There are few foods I liked as child that I still like today. That’s why the concept of comfort food is a bit strange to me. I can list almost everything that childhood me enjoyed: hot dogs with mustard, chicken, black olives, mac and cheese, Rice Krispies, chocolate milk, lobster legs, potato pancakes, and orange sherbet. Only in my childhood lexicon it was “sherbert,” rather like “spaghetti” was “basghetti.” I used to also like the presentation called “Cubic Scoops,” with the orange “sherbert” and vanilla ice cream stacked in blocks, and we’d go purchase it at Almacs instead of Ro-Jacks, for some reason.
And this list? Comprehensive. I’m not quite certain how I survived into adulthood with a diet like that, but I did. My palate has broadened since then.
There are very few of these foods I eat today. Foods that comfort me now are things like eel maki with a bowl of miso soup, or sautéed Brussels spouts with garlic and salt, or lamb served with peppers and olives and feta. They make me feel warm and cared for, exactly the thing one needs when one is sick or sad or hurting. Most of the foods of my childhood… just remind me of my childhood, which involved a lot of yelling, and the food, a lot of preservatives.
But I haven’t my own kitchen to experiment in, these days. Making these foods is involved. So instead, last night, I walked to the grocery. In the frozen section, I scanned the ice cream offerings, following my sweet tooth. That tooth, while still something to contend with, has shrunk of late. But there they were, isolated in the corner: the sherbets. I picked up the orange. Blue Bell, in a round plastic tub, not a box. That was okay.
I walked back to the house, lost in music and melancholy, and when I arrived, served myself of the melty mass. One taste. One taste and it was summer in New England. Milk and orange and cicadas. Milk and orange and Catwings at the Norton library, in the basement children’s section of the old building. Milk and orange and turtles in buckets caught by neighborhood kids down by the river, my dog with them, dripping with pond slime, her odd eyes laughing. So what did I do? Cry, of course. I always cry. I didn’t know a taste could capture all the escapes I had known as a kid.
But it wasn’t a comfort.