Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Comfort Food and Love: A Bit of a Rant

Last Thursday Joe had oral surgery preparatory to dental implants. It was out-patient surgery but he had general anesthesia, so he was pretty much out of it all of the first day and quite mellow with pain medication the second. His mouth is still sensitive, so he's not eating anything too chewy or crunchy just yet, though we're well past the protein shakes three meals a day stage.
     Then a couple of nights ago he asked for tomato soup, so I made some based on the recipe in The New Laurel's Kitchen, with just a couple of minor variations:
I looked for a link to that recipe but couldn't find one (there are links to other recipes from that book on the web, however), so here it is, with a few minor tweaks.

Creamy Tomato Soup
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 good-sized carrot, chopped
1 T. oil
3/4 tsp. dried oregano or 1 1/2 tsp. fresh
1 1/2 tsp. dried basil or 1 T. fresh (the general rule is to use twice as much fresh herb as dried)
4 cups cut-up tomatoes or 2 14 oz. cans diced tomatoes in juice
2 - 3 cups hot vegetable (or chicken) stock
3/4 tsp. salt or to taste (some commercial stocks are pretty salty)
pepper to taste
1 cup whole milk (or 1/2 cup dried milk powder blended with enough water to make 1 cup liquid milk)

In a big pot, sauté the onion, celery, and carrot in the oil until soft. Add oregano, basil, and tomatoes and simmer gently about 5 minutes. Add the stock, bring to a boil, and simmer another 10 minutes or so.
     Remove from heat and use a slotted spoon to lift out the solids and transfer to a blender or food processor. My standard-sized blender is just big enough for this. Now be careful when you purée hot things - the pressure can build up unpleasantly and lead to a real mess. I take the clear plastic thing out of the middle of the blender lid and put a clean folded dish towel over the opening, holding it on with my hand. That's what I've seen the pros do on the cooking shows and it seems to allow enough air in to avoid explosions while keeping the lid on (literally). Blend until smooth and then return to the pot along with the milk to reheat a moment before serving.

     Yes, it would be much easier to open a can of Campbell's soup, and when I was a kid, that lovely red label did mean comfort - Joe still likes it but he says he likes mine better (I suppose he has to say that, but I do believe him). Certainly Campbell's is cheaper than homemade. But I just don't like canned soup. Maybe it's un-American, but that's the way it is. I don't hate it, at least not the tomato soup, but I really don't like it.
     When we were kids my grandmother bought Campbell's tomato soup and cream of mushroom soup. My brother absolutely adored the cream of mushroom. Maybe he still does. I thought it was okay. But now I truly do dislike it. I just don't understand the appeal; I can always taste it, no matter what it's in. It's the reason we don't have green bean casserole at Thanksgiving, though I'm sure there are recipes that don't involve cans of soup, cans of beans, and cans of fried onions. Maybe I just like green beans too much to subject them to such cruel treatment.
      Last night Joe asked for macaroni and cheese so I made a big pot of it, again from scratch. I don't know if I'd still like the Kraft version that I used to think of as comfort food years ago. Joe admits to a guilty fondness for it. Anyway, I was planning for leftovers and there were none.
     Tastes change over time and with exposure to different foods. The cheese sandwiches I used to eat with Campbell's tomato soup were made with Velveeta and Miracle Whip on spongy white bread and I loved them. I don't think I even tasted real mayonnaise until I left home. I was a white bread kid until I moved in with a roommate who only ate whole wheat and I thought, "Yeah, why not, if it's important to her?" Of course that was also in San Francisco, one of the world's great food cities, a city which changed my life in many ways, but Lorraine Brown, with her insistence on whole wheat bread, deserves recognition, wherever she is today.
     I find all this very interesting, and I am concerned about our country's continuing shift to more and more processed foods. Michael Pollan, in In Defense of Food, offers a very readable treatment of the topic, along with the sensible advice that we not eat anything our grandmothers would not have recognized as food. Maybe, given my grandmother's use of canned soups, that should be our great-grandmothers. In The End of Overeating, David A. Kessler, M.D. explains how the processed food folks get us hooked on their products by the sneaky and clever addition of way more sugar, salt, and fat than real food needs.
     To come back to today's title, food is one of the ways humans have always offered comfort and shown love, and providing real food just seems more loving to me, though I understand that our lives are busy and our culture has conditioned us to believe that processed foods are quicker and taste better. And I'm not so pure myself - I have my bad food flings, but mostly we do eat healthy food that doesn't come in boxes with ingredients very few of us can either recognize or pronounce. So that's my rant for today. I think it's past time for lunch.

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