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Fine Cuisine with Art Infusion

"To cook is to create. And to create well...
is an act of integrity, and faith."


Nursery Food



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"In a perfect world, baked eggs are served on a plate that has the letters
of the alphabet around the rim and a picture of a clown jumping over
the letter X."
Laurie Colwin, in Home Cooking

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"Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world,
had cookies and milk about three o'clock every afternoon and
then lay down on our blankets for a nap. "
Barbara Jordan


Nursery Food
September 2002

 “For it's a long, long time
from May to December
And the days grow short
when you reach September
And the Autumn weather
Turns the leaves to flame
And I haven't got time
For the waiting game
And the days dwindle down
to a precious few
September November…”

~ September Song, Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson

“When you're cranky and cry easily, when you are so tired that your eyes
burn from keeping them open, when you need hugs and someone to pat
the top of your head and whisper, 'Shh... There, there...' and no one is
around, you need nursery fare. Nursery foods are the well-loved recipes
from childhood that conjure up the happy, innocent moments when all
was right with the world because we knew our place in it. The times
when, dressed in our flannel pajamas, we sat down for supper before a
story and bed....”
~ Sarah Ban Breathnach
(from Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy )

Ahah! Now I know why I discovered a package of Oreos as I unpacked my
groceries on Saturday. 'Who bought these?!?!?' was my first reaction. And
not only that. Jello Pudding Snacks - tapioca and chocolate! Now then.
What did I do with Isabella Bear? And where are my jammies?

Nursery Food

Home Cooking:
A Writer in the Kitchen

by Laurie Colwin, 1988, HarperCollins

“A long time ago it occurred to me that when people are tired and hungry,
which in adult life is much of the time, they do not want to be confronted
by an intellectually challenging meal; they want to be consoled.
When life is hard and the day has been long, the ideal dinner is not four
perfect courses, each in a lovely pool of sauce whose ambrosial flavors
are like nothing ever before tasted, but rather something comforting and
savory, easy on the digestion – something that makes one feel, if even
for only a minute, that one is safe. A four-star meal is the right thing
when the human animal is well rested and feeling rich, but it is not much
help to the sore in spirit who would be much better off with a big bowl
of homemade soup.
Once upon a time when I was in mourning for my father I was taken
home by my best friend who sat me in a chair, gave me a copy of
‘Vogue’ and told me not to move until called. I sat like a good girl while
she busied herself in the kitchen. When I got to the table I realized that
this angelic pal had made shepherd’s pie. My eyes swam with tears of
gratitude. I did not know that shepherd’s pie was just what I wanted,
but it was just what I wanted.
Of course I do not mean that you should feed your friends pastina and
beef tea (although I would be glad to be served either). But dishes such
as shepherd’s pie and chicken soup are a kind of edible therapy. After a
good nursery dinner you want your guests to smile happily and say with
childlike contentment: “I haven’t had that in years.’
I have managed to stretch the term nursery food like Silly Putty, and
under its pliant heading comes a wide variety of dishes: fried chicken,
lamb stew, macaroni and cheese, meatballs, baked beans, lentil soup,
chili, baked stuffed potatoes, and lasagna. This is rounded out by an
adult salad; there is no such thing as nursery salad. For dessert,
lemon fluff, shortbread, custard, bread pudding, apple crisp, steamed
chocolate pudding
or ginger cake.
These are the sorts of things you never see on restaurant menus unless
you are lucky enough to find one of those few surviving ladies’ tearooms. Nowadays you won’t even find dishes like these served to you at other
people’s houses, unless they have small children and you are not above
stealing food off a baby’s plate. This is the age of competitive cookery,
and therefore when invited to a dinner party you are more than likely to
get salmon medallions in sorrel sauce and caviar, or sautéed lobster with
champagne, salads made with walnut oil, and cakes that look intimidatingly
professional. Meals like this are swell, but they are not true home meals.
Nursery food borrows nicely from other cuisines. The spinach and lamb
found on Indian menus as saag mhaan makes a perfect nursery dish, for
instance. Minorcan potatoes – a layer of potatoes, a layer of tomatoes,
plenty of garlic, bread crumbs and olive oil, baked – is nursery food for
older people. But cassoulet is not. It has too many ingredients that are
weird, such as confit d’oie, or that are hard to digest, such as saucisson.
Many people believe that the essence of nursery food is that it can be
mashed up with a fork and that it does not require much in the way of
chewing. Parts of a nursery dinner should be eaten without any utensils
at all: corn sticks, cookies, steamed carrots and baby lamb chops, for
example. You will never, never hear your guests say the words no host
or hostess ever, ever wants to hear: ‘That was interesting. What was it?’
In this uncertain world of ours the thing about nursery food is that you
can count on it. You know what it is. It will not give you any nasty
surprises. (‘No, darling, that was raw tuna, not marinated Indonesian
beef.’) It leaves you neither guessing nor lost in admiration. It fills,
cheers and makes you feel it ought to be eaten from one of those
metal-bottomed hot-water baby dishes with three little china sections
and a picture of the gingham dog and the calico cat in each.
And though I would never turn down a four-star meal (or even a two-
or three-star one) at some fancy place, on a cold night after a hard day I
would reverse my steps if someone offered me a homemade vegetable
fritter with catsup, Welsh rabbit or some real creamed spinach.
The ultimate nursery food is beef tea; I have not had it since I was a
child, and although I could easily have brewed myself a batch, I never
have yet. I am afraid that my childhood will overwhelm me with the
first sip or that I will be compelled to sit down at once and write a novel
in many volumes. I am not afraid it will not be as delicious as I remember
it. It will. Now that I have a child of my own I know the day is coming
when I will make beef tea for her, and I am certainly not above insisting
that she share it with her mother.

It is made as follows, according to my mother:

Beef Tea

You take one pound of absolutely fatless silver tip of beef and on a doubled sheet of butcher paper or a wood board cut it into tiny dice. Place it and any juice the meat has yielded in the top of a double boiler and gently cook, covered, over simmering water for several hours. Do not use salt or pepper. Simply leave the meat alone to give of its juices. After several hours you will be left with pure essence of beef, perfectly digestible and nourishing. Strain
into a warm bowl, then press out any additional juice from the meat. The
meat itself is useless, a mere net of fibers, and should be given to the dog.

Beef tea can be eaten by the very delicate from a spoon. In my family, not
known for the delicacy with which food is approached, we drank it by the
glass. It is recommended for frazzled adults and children recovering from
minor ailments.

Baked Eggs

"More substantial and less digestible a form of nursery food is baked
eggs, a staple of my childhood. The proper vessel to cook them in is a
small covered Pyrex dish. An earthenware dish will do, except that you
can’t see through it to see if the eggs are done.
The Pyrex dish is put in the oven to hotten up. When hot, a lump of butter
the size of a walnut (as the old cookbooks say) is dropped in to melt.
When the butter is just slightly sizzling, break in the eggs, never more than four. Sprinkle with black pepper and Parmesan but no salt, as the Parmesan
is salty enough. Cover and bake in a 325-degree F oven until done. Done
can mean just cooked, or pink around the edges of the yolks, or baked to
the consistency of a rubber eraser – some children like eggs this way.
Baked eggs, though, have to be watched.
The perfect accompaniment is a tomato salad or a side dish of pickled
beets. This makes a lovely dinner for a cool summer night: easy to make
and quick to cook, a good thing to keep in mind when people are starving
and no one feels much like fussing.
In a perfect world, baked eggs are served on a plate that has the letters
of the alphabet around the rim and a picture of a clown jumping over the
letter X. As a side dish, buttered white toast cut up to postage-stamp size
is just right, with a large glass of milk – perhaps in a jelly glass – or a
cup of cocoa."


Laurie's recipe for Shepherd's Pie is included in Home Cooking, but as part
of another excellent piece called "Feeding the Multitudes". No kidding. The
concept is so simple that I feel sure you will have no trouble whatsoever
paring this recipe down to your size, whatever that may be...

1. Have ready four large steam-tray tables – these hold around forty
portions apiece, more or less.
2. Chop ten large onions and four entire bulbs of garlic, peeled, the
larger the better.
3. Heat two to three cups of olive oil in an enormous skillet or low-sided saucepan, and begin to brown some of the meat (you will need 35
pounds of chopped chuck in all), adding onions and garlic as you go.
The browned meat should then be put aside while you brown the rest.
4. Season with black pepper and the contents of one large bottle of Worcestershire sauce. [I would add salt, probably Lawry’s Seasoned
Salt, but suit yourself.]
5. Apportion the meat into the steam-tray tables and add, or rather
distribute, ten pounds of previously frozen, now thawed, carrots
and peas, and mix well with the meat.
6. Make about one gallon of instant mashed potatoes, stirring with a
whisk. Many people find instant potatoes nasty – I do not. You
would not want them as a side dish, but on top of a shepherd’s
pie they are just fine.
7. Spoon a thick layer of potatoes over the meat, sprinkle with fresh
grated cheese (not the stuff in jars) and bake in the oven at 300
degrees F for two hours.
This will feed 150 people, some of whom are children.


"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. Be passionate about something. Give a hoot!

God bless America.


Nursery Food, Take Two
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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