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Highly Sensitive People: Can You Use Some Comfort?

As highly sensitive people, many of us are struggling to find peace and comfort as we cope with the daily onslaught of sad and distressing news ushered in by this pandemic. Although some of us are more directly impacted than others, we are ALL facing deep, collective pain. On that note, I wanted to share a guest article by fellow HSP and friend, Amy Barbato, who reflects on finding comfort through family food traditions that can nourish your mind, body, and soul!
The simple pleasure of recreating a time-honored family favorite can fill your kitchen, and soul, with an aroma that’s familiar, cozy, and satisfyingly happy.

A Taste of Comfort

By Amy Barbato

Comfort Food… the words themselves elicit nurturing feelings of contentment and joy. Inspired by a day of Food Network shows devoted to this topic, I found myself contemplating what it is about the concept that speaks to so many of us in similar ways. I watched as the TV cooks blissfully shared their own favorites, many of which were attached to family memories and cultural connections. From decadent mac ‘n’ cheese to wintery stews to warm, sticky toffee pudding, these recipes are often of the rich and filling kind that stick to your ribs, while soothing your spirit.

These foods may not be what we turn to every day to maintain a balanced diet and weight management, but they remind us that food is not the enemy — its purpose is to nurture and sustain us. We’re not talking about mindless, emotional eating. These hearty recipes, often linked to memories of home and family, connect us to our heritage and feed our soul. The simplest, and most pedestrian of recipes, can be overflowing with love.

This brought to mind my favorite “go-to” comfort food…my mom’s Pasta Fagioli. This is a simple, rustic, “peasant dish” of Italian heritage, made of olive oil, garlic, tomato sauce, white beans, and small cut pasta — topped off with fresh, grated cheese. The consistency is somewhere between a soup and a stew, or what TV cook Rachael Ray calls a “stoup.”

To me, the best comfort foods come from longstanding family traditions. Mine was passed down to me from my mom, which came from her mom, and I’m betting the food chain goes back a lot further than that. Long before I learned the recipe, it was already part of my DNA. My mom has often recounted to me how she loved her mom’s Pasta Fagioli so much, that all during her pregnancy with me, my grandmother would make it for her every Friday night.

My mother always laments that while her own version is very good, it’s still nothing like her mom’s. To me of course, my mom’s is the best, though I must say, I surprised myself when I learned to replicate it! I remember the first night I ever made it. I called my mother excitedly to tell her, “It smells just like your kitchen in here!” The simple pleasure of recreating a time-honored family favorite can fill your kitchen, and soul, with an aroma that’s familiar, cozy, and satisfyingly happy.

While cooking this dish brings its own contentment to me, my true delight is in devouring this warm, thick, soupy pasta and bean stew, held together by gooey, yummy, melted cheese! I shamelessly admit to typically eating three (albeit small!) bowls in a row, and then do my best not to eat the whole pot in one night.

Mom used to laugh with me over the phone and say “it’s so hard not to eat the whole pot!” If I succeed, I have the leftovers for breakfast the next morning! By then, the remaining soup and flavor have been absorbed into the pasta, turning it into more of a thick and delicious stew. (Yes, weird to some, perhaps, but it’s my own personal “breakfast of champions.”)

When it’s one of those raw days, be it weather-related or emotionally so, or I just plain give in to a carb craving … mom’s Pasta Fagioli always feeds me, belly and soul, and takes me home.

(Be sure to check out the recipe!)

I’d like to thank Amy Barbato for sharing her heartwarming memories and recipe. Making favorite recipes that have been in your family for generations can be a great way to fill your belly and tap into positive emotional triggers that help you feel a sense of connection to your loved ones…both those who are still with us and those who are not.

Do you have a family food tradition that brings you comfort? I welcome your comments below. I do respond to comments. Feel free to share your favorite foods and/or recipes! (You can also email your recipes to me, and I will share them.) One nice thing about more of us being at home is that it gives us more time to cook!

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Amy M.

    In my family, my paternal grandmother, a.k.a. “Nana Blanche,” made legendary apple pie and “melt in your mouth” sweet molasses brown bread. She didn’t use recipes and instead just “eyeballed” the various ingredients. The apple pie was pure heaven! The crust was crisp and flaky, and the rich, gooey filling had just the right amount of sweetness. Nana Blanche was so humble and would always say something like, “This pie is probably a bit tart, so it might not be that good,” but it was perfect every time! As the pie warmed up in the oven, it would fill the whole house with the sweet aroma of apples and cinnamon. Each steaming slice would then be topped off with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yum! With the molasses bread, we used it to cut it into thick slices, toast it, and then slather it with butter. It was warm, rich, and so delicious! The loaf would disappear very quickly in our house, and I remember fighting with my siblings over who would get the last slice. One of my brothers wrote down the recipe for the bread and makes it on holidays. His bread is very good, but since he modified the recipe to make it healthier, it’s not quite the same. Nana Blanche was “old school” and used decadent but not-so-healthy shortening (Crisco’s original formula) in her recipes.

  2. Kate

    So true…certain foods can bring up wonderful memories. I am reminded of my husband’s Italian family. Coming from a big Irish family, I grew up on corn beef and cabbage as a food tradition, especially on holidays. But I am pretty sure I had pasta fagoli (or something like it) at my in-laws. I will have to make this recipe for my husband. And best of all, it looks very easy! I have to admit I am not the best cook LOL

  3. Amy

    Kate…it is SO easy…try it! Some Italians make a more complicated version, with pepperoni, sausage, chicken broth, other veggies…but my mom’s is so simple, literally takes about 10 minutes to make…and in it’s simplicity, I love it best this way. Good Luck and Enjoy! 🙂 ~Amy B.

  4. Amy

    Amy M….that pie and bread sound so delicious, I “legit” want some now! Please tell me you, or someone, have/has Nana Blanche’s original recipe?! I recall you telling me about her before…she sounded wonderful…lived to a ripe old age, if I recall that right. Ok…you need to make that pie and bread and invite us over! lol. 🙂 ps. I’ve only attempted to make pies a few times (and I LOVE fruit filled pies!) I wish I knew how to make a perfectly flaky crust…because THAT is the key to a great pie…and I think Nana B. had it right…gotta use that Crisco!

  5. SW

    My grandparents lived in an old farmhouse, and my grandmother loved to cook. Everything she made was delicious, but I especially remember her shepherd’s pie and apple crisp. I don’t have any recipes from her, though I wish I did. I order these foods whenever I see them on a menu because they remind me of my childhood. My sister and I whiled away lots of happy afternoons at grandma’s house. We were treated like queens! I will try the recipe from the article. I’ll probably have to substitute elbows because the pasta aisle in our grocery store is pretty bare these days. With everything that’s going on, this simple dish sounds like the perfect way to fill our bellies and soothe our spirits! Thank you for sharing.

  6. Amy

    SW….those two are actually my boyfriend’s favorites! I wish I had his mom’s shepherd’s pie recipe, but someday I will have to learn to make one like it, from his memory of it. Do any of your relatives have the recipes, perhaps?? As for apple crisp… it’s too bad you don’t have your gram’s but Ina Garten/Barefoot Contessa has a recipe I’ve made several times and it’s delicious! (warning, it’s quite rich with lots of butter…but I’ve also tweaked it with a little less butter and it’s every bit as delicious!) Lastly, you absolutely CAN substitute with elbows…I’ve done it myself! Hope you enjoy it if you try it. 🙂

  7. Kate

    I wanted to give a quick update. I made the recipe over the weekend, and my husband and I enjoyed it very much! He does remember his mother making something very similar. I used the elbows instead of the small pasta (our grocery store is low on pasta too), and my husband told me to make sure I buy the “good cheese” rather than the cheap stuff. He is picky about cheese! This dish was easy to make and left us feeling very satisfied. I was thinking that I could probably add a few veggies to this too. Our neighbors do a big vegetable garden every year and share their bounty with us. At any rate, I’ll definitely add this recipe to my food rotation. Thanks!

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