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No-Guilt Comfort Food December 19, 2008

Posted by Ann Bertorelli in Uncategorized.
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Today as I was walking the aisles of a wonderful Italian grocery store close to my home, it occurred to me that comfort food doesn’t have to be edible. (It also occurred to me that I get many of my inspirations for blog entries while in a grocery store—wonder what that’s about?)


As I was walking through the aisles of Russo’s I saw pasta in all shapes and sizes. Unusual types I’ve never seen before—and I am Italian by heritage. Then there was the bread section—lots of hard rolls and long loaves with that tough crust which means it’s the real deal. And I can’t overlook the confections. There’s an Italian nougat candy called Torrone which is sold all year round but during the Christmas season it’s absolutely got to be available in Italian households. (That’s because there is just not another thing to eat in an Italian household on Christmas.) Russo’s also features a bakery offering Italian baked goods like cannoli, tiramisu, breads containing dried fruits, and of course the much maligned fruitcake. In short, it is an Italian-American paradise.


As I was taking in the vast array of imported items, I heard many of the patrons as well as the employees of the store speaking in Italian–that beautiful undulating and melodious language. And I was filled with a wonderful sense of well being and joy. It was then that I realized that it’s possible to have comfort food without actually eating anything—no cal comfort food, imagine that! (Though I confess I did buy a mozzarella and prosciutto panini).


To explain the connection I should tell you that both my parents were Italian-American. My father was born in Italy and came to this country as a baby. My mother was born in Massachusetts but both of her parents were born in Italy. They both came from Milford, a small town near Boston. In Milford in my parents’ day and even when I was growing up, you were either Italian or Irish. Saying it was a very ethnic little town is quite the understatement. My parents had the gumption and/or the bad judgment (depending on who’s telling the story) to move all the way to the panhandle of Texas to get married and raise their two children, of whom I am the elder. As you may imagine, Borger, Texas was not a bastion of ethnicity. In fact, my parents were quite an exotic addition with their Boston accents and their love of authentic Italian food. To keep in touch with our Massachusetts family, every other summer my father packed us all in the car for the five day trip up old Route 66 (which wasn’t old then, of course)to Milford. As a result of this dedication to family my brother and I got to know our relatives who were very Italian. We ate prosciutto on good bread, pasta at both my grandmothers’ houses, watched Nono drink his homemade wine out of a jelly glass and listened to our relatives converse with everyone in boisterous Italian. There was a delivery man who dropped off loaves of Italian bread daily. All of the parishioners of Sacred Heart Catholic Church had Italian surnames—the Irish folks went to St Mary’s across town. In short, it was a fascinating and richly variegated environment to a kid who was growing up on the prairies of Texas. And naturally when we were there for a visit we were treated like royalty. (Are you getting the comfort food analogy yet?)


My mother was a great Italian cook and she and my father shopped for Italian food to take back with us. I remember one year sharing the back seat with a very large cheese of some kind. It was as almost as big as a basketball and about two days into the trip it began to give off a distinctly cheesy aroma which stayed in the car for weeks after we arrived back home. In the off years when we didn’t make the trip, our relatives sent us care packages, particularly at Christmas which contained Italian goodies which we couldn’t get in the Texas Panhandle.



Today as I was wandering the aisles of Russo’s I was thinking, boy my mom would have loved this store.

So that brings me full circle in my comfort food analogy. Comfort food can be evoked without eating a bite. It can come in the form of a trip to an Italian grocery that reminds you of the love and essential wholesomeness which was part of your childhood. It can be the smell of coffee brewing when you walk into a bookstore. It can come from a song that transports you back to a time when you were young and in love with the possibilities of your life. It may come from hearing someone speak with a Boston accent (or whatever accent your ear loves).


And all of this comfort is calorie free. Ahhh, life is good.





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