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Nursery Food, Take Two



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 "Any day can be nursery day, but we have always been partial to drizzly winter afternoons, when the sky is the color of a muddy elephant's skin, when steam
hisses from the radiator and the house smells of Ivory soap and pressed sheets,
when cat and dog are sleeping intertwined and breathing gently in sync."
~ Jane and Michael Stern, in "Square Meals"

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"Food, like a loving touch or a glimpse of divine power,
has that ability to comfort."
Norman Kolpas


Nursery Food, Take Two
September 2002

“ ‘Animal crackers, an cocoa to drink,
That is the finest of suppers, I think;
When I’m grown up and can have what I please
I think I shall always insist upon these.’
~ Christopher Morley

“Now that we’ve grown up and can have what we please, we shouldn’t
forget that we’re never too old for nursery fare…
The next time you’re on edge, or need to be talked down off one, stop for
a moment to concoct something bland and creamy to soothe your jaded
palate and jangled nerves. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always teddy
and your thumb. So wash your hands and pull up a chair.

‘The kitchen’s the coziest place I know;
The kettle is singing, the stove’s aglow;
And there in the twilight, how jolly to see
The cocoa and animals waiting for me.’

Don’t worry, there’s enough food for both of us. I’m a big girl now.
I know how to share.”

~ Sarah Ban Breathnach
(from Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy )


Nursery Food, Take Two

Square Meals:
America's Favorite Comfort Cookbook

by Jane and Michael Stern, 2000 (revised), Lebhar-Friedman Books


From the Introduction:

“Life is worrisome. Food shouldn’t be. That is why we love square
meals, and that is why we wrote this book.
There is no single sort of square meal… Nearly all square meals are
easy to prepare and fun to serve, and they are always eater-friendly.
Every one of has a favorite comfort food for those times when we need
to feel mothered, when we yearn to feel close to home, when we want to
share the kindest cooking with those we care about. It doesn’t matter
whether you are a great chef or someone who can barely boil water, the
cooking and serving and eating of a good square meal provides susten-
ance that goes beyond nutrition into the realm of spiritual nurture.

So please, banish the anxiety generated by the need to be au courant in
the kitchen or as clever as Martha Stewart; just say no to the feat tactics
of the nutrition police who want us to feel guilt about everything we eat,
and join us in recognizing the simple pleasure food can be. As our friend
and mentor M. F. K. Fisher wrote about square meals in her Foreword
to the first edition of this book in 1984,
‘Who doesn’t need one, right now or soon?’ “


Nursery Food

“How nice it is, in a world filled with mean, scary people like landlords, motor
vehicle bureau personnel, and headwaiters, to set aside time for milk and cookies.
Everybody has some special food that makes them feel taken care of, a culinary
escape from danger: noodles and pot cheese, Mom’s chicken soup, rice pudding
with raisins, or a tall glass of chocolate milk with vanilla wafers on the side.
Nursery food is the supreme comfort. No wonder, because, however abysmal it
really was, childhood looks so appealing the farther away it gets. You remem-
ber warm farina served in a bowl decorated with dancing bunnies, or the ritual
cup of cocoa after school. Compared to grown-up worries like earning a living,
developing a double chin, or thermonuclear war, the childhood horror of spil-
ling grape juice doesn’t seem all that awful…
We contend that the more emotionally evolved a person is, the higher his required intake of baby food. Not exactly pabulum and gruel, but nice food, that takes the
edge off a not-so-nice world – like pudding and Horlick’s malted milk powder.
Most people eat their nursery food in small amounts eked out of a busy schedule – after midnight, or when dinner guests cancel and you breathe a sigh of relief. But sometimes life is too tough to wait for one of those accidental moments to find comfort. When you’ve had an especially difficult day or week, a bowl of Kadota
figs in heavy cream is not enough. You need to make plans, set aside a block of
time, take the phone off the hook, and arrange a full-scale nursery supper...”

“At nursery supper [at 5:00 p.m., so you can eat and be in bed by 7:00], you are allowed to talk to yourself in silly voices, cavort higgledy-piggledy in front of the mirror, and eat with your hands or holding a spoon in an infantile fist. You can gurgle through a straw and make funny shapes with your mashed potatoes…”

Gentle Noodles

“Noodles are soul food for sensitives, tranquility in a bowl. We are not – let us
make this clear – talking about pasta, with odoriferous garlic or weird green
olive oil or sneezy clouds of pepper or even acidy tomato sauce. We are talking
noodles, egg noodles, little velvet ribbonlets of sunny yellow, glistening with
butter. Seminal nursery food.
All you have to do is cook the noodles until they are soft, drain them, and add
plenty of sweet butter. Delicious…and good for you, according to Mrs. C. F.
Leyel, who, in her 1936 book ‘Diet for Children’, informed her readers that
‘a good deal of butter is necessary for children with tendencies to colds and complaints.’
For extra luxury, mix the just-cooked, buttered noodles with pot cheese or cot-
tage cheese. You may want to use other cheeses, and that’s fine; but remember,
as you veer away from cottage and Velveeta toward gamy goat or stinging
Cheddar: smelly, rank cheese, however delicious it may be at other times and
for other purposes, hardly qualifies as nursery pap.
On a cold day, stir a dollop of sweet butter into the noodles, add pot or ricotta
cheese, then top with a shower of cinnamon-sugar and poppy seeds. ‘Cinnamon
and sugar are always wholesome accompaniments to butter,’ Mrs. Leyel advised.
There is no easier dish to cook than noodles and cheese, and if that is your idea
of heaven, allow us to suggest a luscious extension of the theme:

Mrs. Stern’s Noodle Kugel

“On those occasions when we are arguing, all Jane needs to do to win the fight is bake a batch of Michael’s mother’s noodle pudding. As it comes out of the oven, Michael loses all interest in whatever trivial point he was asserting and focuses exclusively on the browned and sometimes blackened bits of noodle all across
the top of the pudding, on the amber raisins peeping up through the crust, on
the soft, creamy underside, visible through the Pyrex glass. The important issue
of the day, the crucial matter to resolve, becomes Is there sour cream?
Florence Stern’s version of the classic Jewish specialty is dense and rich. It
can accompany a main course, it can be dessert, or it can be everything – all
of childhood’s happy moments pressed into a block of noodles, with plenty of
sour cream on the side.”

1 pound cottage cheese
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups milk
3 eggs
Juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 pint sour cream
1 cup yellow muscat raisins
[or golden raisins]
8 ounces medium egg noodles
Sour cream as garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Mix all ingredients except noodles, cinnamon and garnish. Add noodles, uncooked, and pour into a well-buttered 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish. Sprinkle top with cinnamon.
Bake 1 hour, or until top is light brown. Cur into squares and serve with
sour cream.
Serves 8 to 10. (Leftover kugel is excellent cold.)

[For a strictly savory version you might want to try
Kaye's Noodles Romanoff.]


Chicken Noodle Soup

“Chicken soup is magic; but its miracle powers have no more to do with
ingredients than a witch doctor’s cure depends on the wing of a bat or the
eye of a toad. The strength is all in what you believe the chicken soup can
do. To illustrate, we offer the true story of a girl who was comforted many
times as a child by her grandmother’s wonderful chicken soup. Grandma
passed away, leaving no recipe behind. The girl assumed she would never
again know the comfort of that golden broth with little chunks of chicken
and fine, slivery noodles. One gloomy winter afternoon, the girl went
visiting. ‘Would you like some chicken soup?’ asked her friend. ‘Yes,’ said
the girl, sadly remembering Grandmother, walking slowly from the kitchen
with a big steamy bowl of soup, perfuming the air with its goodness.
The girl’s friend brought out the chicken soup…and there was something unmistakably familiar about the smell! And the warm, sunny broth, and
the bits of chicken; and the silky inch-long noodles. No doubt about it –
it was Grandma’s soup!
’But where did you get the recipe?’ asked the astonished girl, dipping in
for a full, happy spoonful.
And the friend took the girl back to the kitchen to show her that there was
no recipe at all. The soup, the wonderful, warming magic potion that
Grandma made, was Lipton’s Chicken Noodle.”

Here is our family recipe for plain and warming Chicken Noodle Soup

2 pounds chicken parts (breasts,
back, legs, wings)
1 large onion, chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into
2-inch segments, then halved
3 stalks celery, without leaves,
cut into 2-inch segments
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3 chicken bouillon cubes
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Salt to taste
2 cups egg noodles (fine or medium)

Rinse chicken parts; quarter breasts. Place in large, uncovered stockpot
with 12 cups cold water. Bring to rolling boil, reduce heat, and allow to
simmer for 30 minutes, skimming off scum that rises to the surface. Add
all other ingredients except noodles. Place lid on pot and cook over low
heat 3 to 4 hours.
Remove from heat, and when cool enough to handle, remove chicken
parts. Pick all meat from bones, discard skin, and return only meat to
pot. Refrigerate overnight.
Next day, carefully skim off all fat that has congealed on surface of
soup. Bring to a boil and add noodles. Boil 10 minutes, or until the
noodles are tender. Discard bay leaf. Serve at once.
Serves 6 to 8


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Milk Toast

[This is the very first thing I crave when I am getting sick. As a matter of fact,
that is often how I realize I’m on the verge of illness: my brain is screaming
at me, “Milk toast, milk toast, milk toast!” Nothing else will do the trick.]

“We used to make fun of milk toast. Baby food. Gruel for the toothless. Grave-
yard stew. We learned to love it at a fancy Boston hotel into which we dragged
ourselves one evening after an exhausting day. We were beat, nerves frazzled,
stomachs tense. Definitely time for a little room service pampering. Milk toast
was the order of the day.
Up came a table set with two bowls of taste, a scoop of sweet butter, a dish
of brown sugar, and in two tall silver pitchers, warm milk and warm cream.
‘May I?’ asked The Man from Room Service, and we weakly gestured him to
proceed. With knife and fork he cut the toast into bite-size pieces. A pitcher
in each hand, he poured equal amounts of cream and milk onto the toast.
With generous spoon, he dabbed on sweet butter. ‘Sugar?’ Of course; and
he showered the bowls with a sprinkling of brown sugar that melted with
the butter into amber pools atop the toast and cream. Never in our lives
have we slept so well or dreamed so sweetly or awoke so refreshed.

4 slices toast
1 pint milk, or 1 cup milk and 1 cup cream
3 tablespoons sweet butter
Salt or sugar to taste

Slice 2 thick pieces of Pullman loaf and toast until well browned, but not
dark or crumbly. Break or cut into bite-sized pieces and lay on the bottom
of a wide soup bowl.
Gently heat milk (and cream) until warm (do not boil). Pour over warm
toast, and quickly dot with butter. Sprinkle lightly with salt – or sugar,
or brown sugar, or cinnamon-sugar – and eat right away. Serves 2.

[If you go for the savory version – which I usually do – you might want to add
just a hint of pepper. And if you are looking for something just a tad more
substantial, you might want to consider poaching an egg or two in the milk/
cream, being careful not to let the liquid actually boil. Key to the whole thing
for me is the butter. Excellent fresh butter, and lots of it.!
It may not cure
malaria, but it certainly does wonders for the blahs and the things that go
bump in the night. And it soothes frazzled nerves.]


Mary Jane’s Rice Pudding

“If you are feeling especially tantrum-prone, a bowl of rice pudding,
swimming in cream and dotted with raisins, is the best medicine. This
fact comes on the authority of A. A. Milne, who knew the ins and
outs of nursery life better than anyone else:
’What’s the matter with Mary Jane?
It’s lovely rice pudding for dinner again!’
The answer is that Mary Jane was too young to appreciate her meal.
Wait until she grows up and gets a notice from the IRS to appear
for a tax audit. She’ll head right to the stove and start stirring:

1 cup long-grain rice
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups milk
1/2 cup raisins
3 egg yolks
1 cup cream, light or heavy, depending
on how rich you want pudding
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Nutmeg or cinnamon
1 cup heavy cream

Combine rice, water and salt in saucepan and simmer 3 minutes.
Add the sugar and milk and bring to slow simmer over low heat,
stirring occasionally. Cook, uncovered, 30 minutes, or until the
milk is absorbed. Cool.
Soak raisins in water until they plump.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Butter a 1 1/2-quart baking dish.
Whisk egg yolks with cream and vanilla. Combine with cooled rice
and mix well. Drain raisins, and mix with rice. Turn into baking dish
and sprinkle with nutmeg or cinnamon. Bake, uncovered, until set
at edges, but still creamy inside (about 25 minutes).
Gently heat 1 cup heavy cream until lukewarm, and pour on top.
Serves 4 to 6.


"Comfort food: quirky, quaint, quixotic. Personal patterns of consolation,
encoded on our taste buds past all forgetting, as unmistakable as greasy
fingerprints. When the miseries strike, and you’re down in the dumps,
food transformed by love and memory becomes therapy... When hearts
are heavy, they need gravitational and emotional equilibrium.
~ Sarah Ban Breathnach
(from Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy )

Amen, Sister Sarah! What I said yesterday and the day before still goes...
Until next time, remember... Be well, stay safe, enjoy your freedom. And
please. NEVER take it for granted! Count your blessings. Express your
gratitude. Some of the sentiments I shared with you around this time last
year bear repeating, as I mean them more than ever:

If you love someone (and surely you do!), tell them so. Today. Now. They should
not have to figure it out for themselves. Hug your spouse, your children, your
parents, your siblings, your pets, and tell them how much they mean to you...
Eat something delicious, nutritious, and comforting. Make sure that you
include some beauty in your life today, be it in the form of flowers, music,
art or your favorite hobby. Call a friend. Live love. Give a hoot.

God bless America.


Nursery Food I
Comfort Food
Comfort Food Revisited
More on Comfort Food
Comfort Food for Times of Loss

“We always thought we were secure inside our borders in this country.
And the one day where we realized we weren’t, we lost control for a few
hours. And these people, literally and figuratively, tried to take control
back for us. And I think that will resonate for many, many years, and
will be remembered as a defining American moment.”

~ New York Times reporter Jere Longman, in
Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and
the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back

"It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love,
are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think
of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I
am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the
love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and
fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one."

~ M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating icon icon


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