There are all kinds of situations which require comfort. Funerals, obviously. Sometimes weddings, for that matter. Divorce, moving, miscarriages, menopause, middle-age crises, loss of a job, illness, the friend fight that is irreparable. And alas, the Empty Nest.
The last two years have had me in a roller-coaster of stress. Illness? Check. Make that a chronic “invisible” and under-researched vertigo type of illness. Loss of job and income? Check. Middle-age and menopause? Check. Let’s add getting your only child through senior year. And finally, the Empty Nest.
Can I just say that I suffered from Empty Nest by Proxy? Is that a thing? It should be. I felt your pain, particularly in realizing our girl had grown up. I wasn’t prepared to let her go as that sweet little girl. Sigh…
Feeling completely out of control of my life last January, I decided to go on a Keto diet. If I couldn’t control anything else (including my inability to exercise due to chronic vertigo), I was going to control my weight through diet. I was at my heaviest since I’d been pregnant 19 years earlier. My goal was to lose enough weight to feel good by my daughter’s graduation in June. It gave me a personal goal on which to focus, aside from all the administrative work of getting my teenager enrolled in college. And as the pounds fell off, I did feel a sense of control that I had felt not in a couple of years.
We got through the gray, non-existent “Spring” of New Hampshire known as mud season, the acceptance and rejection letters from colleges, the “Senioritis” and finally deciding on a college. A visceral relief. Late May and “Senior Week” was here. Eva came down with the worst virus she has ever had. High fever, lethargy, no appetite. She missed all the fun Senior Week activities; the Convocation Ceremony, the Sunset Dinner Cruise with all her friends, Senior Breakfast, Visit Your Elementary School Teachers. All of it. Graduation was at the end of that week, on Friday evening. Eva was still weak with a fever. I thought “This can’t happen. She HAS to walk across that stage and graduate with her class!”
With great determination, and the support of my group of girlfriends whom I love with all my heart, and of course with Advil…Eva walked across the graduation stage and took her diploma to thunderous applause. My relief was enormous.
But no time to relax. It was onto the next event the following weekend – the graduation party. This happily went off without a hitch. So happily, that I decided to fall off my Keto Wagon and have a piece of the chocolate cake with raspberry filling which we had ordered from a fantastic local bakery, Triolo’s in Bedford, NH. What can I tell you? I felt immediately…comforted.
There are a few things in life that can comfort us. Food obviously. The cozy pajamas. The chick-flick movie. The favorite book. Good friends. It turns out, I was going to need the whole package.
After Eva graduated, what followed was one of the weirdest summers I’ve ever known. It was a blur of activities, such as ordering sheets and bedding in “extra long” sizes. Many visits to the Bed Bath & Beyond store for laundry and storage items. Going to Orientation for an overnight at the college. Following a new Facebook page for parents of new college students. All the while knowing that I would be saying goodbye to my only child in a few short weeks. It was surreal.
I stayed off the Keto Wagon for the duration. I was about to lose control of my life in a way I had not experienced. I was going to lose the most important role I had ever played. The Mom. I ate whatever the hell I wanted.
By the time I dropped Eva off at her college dorm (after setting her up with a weighted blanket, a month’s supply of Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies, and the required mini-lights for the wall above her lofted bed), I drove home the two hours in a daze. The temperature had dropped 15 degrees since we departed that morning. I was going home to our empty apartment (affectionately nicknamed “The Treehouse” due to it’s third floor position and green views) and even the damn season had changed in that time period from Summer to Fall. I had no idea what to do. It was Empty Nest on steroids.
My friends were fantastic. They checked in on a regular basis, made plans to meet me for dinner, gave me hugs and glasses of wine, texted my daughter to send her love and support. I will be forever grateful for that lovely support. But I would require more comfort.
I turned to reading a book that has been a lifelong favorite. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Eva also loved it as an adolescent and read it multiple times. I also started re-watching a favorite Netflix series that Eva and I loved – Downton Abbey. I started from Season One and began the comfort binge snuggling by myself and letting Mrs. Patmore work her magic. It definitely helped.
But I truly wasn’t feeling the comfort of Eva’s graduation cake. While I had been eating carbs at abandon for the two months leading up to the college drop-off, I hadn’t actually eaten the exact meal that would bring me COMFORT (yes in all caps). I began to give this some serious thought. I decided to stalk the aisles of my local supermarket for inspiration. It didn’t take me long to find what I needed. Surprisingly, both items I chose came in cans. Not surprisingly, both items came from my childhood.
Cream of Tomato Soup. My favorite of the Campbell’s collection, it has made me feel better at every age and every occasion and especially on cold, rainy days. I only make this condensed soup with milk.
Okay so now you are thinking “grilled cheese sandwich” (I’m a psychic). But you are wrong. While it is the perfect accompaniment to a creamy bowl of tomato soup, another canned good caught my eye before I could head to the bread and cheese section.
It was bread though. Bread in a can. I was just passing by the shelf with the B&M beans (another comfort food) when my eyes caught a glimpse of the B&M Brown Bread in a can with the same red label that I recognized from my childhood. I swiveled and stared. Perhaps that product had been stocked in the store for all 18 years I’ve been going there, but it was the first time I noticed it. Immediately, memories came flooding back of my mother serving this in the 1960’s and 70’s (probably with her homemade oven-baked beans) and my mouth began to water.
If you’ve never had this New England specialty, it is a very dense and very moist brown bread, and it has a lovely molasses flavor to it. The serving tips on the can suggest everything from spreading it with peanut butter to cream cheese. But I knew that I would eat it warm and spread it. No, SLATHER it, with good butter.
When I married Doug, I inherited a can of B&M Brown Bread. Doug tried to convince me that it was really good, but bread in a can is so foreign and revolting to me, I couldn’t face it. So the can stayed in the pantry for the first 14 years of our marriage (and possibly even longer before that), until we moved and I was relieved to toss it. The thought of opening that can reminded me of Pandora’s Box, and I didn’t want to unleash whatever hellish mess was inside. Lisa, you didn’t know how long your can was sitting on the super market shelf, but I knew approximately how long mine had been sitting around. Blech!
I ran home with my two precious cans of comfort and prepared my meal. It was exactly what I needed. The soup made me feel coddled and loved. The warm, buttered brown bread (with 29 FREAKING grams of carbs per half inch slice), made me feel relaxed and young and content. And for a few precious minutes…I didn’t mind that I was all alone in my Empty Nest.
Alas all comfortz must come to an end until they are needed again. Now it’s time to bravely face my new next chapter, and to jump back on that Keto wagon so that my daughter still recognizes me when she comes home from college.
I still recognized my mother when I came home for my first visit a month later. I appreciated home so much more than when I left. And as for my welcome home meal – my mom didn’t open a single can! She comforted me with roasted pork loin and carrots and parsnips, potato pancakes with sour cream and homemade applesauce, braised brussels sprouts, and fudge brownies still warm from the oven. There’s no place like home!
Eva, your mom is the BEST! The best cook, best mom, best friend, best heart, best soul. But she loses points on the canned bread 😉
Gertz Girlz Final Dish:
Life throws us curveballs, but no matter what we do, we can’t duck them. They will hit us, and hit us hard. All we can do is seek out the comfortz that get us through: food, friends, family, hope, and love. Comfortz that are not so small after all.