my comfort food list, too. Slide that puppy out of the can, slice it up, and grub down!

A cup of cocoa, and a stack of buttered toast. Take the toast, tear (or fold) and dunk in the cocoa. Eat. Remember sitting at the table long ago, eight years old, still in pajamas, Scooby Doo playing on the television because it was Saturday morning, Mom's in her chair with a cup of coffee, reading her book, Dad's rumbling around outside doing some minor chore, the sun is shining, the dog is barking at a squirrel, the grass is long and green, the wind makes the trees sway just a little, and your whole day/childhood/life is stretched out in front of you like a red carpet.

Life is damned good.

Cocoa and toast makes me feel like that whenever I eat it.


Not to nitpick, but I don't think mother's love is quite it, either. (It seems like we're wandering in circles around the ideal definition of comfort food, neh?) Chocolate and ice cream, for example, I don't mentally associate with Mom, but they're definitely comfort food. My brother-in-law doesn't give a pair of fetid dingo's kidneys for his mother, but he's one of the biggest comfort-food junkies I know. Maybe we use comfort food as a substitute for mother's love?

OTOH, I am a Triscuits fiend due to family celebrations. So I may just be full of crap.

Triscuits and a brick of Crackerbarrel, extra sharp with a Coke or two to chase it down. Now we're talkin'.

Ruth H,

Did Mom make potpie or ribble soup?

[n.b., the is PA German potpie, beef or chicken broth with large flat noodles and onions and potatoes and pickled beets and bread and butter with Karo syrup for dessert. THAT'S a comfort food]

We still have saurkraut and pork on New Years Day, btw.

With plum pudding for dessert.

My wife is Scottish.

What can I say?

Tapioca pudding, from the box mix.

Oreos & milk (*whole* milk)

Mom made the former when I had the mumps and the chicken pox & couldn't eat. (Had the 'pox at 16, with several of the little buggers in my throat. Worse sore thorat ever.)

She made what we called chicken and noodles, and holidays still aren't complete without it. And I can make those noodles, too. Flour and egg, that's all it really takes. A little patience thrown in, cause you have to roll them, cut them, and then let them dry a little. Also think of drop dumplings! She loved pickled pigs feet but as far as I know none of her children ever tried that little delicacy with her. But the grandchildren did. Once.

drop dumplings probably = ribble soup.

Red Vines Licorice. Always associated with movie theaters and happiness. They are made differently on the East Coast or something -- don't smell the same. When I moved back to the Land of Liquid Sunshine and I caught a whiff of the real Red Vines, it all came back to me. And for illness, or general no-good-very-bad-day issues, my family had cracker sammiches. I invented them at age 4 when my mother was feeling ill, since you only needed saltines, margarine, and jam. She would have done it for me, right? Very satisfying for all concerned.

"Nope, Jim, not Vulcan, just of Italian/Irish/Norwegian decent."

That must be hell when you're trying to [insert dumb ethnic joke here]. Anyway, I'd think the Italian third would get it, at least! :)

Wow. Well I am impressed! I was starting to think the whole concept of 'comfort food' was a marketing device, but I can see that would have been way off the mark.

Thanks to Michele for offering this space, and thanks to all who offered their comfort food choices, and especially to those who have tried to define the reasons for their choices.

For the record, I asked my much-better-half, to whom I've been married to for almost 15 years, what she considered 'comfort foods'. She shrugged and said 'everyone says macaroni & cheese.' When I asked if that was hers, she said 'no, but anything you bring home that I don't have to cook would be comforting to me.'

(note to self: stop by her favorite restaurant tomorrow night)

She is Irish/German/Italian, and one helluva good cook. Other than take-out for her, I suppose neither of us has any one 'special' food.

And Jim: I love Italian food, probably most of all, but I can't find any - not even manicotti - that would even come close to matching what everyone here tries to convey.

I may not get comfort food, but I understand how so many people have such a strong bond to it. Whether it be a replay of mom/granny's love (or a substitute thereof), a step back to simpler times, or just something to sleep in, all of you take your comfort food seriously, and that's something I won't dare argue with.

I may not get it, but I think this is one of those things I am probably missing out because I don't (not to be confused with how I don't get Country Music, how I can't dance, etc.)

Comfort food is not necessarily associated with an older relative or a mom; it's food that makes you feel safe and cared-for, even if you were the one doing the caring for yourself.

For me, I guess I'd have to say that cinnamon toast is a big one. And homemade bread. (mac and cheese, not so much). Mashed potatoes (even though I didn't like 'em as a kid). That Lipton's Chicken Noodle Soup stuff - the dehydrated kind you make on the top of the stove (Comfort food is usually NOT gourmet). (A cup of Lipton's Chicken Noodle and a peanut butter sandwich is my idea of comfort food). Pancakes, especially eaten for dinner on a cold, windy night.

Even oatmeal. I know most people hate oatmeal but for me, oatmeal (or even better, Cream of Wheat) were things my mom made for me for breakfast in the winter when I was a little kid....

Comfort foods typically tend to be high-carbohydrate. I suspect the serotonin release after eating high carbohydrate foods is in some way related to them being seen as a source of comfort. (I really wonder if some of the hardcore Atkins dieters aren't messing dangerously with their serotonin levels...)

The thing to remember is that comfort food is evocative of good memories. Like certain smells, comfort food can take you momentarily away from the here and now to somewhere/somewhen that comforts.