Comfort Food

On a dark weekend like this, it was impossible to tell whether my persistent stomach ache was physical or emotional. It doesn’t matter. We hunkered down at home, needing to be within arms’ reach of each other. And when I could finally eat, I ate brown rice and an egg poached in Tony’s hot and sour soup.

It doesn’t make everything better, but it’s a tiny step in the right direction.


by Caroline

The one fixed point in our past several summers is a multi-family camping trip: four families, eight boys between the ages (now) of 6 and 11, hikes in the woods, splashing in the river, and of course lots of great food and cocktails. This year it seemed both fitting and a little crazy that we would be heading off for our three nights of camping less than a week after returning from family camp.

At least we knew we’d eat just the way we like to, with plenty of fresh produce and homemade dishes. Over the years, we’ve developed a Google doc through which we sign up for meals, remind ourselves of what we need to bring (a sharpie!), and ask each other about other things:

But this year, just as we were getting all the family camp gear washed (or not) and put away or repacked, Ben got sick, and as we got closer to departure day, it became clearer, to everyone but him, that he and I were going to stay home. As I shared on Twitter:

So Tony finished packing and headed out with Eli, leaving me with a sick kid and this sweet paper tent card, showing himself and Eli in their sleeping bags, with hearts on Ben’s and my pillows where our heads should be:

Ben and I have been home and very sad, consoled by messages and pictures texted to us by Tony and our friends, knowing they miss us, too:


As I write this post, Ben is starting to feel just better enough to remember the treats we always have camping — the Nutella one family brings for breakfast and the s’mores the kids make after dinner — and I’m remembering some of my favorite treats from last year’s trip, like my friend’s gorgeous appetizers:

and Tony’s fabulous coffee bar:

But for the second week in a row, I find I’m thinking less about the food than the experience around the food, and that’s what I’m missing by not camping. I’m sad that we’re both missing time that in years past we spent like this:

and this:

I can let go of my desire to share my latest pickles, to use Mark Bittman’s kebab generator, and to reinvent our s’mores a la Sunset Magazine. I’ll find more recipes by next summer. And I’m trying to be philosophical about the weekend we’ve missed. We will go again, with all our boys another year bigger and more independent. The woods and the river will be waiting for us till we’re ready. For now, it’s all tea and toast around here.

Turn-the-Corner Tofu Salad

by Caroline

Ben was sick. He lay on the couch, with neither an appetite nor a fever nor any other symptoms. It was starting to get worrisome, the lack of symptoms. At least when a child is sneezing or vomiting you have a general idea of how to make them feel better and when they might turn the corner. He’d missed two and a half days of school, and I was just starting to think I should consider calling the doctor when he got up off the couch, pulled a couple books off the kitchen bookshelf, and took them back to his cozy spot under the blanket, now paging through his Spatulatta cookbook, showing more energy than he had in days.

“Can we make this, Mama?” he asked. And without even knowing what recipe he was looking at, maybe Stained Glass Cookies or Extra-E-Z Fudge, I said yes, we can make that. And we did, and we will again because it is a) delicious; b) healthy; c) quick; d) easy enough for even a sick kid to make. We added a carrot and some black sesame seeds (Ben is wild about sesame seeds) to the recipe, but otherwise followed it as written. Here’s how you can make it, too:

3″ piece fresh ginger
1 carrot (optional)
10 oz tofu
2 scallions, sliced in rounds
2 T soy sauce
sesame seeds of any color, to taste (optional)

Peel the skin from the ginger and grate with a microplane or the small side of a box grater. Peel the carrot and grate with the large side of the box grater. Slice the tofu into 1″ cubes and place in a serving dish. Sprinkle the sesame seeds, carrot, ginger, and scallions over the tofu, drizzle with soy sauce and serve.

Feeding the Really Sick

by Caroline

I am a little bit obsessed with school lunch. My essay for this book is on the subject, my next column for Literary Mama is on a school lunch documentary; I volunteer in the cafeteria as often as I can because I feel so strongly that it’s a place that can be as educational as any other room at school, and I want to see what the kids are learning there about food and community. But mostly, I just want every kid to eat a good school lunch, and I know that many, for many complicated reasons, just don’t.

But this week I got a little distracted from school lunch and started to think about hospital lunch. Luckily it was nothing personal; we did spend some time in the hospital when Ben was a baby, but he was too young to eat solids and my family brought enough food that, as far as I recall, Tony and I never had to eat the hospital food (I tell some of the story here). First, Lisa mentioned Cristina Nehring‘s lovely piece about mothering her daughter through a long hospitalization for leukemia treatment, and then I read this piece in the Times about Pnina Peled, a chef in New York City who is trying to improve hospital food for the very youngest patients.

You think your kids are picky? Now think about how fussy they get about food when they are sick. Now, multiply that by a factor of appetite-suppressing and taste-altering medicines, IVs, shunts, and probes, plus medically-required low-sodium, low-sugar, and/or low-microbial diets for kids who are missing home and home cooking. Read Marie Lawson Fiala’s Letters from a Distant Shore and Vicki Forman’s This Lovely Life, two gorgeous, fierce memoirs about too much time in the hospital with their sons. This all might give you some sense of the challenges Ms Peled faces — and by all accounts meets — every day, by producing buffalo wings and vegetable skewers, pressed turkey and cheese sandwiches like the ones at Dunkin’ Donuts, shrimp scampi made with Promise instead of butter, eggplant Parmesan made with egg whites, whole-wheat bread crumbs and soy cheese, and pumpkin spice cake made with egg whites and applesauce. It might not all sound so good to us, but we’re not the ones she’s cooking for.

Luckily we’re not eating hospital lunch right now, but if we ever are, I hope we’re lucky enough to be fed by someone like Ms Peled. “Food is about bringing people together and making them happy,” she says — whether you’re at home or hospital.

Lemon + Honey

by Caroline

It has been six days now since this cold clamped its vise grip on my head and chest, six days of trying to wash it way with gallons of tea, at first, and then just hot water with lemon and honey. Usually by this point in a cold, I’m tired of the drink and craving a milkshake (even though I know it’ll bring on a coughing fit) but not this time. Yesterday, I even hauled a pile of cookbooks into bed with me to read up on lemons, and found a chapter dedicated to them in the incomparable Laurie Colwin’s More Home Cooking. After detailing the various delicious things that can be made more delicious with the addition of a lemon (roast chicken; any kind of fish; lentils; salads; rice pudding; pound cake; biscuits), she writes:

“And when you have run out of things to cook with lemons, you can use them as medicine. When you or a loved one is sick with the flu, a very good remedy is

Hot Lemonade

For this you need one big water glass. Into the bottom of it put 1 large spoonful of honey and 1 cinnamon stick. Slice half a lemon into thin slices and put those in, too. Now squeeze the remaining lemon half, and 1 more lemon, and put the juice of both into the glass. Fill with hot water, stir, and serve to the sick person with the glass wrapped in a napkin.”

I can’t say it has cured me, but the cinnamon stick is a nice change of pace, and one I’m sticking with as I lie in bed, re-reading the rest of Colwin’s lovely book.