I was feeling pretty good about writing my column this week. I had it all planned out -- something that I don't do often, preferring instead to see where each week's food adventures will take me and writing about what I find inspiring. But somehow early in January I felt it was the perfect time for writing about comfort food and I was feeling so strongly about it that I even jotted down a few recent experiences and recipes to work into my writing. This organization even felt pretty good -- I wasn't pacing around pre-deadline trying to determine which food encounter was worthy enough for a column.
I intended to write this week's column on tomato-less butternut squash, kale and ricotta stuffed shells that I concocted for myself while preparing the usual tomato-based shell recipe that my family loves. It is a very comforting recipe in the standard way, hearty and rich, with an interesting mix of ingredients -- perfect for supper on a cold evening. But, true to my usual unplanned nature, I will deviate and share what is really inspiring me tonight -- something I am calling Sister Supper.
Our daughters went back to school today after a long weekend. We had fallen badly out of any semblance of routine over the four days which was ridiculously easy to do, especially as we had a very tenuous hold on what little routine we had re-established following our extended holiday vacation. It felt good to have intentions of getting back into the swing of things -- dinner at a reasonable hour, homework completed, normal bedtime. I was also hopeful that we could reconnect as a family over supper -- too many late nights, sleepovers and that lack of routine had everyone feeling a bit discombobulated.
On the dinner menu was potato leek soup, 14-year-old Marielle's favorite. Margot had specifically requested "exploding" crescent rolls (yes, the kind in the can -- our secret is out). It dawned on me that this was the perfect opportunity to get both girls involved in re-establishing our routine at ground level while spending a little time together. They appeared to have finished their homework, so why not have the pair be in charge of dinner?
As I washed pots and pans that had accumulated in the sink, Marielle prepared the leeks and potatoes for the soup. Giving directions over my shoulder allowed Marielle independence as well as freer conversation; we dabbled in topics that would never have been possible in a face-to-face chat. Roughly midpoint in the soup project, Margot came in to pop the seal and roll the triangles of highly processed, extraordinarily non-local dough into those oddly fascinating artificial accompaniments to our delicious homemade and very local soup.
It was great hearing the two sisters banter and tease each other in the kitchen. Margot has certainly learned the art of younger-sister-peskiness while Marielle tells tall tales and staunchly won't admit that they are such when called out. Watching them interact was a snapshot of where their relationship is now and I was reminded that all too soon they will move beyond this stage and into another. And while watching your children grow and begin to leave childhood behind can be a bittersweet experience, seeing them building their unique relationship as sisters was truly a joy, even if I was having to read between the lines of sibling squabbling.
This glimpse into the future watching this meal being prepared by my daughters reminded me that comfort food isn't always just a special dish. Comfort is found in our relationships with the people we love and care about -- the food may just be a lucky bystander as it becomes a reminder or marker of a special or shared time. Will potato leek soup and crescent rolls hold a special place in my daughter's hearts, bringing back fond memories of home and family, if not this very night? Perhaps. Do I really want crescent rolls to be thought of as comforting? Does it really matter?
I'll be paying more attention to the comfort aspect of food from now on. Is it the physical food with its rich flavor? Or is it the memories that are associated with it that brings back those feelings of comfort and connection within our relationships with others? I'm making sure that I watch as more Sister Suppers unfold, and am making a commitment to making any food comfort food every day.
Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn't have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.