A cup of tea, a little pasteen, and comfort

cup of tea

Tea, heavy on the milk and sugar, still signals comfort in my family. Photo by Laura Groch

I’ve been overindulging in chocolate, adding sugar to my tea and coffee, and sneaking an extra blob of maple syrup on my pancakes. When life presents difficulties, we all need a little something sweet, as my mama would say.

.Sweets rank high on the list of comfort foods, and we’re needing some comfort these days. My mom has moved into a nursing home, and she doesn’t deliver much advice to me these days. After I visit her, I find myself reaching for a mini peanut butter cup, more than my normal ration.

And we just spent Father’s Day weekend mostly at the hospital because of a health issue with my dad. Serious, but treatable, thank goodness. So I’ve been checking into the comfort food-cupboard lately.

I think it’s safe to say we’ve all got a special comfort food. My theory is that most of these are on the white or pale side — why, I don’t know. Maybe they reflect mother’s milk, our very first comfort foods.

Yes, I know, chocolate, however delightful, doesn’t fit that theory. But what about vanilla ice cream (OK, any ice cream), rice pudding, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese (mostly white), cream of mushroom soup, even buttered toast.

Our childhood had two comfort foods. First honors go to the tiny Italian pasta called, appropriately and diminutively, “pastina.” Pastina is bitty star-shaped pasta that mammas cooked for their bambini as a kind of “first food,” so it has a longstanding pride of place. This was often served when we were sick or needed something mild to eat.

There’s no upper age limit on pastina. You might recall that in one episode of “The Sopranos,” Mama Carmela asks her upset daughter Meadow, “You want I should make you a little pasteen?”

And my pal Grace, who recently had surgery, posted a photo of herself a few weeks later wearing a full neck brace, with a familiar dish set before her. “Pastina at last,” she wrote.

Pastina doesn’t have to be little stars, which can be hard to find outside Ronzoni country. Orzo works, as do alphabet pastas, if you can find them. Goya also makes a little star-shaped pasta that is bigger than pastina but still small enough to qualify.

With butter and Parmesan cheese, pastina is a mild, soothing and savory dish. It’s also featured in Italian soups as “pastina in brodo” (broth). Some folks top it with tomato sauce, which is fine, and I’ve lately been enjoying it with a dollop of pesto, too. But butter and Parmesan cheese are my first choices.

The other comfort food of our childhood, served whenever we were tearful about some injustice or slight or disaster, was called “sugar milk tea,” heavy on the sugar and milk (so it also fits my “pale food” theory).

This was dispensed by my mother, who would pour cups for herself during the day from a small Corelle pot of brewed tea that was kept on the stovetop. The Corelle was ideal in those pre-microwave days because you could just fire up the burner under the pot to warm the tea, without having to pour it into a separate pot to warm or without having to boil water for a fresh cup. Tea was always there, ready for any childhood (or adult) calamity.

Once the matter had been hashed out, advice delivered and and tears dried, Mama would ask, “Now, how about a cup of sugar milk tea?” My answer was always “Yes.”

It was warm, sweet and a solace. How I miss those days when problems could be eased with a cup of sweet tea.

(If you have a comfort food, I’d love to know what it is. And whether it fits my pale-food theory.)

(c) copyright 2015 Laura Groch

PB pickles, and how to get into the San Diego County Fair for free

deep-fried peanut-butter-filled pickle

Deep-fried peanut-butter-filled pickle at the San Diego County Fair, slightly busted open to show the PB. It actually tasted kinda good. (Photo by Kelley Carlson)

Deep-fried. Peanut-butter-filled. Pickle.

Guess what time it is? Oh yes, it’s San Diego County Fair time, starting Friday, June 5 and running through Sunday, July 5, at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Before we go any farther, let me just say that the above-mentioned DFPBFP wasn’t as bad as it sounds. I could have done without the deep-fried part, really, but the actual peanut-butter-pickle combo was — kind of tasty.

That’s when I remembered: A long time ago, the newspaper’s Food section ran a Continue reading

Collecting poptops? We know you mean well, but …

soda can

What makes more sense: Recycling a whole can…? (Photo by Laura Groch)

My boss once gave me an assignment: People were collecting a million poptops from beverage cans and using the money made from recycling them to help a little girl who couldn’t afford dialysis treatments. What a great human interest story! Find out who the little girl was and what was going on. Here’s the phone number of the woman who called it in.

OK, fine. I called the nice lady. Let’s call her Mrs. Smith.

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Cooking up some guilt: What I wrote to ‘Dear Abby’

I’ve read “Dear Abby” for years and years. Handled the column during my newspaper days. But never felt moved to write a letter to her (or her daughter, who now handles the column) until a couple of months ago.

A young woman wrote in worried about her cooking shortcuts. Neither she nor her husband cared for cooking, both worked outside the home, and she was Continue reading

Thrifty/Nifty: Six painless ways to save water in the kitchen

water jug, saving water

Fill a jug with water as you wait for it to warm up (or cool down). Use that water elsewhere instead of sending it down the drain. (Photo by Laura Groch)

Water conservation is a big deal right now in California, but no matter where  you live, we can probably agree that no one wants (or needs) higher water bills. Here are a few painless ways I save water in the kitchen that might work for you:

The first tool in my arsenal is an empty milk jug. Next time you empty a gallon milk or orange juice container (or a half-gallon one, whatever), rinse it out and keep it by the sink. (If you have room, keep a couple there.) Next time you need to run the water until it’s hot (or cold), capture that water in the jugs. Use it later to fill pasta  pots, coffeemakers, the dog’s dish, etc. (Or keep a few filled jugs under the sink to add to your earthquake supplies.)

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Playing the dozens: 4 ways to roll with post-Easter eggs

hard-boiled eggs

Playing the dozens: Here are a few ideas to use up hard-boiled eggs. (Photo by Laura Groch)

Post-Easter (or picnic) hard-boiled eggs often have people hard-pressed to figure out what else to do with them beyond egg salad — although that can be mighty tasty, and I’ve got a recipe below. Here are some other ideas you might enjoy. (If you’ve already eaten all your eggs,bookmark this post for next season and beyond.)

One of my readers, Sheril C. of Escondido, was hunting for a casserole that used hard-boiled eggs, a white sauce and corn flakes. She remembered eating it after an Easter egg hunt in Leucadia in the 1960s. “Maybe someone in the Encinitas/Leucadia area will still have that recipe. It was delicious.”

Kallee K. of Escondido responded, “This is a ‘vintage’ recipe that we have made Continue reading