This week’s theme is Comfort Food, surely an important part of any writer’s survival toolkit.
As you all know by now, I’m Jewish. Which, by definition means I have a Jewish mother, which by definition means I ate a lot as a kid (and it showed, as I wasn’t lucky enough to have the same speedy metabolism of my tall, lean brothers). So that means I’m qualified to teach you about all the Jewish food groups: cheese, fried anything, carbs, meat and sugar.
So here I am, sharing some of my favorite Jewish comfort foods with you and when they might be appropriate for writers to eat them. Kind of a literary-Jewish food primer, if you will (as well as an homage to my mother, who is a wonderful cook–just ask her, she’ll tell you herself).
Cabbage Borscht. This is my favorite soup my mom makes. It’s a tomato based broth with cabbage and a bunch of other stuff (including about a ton of sugar) and flanken, which is some kind of beef. Don’t ask me what part of the cow this comes from. Maybe my mom will leave a comment and educate us all*. If you’re lucky, and you brother hasn’t gotten to the vat of soup first, you might even get a marrow bone or two—the real prize of this dish. This soup is great for that time when you’ve written some important scenes, but need it to percolate so you can go back and tweak and fix before moving on. Walk away from the computer and sit down with a big, steaming bowl of borscht, and the glucose will seep into your brain and help figure out those manuscript issues. This fulfills the meat and sugar food groups—a twofer.
Brisket. Fall-apart meat that’s been braised in onion soup mix and is amazing on a plate with some farfel (some sort of pasta or grain – I have no idea, really, it’s just filler that my mom makes) or even better the next day, heated up in its own gravy and draped over a slab of bread that soaks up the juices. HEAVEN. This dish is perfect for the editing phase. You put it in the oven and walk away for a few hours while you edit and tweak your manuscript. Then, when the timer dings, you slice it, make some boxed mashed potatoes and shove it in front of your husband and say, “Don’t say I never cook for you,” before you return to your computer with three slabs of the beef wedged between slices of bread, and get back to your editing. See? This is a good hand-eating food, too.
Latkes. Potato pancakes. No matter how much paper-towel blotting you do, these things are always greasy-licious. They’re great with applesauce or sour cream or brisket (I’m kidding—or am I?) and are so comforting in the way they coat your stomach with oil. Delish. These wonderful items are perfect for that special time when writers need that extra boost to channel their inner angst and guilt onto the page. For example, “My God, I can’t believe I just ate eighteen latkes. That has to be something like eight-hundred-thousand calories. I have just ruined my diet again and no one will ever love me and I might just die fat and alone with empty tubs of sour cream and oil-soaked paper towels around me–wait—this is exactly what my main character would be feeling after leaving her family dinner! EUREKA!” This dish fulfills the carbs and the anything fried categories—another twofer! Score!
Cream cheese and lox on bagels. This one doesn’t require much explanation, but it’s still one of my favorite staples. But beware: it’s got to be the right bagels—the really chewy, yeasty ones that have obviously been boiled. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can get a good bagel that hasn’t been boiled. Hogwash!* AND it needs to be the right cream cheese—the really creamy spreadable kind with chives mixed right in. Don’t bother with Philly, go right to a Jewish deli and get them to scoop it from their dairy deli case into a container for you. Then lay the slices of lox on top and you’ve got yourself something. Some people put on capers and onions and maybe even a tomato slice or two, but I’m a purist, just give me the carbs, cheese and fish (which counts as meat). Threefer! This dish is an excellent breakfast that’s a perfect writing-marathon starter. It’s not quite enough carbs to send you down for the count, and it’s got some protein to keep you going for the long haul. If you put enough lox on there, you can probably even skip lunch.
Kugel. Noodle pudding. This dish is hard to describe, but it’s egg noodles mixed with egg and apple pie filling and baked with a sweet brown sugar and corn flake crumb topping. It comes out as a solid that you cut into brownie-sized pieces. Yum. I still eat way too much of it around the holidays. This dish fulfills the carb food group and is good for when you’re done with a draft because you will eat a ton of it and then you’re going to need to sleep it off for a good long time.
So there you go, an intro to Jewish food for writers. I hope you’ve found this interesting and informative. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to my mom’s to beg her to cook for me. But in the interim, I’d love to hear about your favorite Jewish or Jewish-inspired comfort food. There are lots of them out there, from the ones I’ve mentioned here to matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, knishes or even what almost all Jews eat on Christmas—Chinese food, which still counts in my book.
*I just looked it up and flanken is actually just short ribs. But I’m going to continue to call it flanken because it’s fun to say. Say it with me: flanken. Flanken. FLANKEN!
**As I’m typing this, I’m wondering where the word hogwash came from; I’m guessing it wasn’t from Jewish culture.