The Power of Comfort Food

So, having had a bit of a down day, I let myself indulge in one of my favorite foods: biscuits and gravy. Oh, not the kind my mother used to make… I don’t have her talent. But I have found, through trial and error, a sorta reasonable kind of okay facsimile using very specific store-bought brands. As a great man once said, “That’ll do, pig.  That’ll do.”

We’ve all been there. When you’re feeling down and less than ecstatic about a current life situation, there’s just something about consoling yourself with an entire tub of ice cream or a slice … okay, maybe several slices … no, wait, several varieties of chocolate cake.

Comfort foods offer a pick-me-up in bad situations. There’s something about even just smelling your favorite dish that brings you a sense of well-being. The aroma of warm cookies, cinnamon donuts, or fresh-baked bread – they’ll all do it. Right!? That’s what I’m talking about.

So why do our favorite comfort foods have such a profound impact on our mood? Well, there is a certain sentimental value in comfort food.

As it turns out, there’s a lot of psychology at play when we’re enjoying comfort food that’s “just like mom used to make.” Indeed, you could say the best chef on Earth is the person who cooked for you when you were a young child. And no, they didn’t just cook, they cooked with love. The most impressive 3-star Michelin chef will never beat your grandmother’s vegetable soup because in that soup is the deep love a professional chef can never have for you. Unless, that 3-star Michelin chef is in love with you … and well, can I just say, I wish!  Comfort food possesses an inherent and very powerful ability to transport us to simpler times (you know, before bills and job insecurity and the stresses of adult life). It transports us to a time when all we had to worry about was how many legs do caterpillars have and where do clouds come from.

Answers:  16 (usually) and …

Clouds forms as a result of air cooling to a temperature at which water vapor turns into liquid water. In turn, this is a result of air rising because the higher we go into the atmosphere, the colder the temperature becomes because during the day the sun heats it.

But where were we again? That’s right, the highs of food! Not clouds! I think most of us know and believe in that feeling of ummm … comfort … that comfort foods give us.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Well, actually, I wouldn’t say that my favorite comfort food is reminiscent of childhood necessarily. Hell, my parents couldn’t cook to save their lives!” First of all, I am so, so sorry. Secondly, hold your horses – there’s more to comfort foods than just who cooked them.

One important factor to consider when questioning our fairly unanimous love of comfort food, is simply the fat, sugar, and/or salt content in said comfort food. Though I’ve always considered it to be a sick, cosmic joke, our bodies LOVE those highly palatable foods that last a moment on the lips and a lifetime on the hips. Foods high in fat, sugar, and salt are particularly good at activating the brain’s reward system – producing pleasant feelings and reducing stress. Like I said, a sick, cosmic joke.

Was it too much to ask to be naturally addicted to celery and kale? Yeah, I know. Blech.

But the greatest tool in a comfort food’s arsenal of persuasion?

The. Void.

You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all had things go horribly horribly devastatingly awfully utterly embarrassingly wrong in our lives, and nothing fills the resulting crater-sized void in our hearts quite like comfort food. Having a bad day? Open a bag of chips. Going through a breakup? Order an extra-large four-cheese pizza and eat it in one sitting while watching The Notebook through a waterfall of tears. Is it an unhealthy coping mechanism? Absolutely. But does it work? Hell yeah.

At the end of the day, I feel like there are worse ways to cope than with the occasional dinner consisting of cheesecake and Cheez-Its. Key word being occasional. Should we all make a conscious effort to work through our problems so that we don’t feel the need to overindulge in unhealthy foods to cope with life? Yes. I’m sure we should.

At the same time, I also think that sometimes we should just be allowed to have our moment and enjoy some self-care in the form of a sorta reasonable kind of okay facsimile of Mom’s signature biscuits and gravy.

Hey, don’t judge me!

Missing Manners

I’m not sure what’s wrong with people these days. No-one has manners anymore. At least it seems that way sometimes.

A prime example just reared its ugly head earlier today.  I walk out of my condo to the smells of something incredibly yummy wafting on the breeze – and it’s obvious someone nearby, in my very building, has a scrumptious menu in the works. Do they not know the well-worn adage we all learned as small children: No food allowed unless you have enough to share with everyone?

If you’re going to torture the neighbors with delectable aromas, the least you can do is make enough for everyone. I mean, really.  Didn’t their mothers teach them anything?

Rise of the Javaholics

We all have our vices. For some of us, it’s cigarettes. Others nail-biting. Gambling. Speeding. Teen Mom. We’re all addicted to something that we maybe shouldn’t. Raise your hands if that thing is coffee. If I were to follow my own instructions I’d be typing with one hand right now, because the other would be emphatically waving up in the air.

Yes, coffee has a grip on my soul that nothing but sweet death will give me release from (and even then I’d probably be a pretty happy ghost if you put a Keurig in the casket with me).

big coffee cup

wish I had a cup this big

Along with these vices comes temptation. Otherwise, without the fun of being lured back into the darkness, what power would these vices hold over us? Coffee doesn’t make any sort of attempt to even give us addicts a fighting chance. The options and ease of getting that delicious caffeine into the bloodstream is getting ridiculous.

I mean, I already have a tough enough time passing up a Starbucks, but now some of their stores even have a drive-thru. I don’t even have to bother with parking and walking anymore, two of the things I hate most about going to get coffee. I often war with myself over whether it’s worth getting out of the car if 1) it’s simply too early in the morning or 2) it’s raining or 3) various other sub-optimal weather conditions or 4) I just don’t feel like it.

Every time I crave a coffee-shop coffee, I have the angel and devil on my shoulders. The angel, bright-eyed and secure in its control over stimulating substances would say, “Oh Wendy, it’s way too cold out. Do you really need to don a scarf and gloves just for 12 ounces of coffee?”

The devil, much more alert and awake than the angel will ever be, says, “Oh, you know what you want. You go get it. You’re an adult and you make the rules, not Mother Nature.”

With the drive-thru, the angel doesn’t even stand a chance. Hell, most of the time he doesn’t even show up to the game anymore.  Starbucks has found an even better way to get $4 out of me with as little resistance as possible.

starbucks drivethru

sign of my downfall

Oh, and for the record — I blame my friends and family for my continued crippling debilitation.  It’s not all me… being weak willed and such. They know I love Starbucks and so they shower me with gift cards for Christmas and on my birthday and every other holiday where gifts are expected.  Damn enablers. (Psst… hey… hey you… if you’re reading this, I didn’t mean it… I still want those cards for Christmas!)

Don’t worry, I’m not one of those uppity coffee drinkers. I don’t splurge for the grande skinny mocha soy latte extra hot extra shot extra pump add whip cream instead of foam. I mean, come on! It takes some people a full five minutes to just spit out their custom blend order to the 12-year-old barista behind the bar. Just order off the menu and be done with it already.

You may be saying to yourself, “Well Wendy, if you hate the dilemma Starbucks puts you in so much, why don’t you just make your own coffee?” Duh! You think I haven’t bought the special coffee before? I’ve even gone so far as to get the unique Starbucks syrup and the cute little rinky-dinky cups that make me feel like I’m sitting on a patio in Paris and turns my kitchen into a miniature barista paradise. But, it just never tastes the same.  It. Never. Tastes. The. Same.

My theory? Starbucks must be “enriching” their beans. They’re dropping something special in their brew making it extra addictive. Or maybe their cups are laced with a little something extra. I have to believe this. I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually, possibly even years from now, that a headline will read “Starbucks coffee contains addictive substance,” or “Revealed: Starbucks additive found to be highly addictive.”  I have to believe that because why the hell would any sane person continue to return time and time again to pay for overpriced coffee and be happy doing so?

Maybe it’s the start of a New World Order; the gradual world domination by the mysterious Starbucks under dark mocha skies using their (not-so-secret) weapon… addictive, delicious, wonderful, fantastic, amazing coffee that no one can seem to resist.

starbucks beans

just what exactly is in those beans!?

The Early Bird

As we all know, the early bird gets the … chocolate. In preparation of Thanksgiving — hey! it’s not that far away! — I’ve finally found the perfect Thanksgiving Day turkey. Well, the perfect one would be a pet turkey named Henry, but since the condo board likely wouldn’t go for that one (ugh!), this alternative, I must say, is pretty damned awesome. I make no promises whatsoever on whether or not this gem actually makes it to Thanksgiving.

click the pic to see where you can get your own!

The Early Bird and All That …

So, even though it’s a month away, the stores are already selling Halloween candy by the bags full. Which is A-okay by me, quite frankly. This is one time when I appreciate the commercialism that drives this great country of ours. You’ll be impressed, I’m sure, to hear that in a self-serving an industrious effort to binge on sweets be prepared for fright night, I got my first round of inventory of candy today.

Okay, fine. If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t think this batch is going to make it to October 31st. Ah, well. As my mother used to say: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.