Comfort Food (Essay, Part 3)
I attribute my lifelong love of rich food, and the comfort I derive from eating it, to my late father. Dad must have been one of those people with extra taste buds layered on his tongue. Other cooks might add the seasonings a recipe called for, but dad felt compelled to sniff and sample the dried chili peppers, or ground thyme, or garlic powder, before he shook any into his soup pot.
The genetic link to my foodiness extends even past my father to his mother, Grandma Nancy. She was such an enthusiastic eater, she was chubby in the 1920’s when hardly anyone was overweight. Food was still slow then and “fast” had nothing to do with time, and everything to do with abstinence.
Food may have been the only crutch Grandma Nancy had to lean on. She was a single mother of two, working long days for a coal mining company in Eastern Kentucky. Evidently life became too bleak, and Nancy felt she had to give up one of her children in order to survive. My dad was the one she gave away to a barren aunt and uncle. Such soul sick, “Sophie’s Choice” situations could easily lay the groundwork for emotional eating.
The last time my father came to see me I remember laboring in the kitchen to make a nice roast beef and gravy dinner, knowing his penchant for meat and potatoes. I even stirred up some yeast rolls which he, coming from the South, referred to as biscuits.
But he wanted to treat the hostess. He insisted we go out to the Desert Inn for dinner. We could store the food I’d made in the fridge, he said. A few years after this visit I got a call from a hospital spokesman telling me my father had not survived his heart surgery. It was midsummer, and I remember looking out the kitchen window to the field beyond. A wind had come up bending the tall grasses low.