Sunday, November 13, 2011

All That Comforts Us

I think if my kids had to choose between me and macaroni and cheese, they would choose macaroni and cheese.

When I pull the box out of the cupboard, suddenly there is my daughter beside me, as if she heard the slight rattle of the dry noodles from the other side of the house. And my son, when presented with a bowl, shoves macaroni in his mouth two handfuls at a time and spends several minutes digging every single dropped noodle out of the crevices of his high chair.

I love macaroni and cheese as much as the next person, and I know that it is a staple of the Kid Diet, but it is amazing to me that they would eat it every single day when I take such great pains to expose them to all the wonderment of foods like risotto and shepherd's pie. I think what it comes down to is that, more than any other food, macaroni and cheese is their comfort food.

Everyone has a food or three that acts as a bit of a band-aid for the soul. Mine are all tethered to childhood, to the memory of a warm house and my family around the table. I remember coming home from school and spotting the crock pot on the counter and knowing the best night ever was ahead: stroganoff over egg noodles. And having "What's for dinner?" answered with "meatloaf," and suddenly the day did not seem so bad. And eyeing a huge Thanksgiving bowl of my favorite comfort food: buttery, lumpy mashed potatoes drowning in gravy.

The very reason it is called "comfort food" is that it is comforting, not only to our bellies but to our minds. Food has a fantastic power to recall, for good and for bad, and our comfort foods bring on a pleasant feeling that is a little "I just had a massage/large drink/chat with my best friend" and a little "sleepy food coma," and perhaps a little "eating this makes me remember the best of my past."

Maybe my kids just really like eating macaroni and cheese. Or maybe it makes them just a little bit happier than usual, and in 30 years, when they pull out the blue box for their own kids, they will remember when their mommy used to make their favorite meal for them, in a warm house with family around the table.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

La Belle Vie, Indeed

Five years ago this week, Chef Matt and I said our vows in a grand cathedral, opened some presents, and flew to Italy, where we ate like gluttons and drank like kings. Every year around our anniversary, we honor the memory of Bella Italia and find an Italian restaurant where we can pretend, for a few hours, that when we walk out the door we will be back in Rome.

This year, we diverted a bit and visited a restaurant that has been on our "to-eat" list since before our wedding: La Belle Vie, a restaurant that graces the top of most local dining lists and has the price tag to prove it. A fortunate twist of events granted us the privilege of a special tasting menu, offered by a chef who is something of an inspiration to my husband. The restaurant gods had granted us a blessing.

It was a menu that, in many ways, inched close to the French Laundry. We ate dishes I could never have imagined, such as foie gras cheesecake and lamb stuffed with blood sausage, and reveled in the transformation of the everyday chicken and trout into something quite magical.

As it always is when we are at fancy restaurants, the pleasure is not only in the food, but in watching Matt adore his craft. We spent much of the night talking about food -- how much we love it, our top five meals of all time, how it personifies our relationship in a lot of ways -- and although by the end of the night my wine flight had caught up with me and I cannot quite recall everything we discussed, I do remember feeling very happy.

Marriage, on a daily basis, is hard. I can see why the commitment can be daunting, and there are moments that certainly test us. But we have made it a priority to take pleasure in each other's company at every opportunity, and to find joy in what the other person loves. It may sound flighty in the face of financial hardship, difficult parenting, and the other trials of marriage, but joy is what we always come back to, and it sustains us.

On our actual anniversary, we spent most of the day apart, shared a frozen pizza after the kids went to bed, and watched "Iron Chef" on TV. Our two vastly different dining experiences revealed a universal truth about marriage: you have brilliant moments within days of ordinary, but if you can find joy in both, then I think you have found "happy."