My Dad was the classic home cook. His work work days began before I woke up and ended after my dinner. Off the New York City each weekday, On the weekends, though, it was Stanley's time to cook. He didn't have a huge repertoire of dishes, but enough to keep him (and us) satisfied: spaghetti sauce (more like Brooklyn gravy), pork spareribs and sauerkraut, roast beef, and few others that always made my mouth water and stomach growl.
Last week I made Chicken and Sausage Gumbo for dinner. Made the stock from chicken wing tips, chicken backbones (cut from whole chickens that were headed for the grill) and whatever was on the bottom of the vegetable drawer. I stood and stirred the roux till it was a chestnut brown. Added the stock and already-grill/smoked chicken, parsley from the garden and the ubiquitous bay leaf. Cooked for a good two hours, thickened up just right. Served over rice with some green onions. That's it.
Everyone needs to eat, but beyond basic survival, what directs our food choices? Americans have more variety than ever before in the foods that are available to them, but many of us stick to our old favorites. How do certain dishes become “comfort foods” for us? A comfort food could be anything at all, from peanut butter and banana sandwiches to ham biscuits to strawberry ice cream as long as it makes us feel better. The question is “how do certain tastes and textures get integrated into our psyches and become the culinary equivalent of valium?”
When possible, we choose to cook and eat the foods that evoke good memories, like Proust’s famous madeleine. While many of us eventually go beyond our childhood food memories, we keep a special place in our hearts and tummies for those foods that evoke comfort and satisfaction.
The sign read “BBQ Tonight: The Sandwich.” I was going to see if my cooking was good enough for paying customers. I have been feeding family and friends for years, receiving many compliments along the way. Having people pay for the privilege of eating my food is another matter. Tonight I test the waters of professional cookery.