Food nowadays is about convenience. How much time do we have to plan and cook and clean up? Meals are just another task in increasingly busy days. Food is fuel. And it seems as if we aren’t supposed to enjoy the food we prepare.
But what if food means more than fuel? Two recent romances explore the deep emotional connection we, especially as women, have with food.
In The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins (February 2010), the young widowed heroine Lucy is a baker. She creates these fabulous, incredible desserts that she can’t eat. The guilt of living when her husband is dead and her deep sorrow turn the decadent treats she bakes into ash in her mouth. Her feelings about life and love are inextricably tied to eating her own desserts. Falling in love again finally allows her to let go of her grief and her guilt and enjoy not just her desserts, but her life.
In How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O’Neal (January 2011), the heroine Ramona is literally saved by bread. Learning how to care for a starter and kneading and baking bread become her passion and her joy when she is fifteen and pregnant. She loses that piece of herself for a while, caught up as she is in day-to-day living, but after a divorce and a rift between her and her family, she finds salvation in baking again. The book explores recipes and starter passed down from generation to generation, which give Ramona not just a visceral connection to the bread she bakes but an interlocking connection to her roots and her family and her new love.
Both Higgins and O’Neal lyrically present the heroines’ relationships with food. Vibrant colors and subtle textures, the comforting sounds while working in the kitchen, eloquent descriptions of scents of the kitchen, and love and appreciation for the beauty of the ingredients can all be found in these books' pages. The food the characters create is literally the measure of their feelings at that moment in time.
The Hindus believe that the food we eat takes on all the emotions of the food itself and of the preparer. Food prepared with love and happiness will taste better and give comfort, love, and happiness to the eater.
In the media we are bombarded with images and caveats about what we eat. Eat this, not that. Don’t eat fat, don’t eat carbs, don’t eat sugar, don’t eat processed. And a big one: Don’t eat emotionally. Many “diets” on the market today have you explore your feelings about food, the why of what you eat, suggesting you keep a food diary and examine your emotions about food. The message almost always implies that tying the two together is a bad thing. But is it really?
There’s a reason it’s called COMFORT food. And sometimes a little comfort food prepared with love can be just the pick-me-up needed to restore our frame of mind.
One of my comfort foods is macaroni and cheese. I have several friends who feel the same. I think it’s because mac 'n' cheese was a staple of our childhoods. A time when someone else took care of us. Love in a blue box and that not-quite-found-in-nature orange cheese. For most of us, mac 'n' cheese is also one of the first dishes we learned to “cook,” instilling a sense of pride and accomplishment, as a baby step to becoming a woman.
I make a homemade macaroni and cheese that is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. I’ve adapted the recipe from one I found on the cooking site www.epicurious.com. I don’t make it regularly—it’s more of a special occasion treat—but everyone in my family loves it.
Lisa’s Mac 'n' Cheese
1 stick butter
6 TB flour
5 cups of 2% milk
3 cups of sharp grated cheddar cheese
3 cups of grated Quattro Fromaggio (I use Trader Joe’s blend) cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 pound penne pasta
1/4 stick of butter
1 cup bread crumbs
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Preheat over to 400 degrees.
Melt butter. Stir with other ingredients. Set aside.
Cook the pasta according to directions until al dente. I toss in a little salt and about a teaspoon of olive oil (helps the pasta not stick together).
Melt butter in large sauce pan over medium low heat. Stir in flour. Make a roux, stirring while the butter and flour bubble, and let it brown slightly, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly (you don’t want the sauce to brown and scald on the bottom, so you have to stir constantly). Then simmer, whisking occasionally for about 5 minutes. The sauce should be nice and thick now. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheeses plus 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper until smooth.
In the pasta pan, combine the sauce and pasta. Mix until pasta is thoroughly coated. (It will look like a ton of extra sauce.) Pour into a buttered (or spray with Pam), 13 x 9 x 2 baking dish. Sprinkle topping over pasta. Bake until golden and bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes.
You can make the dish ahead of time and put in the refrigerator. Just don’t put the topping on until right before it goes into the oven.
Cupcakes image courtesy of bossacafez via Flickr
Lisa Hughey is an avid romance reader and an aspiring author. She has several projects under submission with publishers and spends her time on the web at www.pensfatales.com and on Twitter @lisahughey