Anything but Ramen: Cooking your own comfort foods

Food columnist Aaron Pellish on how to foster independence by cooking how your parents used to

Independence, as it turns out, cuts both ways.

When I initially moved into my new apartment, I was filled with excitement over the endless freedom that came with living truly independently. I had taken control over every aspect of my life, and it felt good to be finally free.

Fast forward to the present day, where most of my days are spent whining over how much I hate having to do all of these responsible, necessary adult tasks in order to continue functioning properly. Cleaning annoys me. Doing dishes annoys me. And yes, even cooking annoys me.

Sometimes I really enjoy making a hearty meal for myself and going to town on the food I just made with pride. In the beginning of the semester, I felt that joy more frequently than not.

But as school work and independent living responsibilities have taken their toll, my default setting has been to neglect whatever enjoyment I once got out of cooking in favor of a more satisfying and easier laziness that culminates with a “dinner” of tortilla chips and hummus.

My increased intolerance for cooking my own meals combined with the adoption of an overall apathy toward my own independence caused me to reminisce about simpler times when my mom would cook meals for me, and do laundry for me, and take care of me so I didn’t have to. I had never fully appreciated how much easier my life was when I was living at home until I began thinking about all the things I didn’t have to do when I lived with my parents.

I guess this feeling is about as close to homesick as I’ll ever be, because I’m not really clamoring for my parents to come visit me at school, or calling them up once a day. As petty as it sounds, I mostly miss the comfort of having other people do things for me occasionally.

Of all the things that I associate with my home, my mom’s cooking is very on high on the list. And of all of the dishes that I associate with my mom’s cooking, the one recipe that jumps out as undeniable comfort food was a dish called pasta puttanesca. (The word “puttanesca” means “in the style of a prostitute” in Italian. I’m not exactly sure about how I feel about my comfort food being Italian prostitute pasta, but I’ll try and withhold my judgment.)

I decided to make a shoddier version of my mom’s dish because I wanted to recapture the feeling of being at home without spending money on a plane ticket or withstanding my father’s passive-aggressive nagging.

The recipe was probably the easiest recipe I’ve ever come across. That realization made me question why I found the dish so comforting and also explained why my mother made it so much. All you have to do is put canned tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and other seasonings in a pan, and cook them until they all mix together into a sauce. Then you take the sauce and mix it with some pasta, and throw some olives and capers in with the pasta. Then you eat.

The recipe I was using made it sound much more complicated than that, but some recipes like to think of themselves as more refined and technically difficult than they actually are, because some recipes are pretentious. This particular recipe called for anchovies, but anchovies are objectively gross (unless you are reading this and also happen to like anchovies, in which case: Thank you for reading my column! Do what makes you happy!), so I decided not use them.

My comfort food didn’t bring me the feeling of being at home again, but the process of cooking a food I was so familiar with did refuel the contentment I got from cooking at the beginning of the semester, so you could say my comfort food worked like a charm. I think the feeling of being content was all I was looking for anyway.

Well, that and a reassuring reminder of why I moved so far away from my parents in the first place.

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