Welcome. One night last week, cold and tired after a busy day, I craved a very specific comfort food from childhood for dinner: buttered noodles with cottage cheese. It’s cacio e pepe for a toddler’s palate, a very simple variation on mac and cheese, the ultimate comfort food. The meal came together in minutes and hit the spot, as it always does.
I was musing recently about a fantasy dinner party at which I’d serve all the things I loved to eat as a child and realized that most of those foods were unlikely to appeal to guests, who’d have few if any of the positive associations I do with the foods in question. Absent the fond memories of my nursery-school lunchbox or the microwave glow of my family’s 1970s kitchen, cream cheese and jelly on white bread, SpaghettiOs and even my beloved pasta with cottage cheese might not translate to a grown-up dinner party setting.
Of course, not all comfort foods are so personal. It’s soup season in the Northeastern U.S., and in my house, that means as much chili as the largest pot will hold. One week of dinners goes in the fridge, the rest frozen for months to come.
I asked you a couple of weeks ago what foods you’ve found comforting lately. Here’s what some of you said. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
“The one recipe that I relentlessly return to is one that I learned from Mark Bittman: curried sweet potato soup with apricots. It’s so simple but it’s so delicious! The contrast between the sweetness and savoriness makes for an unbeatable combination. It’s so good, in fact, that it’s my only exception to my rule of never diluting the superb taste of sweet potatoes by combining them with any other foods.” —Richard J. Brenner, Miller Place, N.Y.
“One of my favorite restaurants in Portland, Ore., is Kachka, a hip contemporary Russian joint with a beautiful mini grocery housed within the restaurant. We brought home the Kachka cookbook and a pelmeni press, which looks like metal honeycomb. Pelmenis are tiny dough dumplings with various fillings: beef, farmer’s cheese, even sour cherry. We’ve been making pelmenis of all flavors; my favorite so far are filled with spiced ground lamb and served with a red pepper and herb sauce.” —Frances Cannon, Burlington, Vt.
“During this endless winter full of sadness and worry I return to the soups my mother made during the Depression. Her family boarded young women at the Jersey Shore in the summer, and my mother was the 17-year-old cook. She alternated three soups: lentil, split pea and bean. All made the same way, with just an onion for flavor. I find great comfort in these plain soups (though I do toss in a little ham now and then). ” —Ellen McPherson, Nashville
“The New York Times’s chocolate mayonnaise cake. It’s so easy to make. I add chopped walnuts and Bushmills whiskey and sprinkle the top with Icelandic licorice sea salt after removing it from the oven.” —Penny Koelsch, Minneapolis
“Salmon cakes, using salmon from the can, stir up childhood nostalgia and bring comfort and warmth on a cold winter evening. Crisp, golden brown and oven-broiled, salmon cakes are a forgotten dish of simpler times that deserves a comeback.” —Miranda Kessel, Bingham, Maine
“We’ve had this chicken a few times already this winter, and it’s always a hit. I like to pretend that I’m eating it at a Sunday family dinner at my grandmother’s in the French countryside. We like to have it with a little toasted baguette to dip in the broth.” —Merel Kennedy, Mill Valley, Calif.
“A bunch of kale, cleaned and cooked. Sautéed vegetables: onions, garlic, red peppers, diced cooked potatoes or sweet potatoes. I pulse the kale in a Cuisinart and then I put all the cooked-in-advance vegetables into a big skillet with some olive oil and sazón seasoning. Then I add the pulsed, almost puréed kale. This pulsed kale is so much tastier than pieces of it; it’s indescribably good!” —Leslie Gregg, Pittsburgh
After nearly two years, two names and countless ideas for leading a full and cultured life, the time has come for me to move house. Starting Saturday, Feb. 5, and every Saturday thereafter, I’ll be contemplating and recommending and all the other stuff I’ve been doing here in a new edition of The Times’s daily newsletter, The Morning. This isn’t goodbye, it’s just a change of address.
You’ll receive your last At Home and Away newsletter on Friday, Jan. 28. If you’re already receiving The Morning during the week, I’ll be in your inbox bright and early on Feb. 5. If you aren’t subscribed, I’d love it if you’d sign up at the link below.
I wouldn’t mind living in this Parisian micro-apartment.
A eulogy for the semicolon in British fiction.
Out of Order is an entertaining puzzle game that reminds me of those little plastic toys of yore that had a grid of tiles and one empty space and you moved the tiles around the grid, one at a time, trying to complete a picture.
What are you watching, reading, cooking, doing these days? Write to us: [email protected]. Be sure to include your full name and location and we might include your contribution in an upcoming newsletter. We’re At Home and Away. We’ll read every letter sent. As always, more ideas for leading a full and cultured life appear below. See you on Friday.