Delights & Comforts
To celebrate our new online content offerings, Comment asked some friends to answer four light-hearted questions . . .</.p>
To celebrate our new online content offerings, Comment asked some friends to answer four light-hearted questions . . .
1. What is your all-time favourite recipe? Is it a family legacy, from a cookbook, from a blog or from some other source?
My childhood birthdays always included a coconut pie rather than the standard cake—usually made by my mom from fresh coconut and coconut milk. She had been a missionary in the Caribbean and knew the difference in having fresh fruit, even if it meant a lot of work! She has been gone for 26 years, but I still love to bake this pie. Now that I live in the Caribbean it seems even more appropriate!
¼ cup flour
3 large eggs separated
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 and ½ cups milk
6 tablespoons sugar (for meringue)
(Coconut milk if you have it)
1/3 cup fresh coconut (for meringue)
1 cup freshly shredded coconut
Cooked (baked) 8" pie shell
Preheat oven to 350º F. Mix flour, sugar and salt in one cook top pan. Add egg yolks gradually and stir. Slowly add milk, stirring so there are no lumps. Place on burner, stirring constantly until thick but not dry. Take off the burner. Add butter and vanilla. Let cool slightly. Mix in coconut. Pour into pie shell.
Beat egg whites; add 6 tablespoons sugar gradually once egg whites are stiff. When stiff place on top of pie (sealing edges) and sprinkle remaining coconut on top. Place in preheated oven and brown (12-15 minutes).
I remember how special dinner felt to me as a child when my mother made her peppered cheese bread. When I left home for university and began the self-experimentation of learning to feed myself, I asked her for the recipe. Although I now love to cook, I have never had much luck with baking. But this bread was different. No matter how I'd fiddle with the recipe, substituting some of the more exotic (for a house full of university men) ingredients for things around the house, it would always turn out well. One snowy evening I came home from class and decided to relax and quiet my mind by making the bread. An hour later, a perfect night unfolded as the kitchen was filled with friends—all smiling at each other with cheesy, peppery grins.
Peppered cheese bread
2 cups flour
1½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoons dry mustard
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoons fresh ground pepper
1½ cups grated old cheddar cheese
2 large eggs (beaten)
1 cup of milk
1 tablespoons melted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the flour, salt, mustard, baking powder, and pepper together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix milk with beaten eggs. Add cheese and melted butter and milk/egg mixture to dry ingredients. Mix all together and spread in 8" round baking pan. Bake at 350º F for 45 minutes.
With years of cooking under my belt, it's impossible to name just one favourite. Instead I think in categories of favourites: seasonal, breakfast, dessert, and holidays. In fall and winter when I'm seeking easy comfort food I make On Again Off Again Chuck Roast from the Café Beaujolais cookbook by Margaret S. Fox and John Bear, Perfect Roast Chicken from Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa), or James Beard's homemade Macaroni and Cheese. For holidays, my family's hands-down favourite is Gratinée of Cauliflower made with lots of butter, fresh garlic, cream and prosciutto. This recipe comes from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook (by Julee Rosso, Sheila Lukins, and Sarah Leah Chase) and converts most skeptics into cauliflower lovers. Breakfast favourites include the Barefoot Contessa's Granola—I make pounds of it every year for our houseguests, along with Apple Cinnamon or Lemon Ginger muffins from Marion Cunningham's Breakfast Book. For birthdays: Chocolate Fudge Cake (1975 Family Circle magazine) or Hot Milk Cake with buttercream frosting—both recipes passed down by my mother. And finally, an Art House classic—Sarah Brewington's Chocolate Chip Cookies. Pack the flour; use half butter, half shortening; cook at 325ºF, and drop from the spatula when finished so they crinkle. Perfect every time.
Despite my deep and abiding love for food drawn from warmer locales—Indian, Mexican, Thai— there is nothing quite so comforting to me as a meal of boiled potatoes with butter, a bit of roast and some boiled green beans. Oh, and apple sauce. It's the typical frugal high-carb, high-fat diet of those accustomed to working long hours in the fields. The warmer foods are my favourite, but the meat and potatoes are most comforting. And I've never been a farmer.
But, the recipe which I hope to share is breakfast food, not dinner. I'd say it fits in the peasant food category. The recipe comes from friends of ours— Justin and Andrea Colyn.
1 ½ cups of oatmeal
2 cups of milk
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons of melted butter (or more if you are going to plough)
Fresh or frozen blueberries, raspberries, or grated apple
1/2 cup of whole wheat flour (or virtually any flour for that matter)
1/2 cup of white flour
1 tablespoon of baking powder
As much cinnamon as desired, one teaspoon perhaps?
Mix the first two ingredients and let sit for five minutes while you mix the last four ingredients in a separate bowl. Then, add the eggs, sugar and butter to the wet ingredients and stir together along with the fruit.
Fry 3" dollops in some butter in a frying pan and prepared to be amazed. You'd expect oat pancakes to carry some heft, but these little things are light, fluffy and absolutely delicious, especially with Eastern Ontario maple syrup. (Table syrup is a horrible invention). We've made them once a week for about a year now, and we haven't tired of them; you won't either!
My grandmother's father was a coal miner in Bolton, England, and when she came to America as a teenager, she brought with her a recipe for pasties, a common meal eaten by coal miners. Over the years, my grandmother adapted the recipe into what we now call "meat pie," and whenever my mom asks me what I want her to fix for my visit, I ask for this (even though I am now largely a vegetarian!). The smell of a meat pie in the oven is the smell of home to me, and it keeps me connected with my grandmother, who died fifteen years ago, but whom I still miss very much. Here's the recipe from my mom.
Brown in a large pot 1 pound ground beef (I use ground chuck), 4 potatoes, grated, 1 large onion, also grated and ½ cup of water (add more water as needed) plus a little salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, combine 2 cups of flour, a dash of salt and 1 cup of Crisco (solid, not liquid). Mix with a fork until the Crisco and flour are walnutsize pieces or smaller. Add 12 or 13 tablespoons of cold water and mix with fork until you can form it into a ball. Separate the ball into four even pieces. Flour your hands and a pastry cloth and roll out 1/4 of the dough. Place in buttered pie tin. Add ground beef mixture (if any is left over, make another large pie or a few small ones using ovenproof saucers or dessert plates). Roll out a second quarter of the dough and place on top, crimping the edge with your fingers or a fork.
Cook in oven at 350º F about an hour or until top crust is done. Enjoy!
We usually eat it with a side dish of red cabbage. I'm not sure why; that's just how we always do it. I also usually put ketchup on top.
My wife didn't understand. Why substitute this pre-ground chicory stuff straight out of a tin for our fresh-roasted coffee beans, and why make the donuts from a boxed mix instead of from scratch? But she's one of those people who, when a guest judge appears on a TV cooking show, already knows who it is and has tried their recipes. My specialty dish is toast. With butter. So when I saw the Cafe Du Monde beignet mix on the shelf, and the tin of coffee and chicory, I was dazzled by recollections of my Louisiana childhood. At first she didn't want to make a tower of powdered donuts, not to share between us, but after much invoking by me of Proust and madeleines, she finally capitulated. I hovered over her throughout the process, offering unhelpful suggestions, pestering her with questions, until finally the inflated pockets of crisp dough were ready for powdering. I made the cafe au lait—half coffee/chicory from the tin and half hot milk. The beignets were too good, and there were too many to eat more than a couple, so I sipped my odd-tasting coffee and gazed on them for quite awhile. The beignet ritual is now a family treat, but my wife, who did all the work, says it's so special we should not cheapen it through frequent repetition.
These cookies are delicious, but then again so are most cookies. What makes these special is that it is virtually impossible to screw them up. After many attempts at various loaves, cookies, cakes, pies and tarts I have managed to fail at just about all of it. I love cooking, but baking is just not my thing. Yet I have never messed up a batch of these, and that is really something of a miracle. So here goes:
"No fail" cookies
(modified from Barefoot Contessa)
½ pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs at room temperature
2/3 cup good unsweetened cocoa
1 2/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ pounds good white chocolate (or a combination of chocolate chunks, raisins, nuts, M&Ms)
Preheat the oven to 350º F. Cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time, and mix well. Add the cocoa and mix again. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt and add to the chocolate with the mixer on low speed until just combined. Fold in the chopped white chocolate.
Drop the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, using a 1 3/4" ice cream scoop or a rounded tablespoon. Dampen your hands and flatten the dough slightly. Bake for exactly 15 minutes (the cookies will seem underdone). Remove from the oven and let cool slightly on the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
"No Crumbs Left"
To many, eating cornbread is a wicked, throat-plugging experience, but this is a tender, moist, crispy-edged accompaniment to any soup. Once, as I prepared this simple recipe to accompany a pot of chili and beans, Greg, a friend from southern Alabama, watched as he waited for supper. I put a tablespoon of butter in a cast iron skillet and placed it in a hot oven until the butter sizzled. I swirled it around, poured in the batter, and returned it to the oven. Greg's eyes widened as he exclaimed, "My grandmother used to do it just like that! Only she used pork drippings!" I took it as a compliment. Eaten warm and drizzled with honey, it adds soul to almost any supper. (Bonus: Cast iron skillets may often be found at a thrift store, or grab the one belonging to your deceased grandmother, the one no one else wants because they don't recognize treasure. It's easy to use when seasoned, and current research reports that non-stick cookware is toxic; however, cast iron, which has been around since the 12th century B.C., is the "new" healthy thing.) And when you bake cornbread, remember how simple, ordinary food can sometimes comfort and delight as much as a lavish banquet.
1 cup flour
1 cup corn meal
4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
¼ cup melted butter, or cooking oil
¼ cup honey (or substitute ½ cup sugar)
Preheat oven to 375º F. Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl.
In a separate container, whisk together eggs, milk, and butter. Add to dry ingredients and whisk just until smooth. Don't overbeat.
Place 1 tablespoon of butter in an 8 or 9 inch pan or preferably a cast iron skillet. Place in hot oven until butter begins to bubble. Pour in batter. Place in preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes.
Serve with butter and honey or jam. Note: using fresh organic products boosts flavor.
2. We live in an age of hot drink connoisseurship. Single source coffees and teas and chocolates; terroir; brewing technique finicking; drink surface art; drinking style and setting... all of these matter to many of the current generation of hot drink drinkers. What is your favourite hot drink? What makes it great?
Freshly ground, freshly brewed and black, I have a deep affection—perhaps too much affection—for my morning cup of coffee. Although I do appreciate a smooth, bold dark blend like Sumatra, it doesn't need to be fancy. The taste is only a part of what makes my morning coffee so great. It is great because I enjoy my morning infusion of caffeine in the silence and stillness of the morning. Before I start the business of the day—the type of business that often drives me back for an afternoon cup of coffee—I slowly sip my coffee as I read and prepare for the day to come. That is why my morning cup of coffee is so great, it is part of the moments of the morning in which I pause to take a deep breath along with many a delightful and delectable sip of coffee.
I'm not a big hot drink connoisseur. I have never liked coffee, in spite of years of living in coffee capitals Seattle and Vancouver, and my tongue burns easily if a drink is too hot. The only way I can stand coffee is if it's doctored up with lots of milk and sweet stuff (a Starbucks peppermint white chocolate mocha is pretty nice) and left to cool off for a while. I can't even make a cup of coffee that tastes palatable, even to people who like coffee. If I have guests over who like a hot drink after dinner, I offer them tea. I like various teas. My current favourite is Dilmah (tasty, socially conscious, environmentally sustainable), but I also like rooibos (haven't decided on a favourite brand yet), Stash Organic Earl Grey, Stash Double Spice Chai, Stash Peppermint, Yogi Egyptian Licorice Mint, Bigelow Vanilla Caramel. I also usually keep some lemon ginger on hand (any brand), and ginger peach is nice too. I like the ritual of offering a cup of tea to a friend who comes over for a visit. There's something wholesome and comforting and spiritually nourishing about sitting together in comfy chairs with warm cups in our hands as we talk about life.
My favourite hot drink is a cup of black coffee. As a coffee roaster, I get to watch the bean transform in color, take in the addictive aroma and wait for that rich dark brown color to be achieved. The whole process of making a cup of coffee, from roasted bean to brewed coffee, can be an aromatic taste-worthy experience that makes me breathe deeply and say "ah." I am instantly relaxed. My day is on pause. I am brought into the moment through the sensory awareness that the cup of coffee provides—its heat; the steam twisting into the air; the smell that makes me anticipate the first sip. And then that first sip. It must be savoured like a fine wine.
The taste at the onset, the smooth tanic flavour and its satisfying warmth, leaves a sharp or subtle aftertaste, depending on the origin of the coffee bean.
The Starbuckians who claim right of predecession for Seattle have it all wrong. Oregon, particularly with Portland's artful baristas, is the true champion of fine coffee. Micro-roasters abound in perhaps the quirkiest state in the USA. Even the small town we lived in had two award-winning roasting establishments. But my heart beats fastest at the thought of Kobos, purveyors of coffee to Northwest Portland, planted not far from the home of Ursula LeGuin of literary fame. Behind their counters can be found Celebes Kalossi, a fair trade product surpassing any other Sulawesi. This can be crafted best using the Yama Vacuum Coffee Maker (cloth filters—very sustainable) and allowed to rumble away on your stovetop until a fork stands up in the brew. It doesn't get much better than this.
As a coffeeshop and roastery owner, I often feel that the hot beverage options seem endless. But purity and simplicity of ingredients compose my favourite drink: the much mis-understood espresso macchiato. "Macchiato" means "marked" in Italian. It consists of a double shot of espresso (that's my favourite part, and I'll tell you why in a minute), "marked" with a very small amount of foamed milk, either dolloped on top or poured in. We get the milk delivered in glass bottles every week by the farmers themselves, and it's really as fresh as you can get it! It's unbelievably rich and smooth, and we are so proud to serve it on behalf of that dairy farming family. The espresso, roasted by my husband, is a blend of coffee from the South Pacific nation of Timor, which is slowly but intelligently increasing its economy through the growth of specialty grade coffee, and an incredibly intentional farm in Guatemala, with which we directly have both trade and personal relationships.
Having visited the farm in Guatemala just recently, I have an increased sense of respect for all the processes and people that go into producing coffee, and an increased pride in serving it to my customers. Whenever I see the coffee pouring out of the espresso machine, I see the faces and lives of the people producing it at origin, and when I hand a customer their drink, or sip on one myself, I'm sharing the life's work of those people. The combination of that sweet, creamy, bright espresso with just a little bit of expertly textured, locally produced milk is a two-ounce glimpse of the Kingdom!
3. If you had to live out of a suitcase, what would you pack?
Let's assume that not only can I live out of a suitcase, but I can take that suitcase to a temperate climate. Then the answer would be—the clothes: three changes of my daily uniform (blue jeans, navy blue T-shirts, boxers, and black socks). The grooming: shaving brush, razor, and miscellaneous essential items that are already packed and ready to go (since, several days a week, I do live out of a suitcase). The reading: Amazon Kindle (newspapers, magazines, books, prayer book, and Bible, all in one place—I love it). The phone, the music, and teh internets—iPhone and MacBook Air. And, last but not least, the all-important Camellia sinensis—Kambaa Estate tea and my all-in-one tea cup and strainer.
If I had to live out of a suitcase I would pack the essentials plus one fantastic vintage blazer—for opportunity, a leather Pierre Belvedere journal— for thoughts, my MacBook Air—for connection, and my mini orange and turquoise Bible—for direction.
I do live out of a suitcase and I pack a laptop, a Bible and efficiency not in that order because the Bible has been travelling with me since BLT— before laptops—and BPE—before Peter's Efficiency.
I have a real fondness for well-made tools that work for all sorts of possible unforeseen things. Maybe it's part of my self-sufficient delusion or my incurable inventive leaning. A Gore-Tex jacket with Helly Hansen wind/rain pants and decent hiking boots means I can battle the elements with some hope of success. I'd also include some Ziploc bags to protect some novels, a French-English dictionary, and a thickish brick of text on complexity theory. I must have a Swiss Army knife because I've always had one. The first one was for my sixth birthday (I grew up on a farm) and I promptly slid my thumb along rather than across the keen edge of the blade causing a spray of blood to splatter the walls of our kitchen. Flying with one is a bad idea—they take it away and don't give it back. Filing in my outdoor saga scenario, I would also need a Browning .22 lever action—because I've always loved its form and function balance (also not good to fly or travel with). Finally, a blank book and some pencils so I could write, draw, and think visually.
Three times, my husband and I have packed our suitcases and headed off to live in another country for a year. Each time we had two suitcases, no more than 25 kgs—the maximum allowed by the airline. Each time we were heading for graduate studies, so we needed research materials and a computer. Each time, we came home with exactly the same amount. What do you put in a suitcase for a year? Of course you pack clothes that will wear out, clothes to dress up, clothes to dress down and PJs to sleep in. To be practical, a MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op) gore-tex jacket with removable lining. As The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy cautions, don't go anywhere without a towel and, I would add, clean sheets. You need something for the feet, shoes, hiking boots and slippers. I can't get along without a computer and a camera. Have to have a few toiletries, but not too many. And to complete the lot, a Bible, a novel and the More-With-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre. I'm ready to go!
—Janet Epp Buckingham
What does "living out of a suitcase" mean? Am I a refugee of some kind? I've been that, and I can tell you, I packed a bunch of Galoob MicroMachines and a collection of fruit pits. Or am I some kind of salesman, flying from city to city, hocking the newest in Flowbee gadgetry? If it's that, I'd pack a lot a tranquilizers. Or really, I'd probably quit my job and go be a homeless guy, who would also be living out of a suitcase, I suppose. As a homeless guy, I'd want good socks. Like the kind Norwegian people must wear. And I'd pack a lot of Clif Bars, maybe rollerblades, so I could be what Wall Street types fear most (a mobile underclass, ha!).
But for these purposes, I think I'd most like to be the type of suitcase-dependent person who travels internationally for a shadowy organization, tasked with eliminating heads of crime syndicates and drug cartels. For that, I would pack a multi-variable power adapter, in order to charge my electronics where ever I go. I'd pack piano wire in a dental floss container (for a quiet kill by garrote, and handy if I eat corn). A snowglobe of a New York skyline would seem like a harmless gift, but would open into a full lockpick, screwdriver and knife set. My bronze bling'd out necklace of the Olympic rings would transform into brass knuckles. And lastly, I'd pack cyanide capsules in a DRAMAMINE bottle.
I would think of myself as less of a "creative catalyst" and more of a "coronary catalyst." Also, I would pack Boggle.
I would pack clothes that I could wear layered and that could easily mix and match. I would make certain I had a warmth layer, a wind layer and a rain layer. I would only pack solid colors—not prints, checks or stripes. I'd also take a wool scarf and cap, and a poncho, in lieu of a bulky coat. Running shoes and socks would be essential, along with Ugg boots and a comfortable pair of walking shoes. I'd throw in a couple of pair of Spanx (footless and regular pantyhose and tights), and polypropylene underwear that dries quickly, a bathing suit, a towel, a baseball cap (or a bandana) and sunglasses. As far as toiletries are concerned— I'd be sure to have the basics (soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, tooth brush, toothpaste, dental floss, nail file, clippers, tweezers, baby powder and lotion). I'd pack a hairbrush and a comb, and as for make up—at least some mascara, eyebrow pencil, ChapStick and a mirror. I'd store everything in Ziploc bags. Technology is a must—so I'd have to take a laptop, a Blackberry (with GPS), and Kindle 2 (fully loaded with lots of great books and the Bible.) Of course, I'd make sure I had all of the chargers for these devices and some earphones. I would be sure to have a credit card, an ATM card, driver license, passport, Social Security card and medical cards—and I'd also store these in Ziploc bags. I'd probably throw in a few large, black trash bags and a Swiss Army knife (with corkscrew). I'd need a first aid kit, a sewing kit, an LED flashlight with some batteries, and a butane lighter.
Then I'd pray for someone to take pity on me and invite me to stay in their luxurious home in the Hamptons!
4. When you think back to the homes that hold the happiest memories from your youth, what rooms, architectural features or pieces of furniture delight you the most?
My grandmother lived in an old apartment in an old part of town, and overnight visits were always a treat. The apartment was dark, all the rich woodwork was stained very dark, and the corridor smelled of smoke and garlic. I especially loved her Murphy bed, a seemingly gigantic contraption that looked like it was made of solid iron but which my petite grandmother could lower from its enclosure to the floor with ease. I was amazed at what human ingenuity and the right combination of weights and springs could do to make moving heavy furniture into a nearly effortless act.
Growing up in the Netherlands as a young boy during World War II brought its share of worry and fear. I remember that on our living room wall was a poem that re-phrased Jesus' admonition not to worry about tomorrow. It had a calming effect on me, which I still remember after more than 60 years. Roughly translated, it went something like this:
We often suffer most
by fretting about the suffering yet to come,
but that never shows up.
Thus we carry a heavier burden
than God apportions to us.
As a child, our porch swing was the happiest of places. It was where our young family gathered to listen to soft summer rains or booming thunderstorms, all six of us decked out in our pajamas and squeezed together (some on laps) as we gently swayed back and forth . . . back and forth. During those wonderful evenings, we would eat ice cream, tell silly stories and sing our family favourites, "The horse and the flea and three blind mice, went skating one day on the slippery ice," or "Oooh, you can't get to heaven on roller skates," or "Dona , Nobis , Pacem" . Those nights were magical.
As we grew older, the swing became a toy, much to our parents' chagrin. Two or three of us would be the "swingers" (who were actually hit men!), while the other one(s) would have the dangerous task of running around the swing without being "tagged" by it. This game was great fun, but often resulted in casualties! As the swing was wildly maneuvered this way and that, the runners were bumped and bruised, while the swing banged against the house (followed by our father's annoyed "Stop hitting the house!"). In desperate attempts to dodge the swing, one of the runners would inevitably jump up on the banister only to fall off of the porch! Oh, the swing . . . great play!
In our teen years, the swing was the place we went to retreat, whether that meant lying down on a hot summer day to read the latest teen novel, barging out the front door and throwing ourselves onto it in a fit of adolescent rage, or stealing away with the latest person of interest. Questions of God and self . . . necessary solitude.
College years brought reminiscence of home and comfort, and yearnings yet again to find respite on the then-creaky swing. During summer breaks we drank iced tea with our dear parents, so wise and calm, as we shared stories of heartbreak and disappointment, as well as hopes of what was yet to come. We entertained old friends from the neighbourhood, many of who never left to venture out of our tiny western Pennsylvania town. Cherished memories, lovely swing.
Full-circle: Pops and Grandma holding the chubby, diapered grandchildren during a soft summer rain, swinging to and fro, the sounds of "The horse and the flea and three blind mice . . ." Knowing smiles— so thankful for memories in the making.
Ah . . . swing.
* And then, there is always the headless dress form behind the curtain in my grandmother's spare bedroom—an entirely different kind of memory!!!
I've long been fascinated with the notion of patina—how certain things become more delightful as they are worn by use. This is why I have a preference for traditional building materials (stone, brick and wood) that wear well over modern building materials (fiberglass, steel and concrete) that break. An early instance of delighting in patina for me comes from a big comfy chair in the living room of my family's summer cabin. I believe that the fabric was originally corduroy, but the texture had been worn smooth by constant use. There were four kids in our family and unless it was an absolutely glorious day, which in the Northwest was rare, one of us was always in this chair. We had an elaborate set of rules involving securing your rights to the chair by saying "place backs" if you had to leave it for a short time. Where the chair had worn through to the stuffing, my mother had sewn various patches on it. As I picture the chair now I recall more patches than fabric. There were newer chairs in the house and perhaps even nicer chairs, but there was something uniquely delightful about that chair that made it the clear favourite. I suspect that even now my frequent quest to find a decent place to sit and read are often frustrated attempts to lay claim to the right I secured by saying "place backs" a long, long time ago.
I've never really felt at home anywhere, but I guess the closest thing would have been my seat at my grandmother's dining table.
I'm going to argue that, to the Chinese, the phrase "comfort food" is tautological.
Anything deserving of the honorific "food" ought to be comforting. And so that high-backed stool, tucked into the corner of my grandparents' little apartment in a senior-citizens' building in Berkeley, California, was comfort and belonging, happiness and home. When I think of that seat, I think of my grandmother's fried rice—egginess and green onion and fatty nuggets of Chinese sausage and the crispy browned bits that had stuck to the pan, but which she scraped up with her metal spatula because she knew they delighted me.
That is love. That was home.