This week we’re talking comfort foods and discomfort foods. Stephen Beary and I discuss the foods that give us a sense of security, nostalgia, and catharsis and the memories of past meals that are firmly tied to certain foods and flavors. To accompany our conversation, Stephen made himself a basic whiskey and ginger beer cocktail, while I went out on a limb and made my own variation of a California Root Beer (a cocktail consisting out Galliano liqueur, Kaluah, bourbon and ginger beer) as an alcoholic homage to my favorite soft drink. But we couldn’t just talk about the foods that make us feel good without talking about our discomfort foods. For me that not only means foods, flavors, and textures I dislike, but also create a sense of dissonance or anxiety.
Through the episode, Stephen recalls vivid memories of shared meals with friends and family and how those certain foods became associated with different people and different times of his life. Though he may not feel “comfort” from the foods themselves, it’s the memories certain foods like Chinese takeout that Stephen find nostalgic and reminiscent of his distant past.
On the other hand, while Stephen associates his comfort foods with the people he shared past meals with, I define comfort foods by what I remember gorging myself on as a little fat kid and the meals that came to define my weekly homelife routine. One of my earliest found food memories goes back to eating several heaping bowls of my daycare provider’s homemade mac and cheese with diced ham, which has come to represent one of my favorite comfort foods along with tri-tip, mashed potatoes, and eggs with Lil’ Smokey beef sausages.
I also talk about my father’s culinary influence on my pallet, or lack thereof because my dad is notorious in my family for being averse to any spices or seasonings. When my mom cooked, there was usually some flare and some experimentation, but when dad cooked it was usually a guaranteed to be dry and bland (except for his mashed potatoes, the man knows potatoes). His unseasoned turkey meat tacos on flour tortillas was a staple that I always knew needed a lot of something to be desired. It wasn’t until I moved out of my parents’ house that he began expanding his flavor horizons; by that time I had landed a job working as a cook in a catering kitchen and gained sufficient culinary knowledge to break the tasteless cycle.
Later in the episode, we get to our discomfort foods. For me, that meant bagels and lox. Growing up, I was a sweets for breakfast kind of kid and would pick a cinnamon bagel over anything savory any day. But for some reason, smoked salmon and lox (one of my mom’s favorite meals) especially gave me a visceral, and sometimes projectile, reaction. My complete disgust of bagels and lox made me feel strained from the ashkenazi culture that I claimed to be a part of. “How could I be a Jew if I can’t eat lox?” was a question that weighed on my psyche and perhaps even provoked my dissention from the Jewish faith and culture.
Some of the topics and stories we didn’t get to cover, but are mentioned in the show notes include the relevance of Lucky Charms in my relationship with my mom. My mother never had any bizarre cravings while pregnant with me, but as soon as I popped out, she was hit with an intense craving for the cereal (not that she was particularly fond of it before) and sent my dad out on a retrieval mission. I also have very strong associations of my highschool friends with diner food because of our fondness for Denny’s and our continued traditions of curing hangovers with heaps of eggs, potatoes, and coffee.
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