Comfort Food

Today, though productive and cheerful, felt very long by the end of it. Went to bed at 1 a.m. the night before and woke at 4:48, just before the alarm. Dressed for the gym and left the house at 6:05, drove 30 minutes to the office fitness center.  Put in 60 minutes of walk-running on the treadmill, showered, changed into work clothes and worked a full day including a lunch with my boss that was pretty healthy, but not exactly relaxing. Had to detour on the way home to avoid construction, then stopped at the store for ant traps. coffee filters, trash bags and tea. Arrived home, let the dog out, changed into soft comfy clothes, and warmed up the flavorful, nutritious meal I had been looking forward to all day-leftover braised kale with onions and a bowl of black bean and sweet potato stew.

I posted the soup recipe a couple days ago, check it out if you want something outrageously healthy, flavorful and easy to make.  I used a slow cooker, it works brilliantly on the stovetop too.

The kale preparation is too simple even to be called a recipe: saute half an onion in a tablespoon or two of olive oil until translucent, add a bunch of fresh kale (or collard or mustard or other greens) that has been washed, tough stems stripped away and roughly chopped. Add two teaspoons each of cider vinegar and brown sugar, a couple healthy pinches of salt, plenty of your favorite hot sauce, a muscular grind of black pepper and stir to combine. Add up to a cup of water to the pan, depending on how much pot liquor you want in the end, cover the pot tightly and cook at a slow simmer for 45-60 minutes. The result? Tender, deeply flavorful greens with a luxuriously silky mouthfeel and a spicy, tangy brightness of flavor.  Ham or bacon? By all means. Garlic and white wine instead of vinegar and sugar? Yum. You get the idea.

The beauty of both these dishes is that they keep beautifully. I made the soup 3 days ago, the kale day before yesterday when I had time to chop and assemble ingredients. The flavors had a chance to mellow and marry, the textures to nestle together without losing their identity. I knew they’d be delicious. A couple minutes each in the microwave and they’re filling the room with savory, inviting fragrance. The anxiety of the day falls away, and a wave of relaxation lifts my spoon happily to my waiting lips.

This is what food is supposed to be: made at leisure to be eaten by weary, hungry folk, full of nutrients that feed the body, flavors to soothe the soul, texture and color to delight the eye. Making food like this for myself, by myself, is still a new joy, but one I hope never to take for granted. I love to feed other people, but there is a special satisfaction in being my own benefactor, in nurturing myself. This has been a very long day, but the end of it is full of peace and promise.

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