White carbs and processed cheese-what could be better? Just about anything of course, but if you grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, the heyday of “labor saving” processed foods, white elbow macaroni baked with sliced cheese was one of many “nutritious” high fat, high carb comfort food. And actually, even though I know better, even now just the thought of them is, well, comforting. As the oldest girl, I watched my mom make these homey foods, from mac and cheese to fried bologna sandwiches, and then took over making them for my younger brother and myself.
After cooking something once or twice, I finessed the recipe so it came out exactly as I imagined. Even though they were simple recipes, I was a proud cook, serious about my ingredients, and cooking times. I was especially exacting about mac and cheese: cooked elbow macaroni layered with white cheese slices (the last top layer was always cheese), add milk beaten with an egg, dot final cheese layer with butter and sprinkle with bread crumbs for a crispy top. A crispy top was paramount, just as a crispy crust was essential to grilled cheese sandwiches, or to the edges of scones and piecrusts. (It would be hard to describe my joy at the introduction of super chunky peanut butter :). The importance of food texture in what we eat will be the topic of another post, but for me, crispy is a texture I still love, and in my childhood, crispy and sweet was heaven in my mouth.
It was very difficult just now to admit I took pleasure of eating sweet and crispy food. I started writing this series about past comfort foods to face the fear that writing about them, even thinking about them, would trigger out-of-control eating because crispy, crunchy and sweet foods were my trigger foods. Even crispy and not-so-sweet would work in a pinch, but by time I was eating anything crispy and sweet I’d lost the pleasure of eating and was eating for totally different, emotional reasons.
For me, remembering that the act of cooking was a sweetness in and of itself, is important. I remember that little girl, earnestly cooking food for her little brother and herself, and she was sweet. Those are important images and memories to explore–remembering in a non-judging and loving way, can help us love and understand ourselves now, as we are.