One Person’s Comfort Food

Gourmet Peanut Butter Pie on a background

After eating dinner in a Reno restaurant with a group of female colleagues, I ordered peanut butter cheesecake for dessert. A fellow diner laughed through her thick lipstick and announced to everyone within range, “I guess Janet’s taste buds didn’t make it out of junior high.”

Because my Uncle Gus advised me to never argue with a jackass, I smiled sweetly, but I thought, “Who made you the judge of desserts, Ms Snooty-Tooty? Why don’t you nibble the piece of bitter Belgium chocolate you ordered, smear lipstick on your glass of red wine, and let the rest of us enjoy ourselves?”

Then I ate my cheesecake.

I consider peanut butter in all its guises a comfort food because I ate as much of it as I could during my childhood: straight from the jar, mixed with honey or jelly on bread, and in the best-textured cookies ever created.

But products of my mother’s kitchen dominate the list of foods that make me feel good: pot roast with vegetables and gravy, baked winter squash with lots of butter, macaroni made with hamburger and tomatoes, beans cooked all day with bits of ham, frosted cinnamon rolls, raisin cake with caramel frosting, pies with unfashionably thick crusts.

Much as I enjoyed these favored foods, my young self also chased food fads, yearned for store-bought products, and wished Mom believed in snacks and fancy appetizers.

When I could get away with it, I swigged copious amounts of Kool-Aid and a sugary breakfast drink called Tang, popular because it voyaged into space with the astronauts. I preferred Campbell’s soups to Mom’s homemade versions and, after a lifetime of slicing homemade bread, considered Wonder Bread a special treat.

Home-made white bread

I liked to visit friends who had sugary or salty snacks readily available; Mom usually told me to go eat an apple. I remember a glorious day when a friend’s mother, trying out appetizers for a party, fed her daughter and me a mixture of deviled ham, mayonnaise, and chopped sweet pickles on saltine crackers then followed that delicacy with pigs in a blanket, which we daintily dipped in mustard.

That evening, when I suggested to Mom that she start serving appetizers before dinner, she raised an eyebrow and spoke not a word.

Fortunately, I soon outgrew my foolish notion that processed food was better than homemade — except for cereal. I’d still choose Cheerios or Cornflakes over a bowl of oatmeal — a breakfast standard Blaine called glue and Barbara decorated with dead flies so she wouldn’t have to eat it.

I suppose, like most people, my comfort foods have always been the foods I ate surrounded by my family when my appetite was inexperienced and unconstrained, my happiness easily won, and my future unlimited.

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59 thoughts on “One Person’s Comfort Food

    • Another of my favorites; every Christmas I wage a mental battle over whether to buy chocolate fudge or peanut butter fudge. Then inspiration hits, and I buy both. I don’t make fudge because I eat it all, even when I had intended to give some away. When I buy it, I better control the portions.

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  1. Now I’m hungry. My fave was cheese puffs; On Fridays, I was allowed to stay up and watch spooky movies with a bag of cheese puffs. Can’t stand them now. God only knows what they’re made of–I’m pretty sure cheese doesn’t have much to do with it.

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  2. I would arm wrestle you for a bite of that cheesecake in a heartbeat. I never make fun of anybody’s choice for desert. Desert is personal. If you enjoy it, order it and eat it. The notion that a “sophisticated” pallet precludes certain deserts is absurd. If it was me, I’d be tempted to order a glass of chocolate milk to go with it 🙂

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  3. Ah, food..so many people in the “Health” food industry where I work have huge issues on foods pleasure. I take comfort in coffee, hot buttered toast, grilled cheese sandwiches, and peanut butter on a fork. By our age, we know what makes us happy is what matters. Your Hoitsy-Snob would have waved away that dessert cart on The Titanic, for sure- lovely post thanks, Janet, needed the guffaw.

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    • Oh, the fun I’ve had imagining my food snob waving away the desert cart on the Titanic, Sheila. I too needed a guffaw on this first day home from our trip — a cold day that began with two workers arriving at 8am to put in the new furnace they said they’d install while we were gone.

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    • Eeka, just woke up, and out yonder window pane is a great ugly crane thing, with what looks like stadium lighting atop…how intrusive…I do hope the furnace went okay, chaos after a holiday is not good. This is my last day of brief vacation.. I reckon we all agree, Peanut Butter is a food group!

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  4. I remember thirty years ago in a specialty ice cream shop, during a Shakespeare Festival in Oregon, that you chose a peanut butter milkshake. After drinking half you used the word “cloying”. I was impressed that I had a friend who liked peanut butter and SPOKE words I only read in books. So there, Ms Snooty Tooty.
    Just a distant memory that proves you’ve remained true to yourself! Unfortunately many foods comfort me, sigh.

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    • What a fun comment, Mary, with a memory of our trek to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival (which worked out much better for us than our season tickets to the Reno opera.) I don’t remember my peanut butter shake,or my comment, but I’ll bet I overcame its cloying nature and drank every drop of it; it was ice cream, after all.

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  5. I wonder if today’s young people will have any comfort foods to enjoy as they grow older. Food is often seen as an enemy to be tamed or a marker of sophistication. Sadly we seem to have lost our appreciation of sharing simple well cooked meals.

    And as an aside, in Australia, a new peanut butter flavoured chocolate coated ice cream is being marketed as Americana. I can’t say it appeals to me but I am happy for others to enjoy it!

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    • I must say, Sally, I would like to try the new ice cream you describe. I think I’d love it. I’ve noticed some of the younger generation reacting to food as you describe, and it is sad. After traveling for three weeks, I can hardly wait to prepare a few of the simple, well cooked meals my husband and I enjoy.

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  6. Sheesh, the French eat snails, where does that put them! And I’m not sure why peanut butter has been left off Maslow’s hierarchy of needs either. And how about my father’s breakfast of toast, peanut butter topped with sliced banana, you don’t get less sophisticated but man it tastes good. Sophisticated never got my endorphins zinging along but peanut butter? Now that’s a different story altogether.

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  7. Welcome back, Kiddo! I’m a peanut butter eater myself! (Then, again, I like to eat anything that “doesn’t look at me or crawl across my plate”!!! ) My taste buds are with yours….back in junior high! Mind you, I’ve taken to eating “almond butter” over peanut butter, these days, but that’s only because the Princess won’t eat peanut butter and I’m too cheap to buy both! Hey!!!! So, did you catch any fish while you were on vacation??? 🙂

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    • I would have guessed you are a nut butter eater. I enjoy almond butter as well, but, like you, buy only one kind at a time. I caught nary a fish on vacation, but I saw glorious fall foliage in New England and toured New York City with our grandson, who goes to Seton Hall in New Jersey. We also spent 8 days with our children and grandchildren in Illinois; now we’re exhausted, faced with mounds of dirty laundry, and tired of restaurant food — all signs of a glorious vacation

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      • Yes, my family and friends have sent me pictures of the foliage this year. Has been absolutely BRILLIANT!!! Ours, out here, this year has been inordinately “yucky”…..sounds like your fishing expertise ia about as good as mine, too! (Although I did catch, what my family considers “bait food” at Lake Tahoe this year!!) Sounds like you had a great trip!!! Makes it easier to do “mounds of dirty laundry”!! 🙂

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      • I envy your nearness to Lake Tahoe. I lived in Carson City 23 years and spent as much time at the lake as I could in the summer. I try to describe it to those who haven’t seen it, and always have the feeling they’re humoring me when they say, “Yes, that sounds nice.” Is it still as pretty as it was 20 years ago? I read something about the clarity of the water declining.

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      • Tahoe is still beautiful, but I have to say, in the past couple of years with more and more people moving out here, the “beauty” of things is starting to “fade” because of traffic, etc. But Tahoe is Tahoe. The water and surrounding mountains are beautiful. And in the winter the snow is pretty special….I wonder, though, if I’ll “age in place” here, though….TOO,TOO many people for me and “my little bubble”…. :)P Have been out here over 30 years and have only been to Carson City once…I really need to get there, again. Hopefully, when the Princess retires…. 🙂

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      • Even before I left, Lucie, I felt people, concrete, and asphalt were encroaching too much on the lake. then I’d remind myself to look at the water, the mountains, and the snow, and try to get over my petulance. Carson City, too, is falling victim to the area’s growth, but still has its charm, especially Carson Street as it passes by the capitol and other government buildings.

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      • Hm..petulance, eh??? Must be a lot of that going around these days, ‘cuz I’ve been feeling a lot of petulance, lately! 🙂 If you have access to HBO, there’s a documentary by Alexandra Pelosi called, “SF 2.0”. Check it out! Excellent presentation of what’s happening out here – excellent. I’d be interested in your opinion on the film.

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  8. Your Uncle Gus sounds like a wise man! I too ate mostly homemade food as a child and craved the sugary processed treats my friends brought to school on the daily, but I have to admit there is nothing quite like my mothers country roasted chicken drumsticks followed by Chocolate Sherry Mousse for dessert. I’m also addicted to peanut butter and according to the health and fitness online world, unprocessed peanut butter is one of the healthiest foods out there. Stick that in your pipe Ms Snooty-Tooty!

    Also, have missed your posts, it’s lovely to see you back. I hope you had a wonderful vacation

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    • I don’t know about my uncle’s wisdom, Katie, but I liked the way he didn’t suffer fools gladly. I did have a wonderful vacation, but it’s nice to be back and to know I was missed. Thank you. It was a happy day for me when I first read a nutritionist’s statement about the benefits of unprocessed peanut butter. Now I eat it without guilt; just as, I’m certain I would relish your mother’s dinner and eat it without guilt as well.

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  9. Peanut butter is a staple in our house. Not for us, but for our four legged friends. Our two dogs get a spoonful every morning. The oil in it helps keep their coats shiny. One of our cats likes to lick it right out of the jar. Welcome back, I missed you.

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  10. Peanut butter has been a downfall of mine for years. There were times when I simply couldn’t be trusted knowing a jar was in the cupboard. I particularly like to spread it on a flour tortilla and roll it up. Honey optional. The fascinating part for me is how individual our tastes are and how our memories and desires are influenced by our perception. I too have fond memories of that hamburger casserole with tomatoes and macaroni. We called it “Savora,” not sure where the name came from. With its crust of melted cheese on top, it is the essence of a comfort food to me. My husband, on the other hand, HATES it and equates it and refers to it “poverty food.” I’d make a big pan of it for my girls when he was out of town.

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    • It’s been fun to hear from so many adults who still love peanut butter and even a few who fondly remember eating and enjoying the macaroni dish as children. I tried to make it as an adult, but could never equal Mom’s. I think her home-bottled tomatoes were the difference. I chuckled as I pictured you and your daughters enjoying a pan of it whenever your husband was out of town. I love the power-food status nutritionists have bestowed on natural peanut butter, which I prefer: no more guilt trips when I eat it, though I do try to exercise portion control — not always successfully.

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    • I, too, was glad I let the comment go, Valerie. Especially when I noticed the expressions on the faces of the other ladies at the dinner; their faces told me I didn’t need to respond. Miss Lipstick had done enough damage to her image.

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  11. I so enjoyed reading this. I love peanut butter too and still enjoy sandwiches with peanut but and tree tomato relish on them. I have also experience those people who look down their skinny noses at what I eat or pass comments. I enjoy my food and the tastes eating for pleasure as well as sustenance. Since retirement lol (I am busier than ever) I am enjoying baking again for my friends and getting out my mothers recipes like Raisin Loaf for afternoon tea. and Steamed puddings for a winters night. cheers Lynne

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    • What a delightful, detailed response, Lynne. I’ve never eaten tree tomato relish, but would like to try it. My mom used to make a raisin cake and a steamed carrot pudding I loved, so I’m certain I’d enjoy your mother’s raisin loaf and steamed puddings. An acquaintance once remarked she didn’t live to eat, but ate only to live. My immediate reaction was to want to express sympathy for her inability to find joy in food.

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  12. I loved the way you restrained yourself and took Uncle Gus’s advice. Eating those wonderful treats from your youth is worth refreshing those treasured memories, Janet. Love your post as it made me remember my favourites too!

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  13. Hi Annie from Australia here….my second name is Beulah…..it came via my grandmother, I wasn’t impressed although it has grown on me over the years, 58 of them that is ha ha!!!!….I especially love this story about your peanut butter cheesecake….take that anyday over bitter Belgium chocolate. ..comfort food, once again comes via our grandmothers and mothers…baked rice puddings, Scones with jam and whipped cream, sticky date puddings… and now I must find me a Penut Butter Cheesecake…Yummo!!!!

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    • It’s nice to meet a Beulah, Annie. I agree that our version of comfort food is tied to mothers and grandmothers. Your favorites sound delicious. Baked rice pudding is one of mine as well, though I forgot to mention it, and I wish scones with jam and whipped cream had been another.Thanks for finding my blog. I’ll visit yours soon.

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