For me, the "comfort" of comfort food comes from the warm fuzzies of good memories. The strong combination of smell and taste brings back chuckles and smiles, sometimes even tears. There are the traditional-meal-memories like Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas cookies. Sometimes it's a common food enjoyed at a special place like a kraut dog from a cart at Venice Beach (or Home Depot) that reminds of us fun times from our past.
When I was a little girl I brought friends home to prove that Mom really did "hang up" her noodles in the kitchen! She made these wonderful thick noodles from scratch that she hung over clothesline strung between the cabinets. The process took an entire day. Added to long simmering chicken or a ham hock, those noodles were the stuff of legend. I've never attempted the recipe, and I have still not tasted a noodle that compares - even from San Francisco's Chinatown, and those are pretty amazing.
Dad's macaroni salad was always served in the large yellow Pyrex bowl (the red one for ambrosia and the blue for tuna salad - always). He was a machinist by trade and the importance of details came with him to the kitchen. He always said, and I repeat every time I make it, that the secret to the salad was cutting the ingredients in perfect, small squares. Pre-chopped black olives were allowed, but everything else was (is) cut with a knife, and added in the proper order. Made with Tilamook cheddar and pimentos, making it and eating it both remind me so much of my dad.
Most people have a favorite flavor of ice cream. With or without toppings, there is one flavor that is the absolute best for each of us. For most of us these flavors are found among the traditional "31". Others have found their match in the fancier combinations created by Ben and Jerry or Dryers, or the newer favorites by Blue Bunny and Tilamook.
Mom loved butter pecan and was less picky about brand name. When Pralines and Cream came along she decided that having two favorites was just fine. She was always wilder than Dad.
My favorite(s)? It's almost embarrassing to share, siting a clear lack of imagination and independence on my part. Baskin Robbins Chocolate Chip, and Pralines and Cream. Seriously. My choice on Saturday? - a scoop of each. Dad would be so proud. Mom would be slightly disappointed.
Being in the ice cream shop, with the pint containers lined up in the tall freezer toward the back, always sparks a great Dad memory. A delightful ice cream memory.
Brian (oldest son)'s dad and I were living in Ontario, CA, about a four hour drive from my dad in Quartzsite (he had a S&B there). One summer evening Dad called to say he was about an hour away and was picking up ice cream before stopping at our house for the night. Cool. Naturally he got chocolate chip, I got the pralines this time, and the third was german chocolate cake. I don't remember what I had for dinner last night.......but I know it wasn't ice cream :-)
So dad comes, we enjoy the ice cream and some television, we go to bed. Next morning he heads back home after breakfast. A nice quick visit. Nice of him to bring ice cream. Two days later I realize I missed his birthday. It was two days before. Oh crap!
When I call to apologize and give him hell at the same time he is cracking up - big belly laughs. I'm in my 20's at the time and horrible at remembering birthdays. He thinks it is the funniest thing in the world that he brought us ice cream for his birthday and we didn't even know it! I vow I will never forget his birthday again.
Fast forward 12 months. Summer evening. Dad calls. He's on his way to Long Beach, wants to stop on his way and go to Vince's for spaghetti. It's a favorite for all three of us, yes let's absolutely do it! On the way back to the house he stops at Baskin Robbins. He buys us ice cream. He decides to spend the night and we all enjoy our dessert on the patio.
Bet I don't have to tell you what day it was. This time it was a few days longer before I made the connection. I waited a week to call him. No matter, he just thought it was even funnier!
The next several years he was on the road in his motorhome over his birthday, and most of those years I did call him on the actual day. We always laughed about those two years. He always laughed harder than I did!
With reminders from my phone and my calendar and my Facebook page I remember birthdays every year. And when I go to Baskin Robbins I remember Dad's "birthday surprise" every time.