soup scallions and butter

Comfort Eating

soup scallions and butter

I’ve been having a very quiet couple of weeks. The flu found me just as I finished up the book and I’ve been forced to take to my bed with a pile of pillows and paracetamol. Being a delicate little flower healthwise, I take a long time to bounce back from these things. I had been planning a holiday from as much cooking as I’d been doing, but I’ve gone somewhat from the sublime to the ridiculous and all I want to eat is comfort food.

I know my body should probably be repairing itself with plates of lean meat, leafy green vegetables and a rainbow of fruit for the much needed vitamins. Aside from my first kiwi fruit in nigh on 20 years, I haven’t been craving those things, but wanting to eat biscuits and mountains of mashed potato instead. I’ve been disappointed to discover that pink wafers aren’t as nice as I remember but mashed potato hasn’t let me down.

Every Northern Irish kid grows up on piles of champ, that magical mix of scallions, mash and a crater of melted butter. It was essential to dip each mouthful in the butter but not let the butter pool break down the side of the spuds. Nothing makes me feel better than champ. The memory of a friend making it for me on a truly awful weekend not long after I’d moved to London still warms my soul now and it was the first meal I ever cooked in my new flat after being homeless. It reminds me of childhood and security and being loved. Growing up in the margarine obsessed 80s meant butter equalled true love.

A sickly child, I spent a lot of time recuperating and convalescing. Certain things always helped. My mum made me egg beaten up in a cup, the soft yolked egg mixed with broken up wheaten bread and more butter. It was easy to eat in all the ways that counted. Heinz tomato soup made an appearance. I’m not brand loyal to much but there’s only one type of tinned tomato soup for me. Speaking of butter, put a little blob of it on top of the soup and see it in a whole new light.

My other love was jelly. Something about its soft soothing wobble still comforts me even now. My aunt used to give me cubes of ‘raw’ jelly out of the packet on Sunday afternoon walks in lieu of modern day affectations like Haribo and I was always told it was good for your nails. Some thing about the gelatine strengthening them. I grew up to have beautifully shaped nails of steel that people often mistake for the expensive kind you buy, so maybe the old wives’ tale did have truth in it? I do know jelly was one of the things I missed profoundly when I was a vegetarian teenager.

I’ve been eating pots and pots of it recently and kicking myself I didn’t order ice cream in my Sainsbury’s shop to go with it. I thought the pay off from years of tonsilitis as a kid was the promised jelly and ice cream after the op when I finally had my tonsils removed. Few things have ever disappointed me more than being given a plastic bowl of Rice Krispies next morning instead. Snap, crackle and pain. Raspberry jelly and vanilla ice cream it was not.

You can keep your Phish Foods and Choco-loco-doodahs and fancy schmancy ice creams when I’m ill. Nothing cuts the mustard quite like a proper taste of raspberry ripple whether it comes cut in slices from a block or conjured up yourself with the jelly or frozen berries. My mum even had a Yardley lipstick that tasted of raspberry ripple when I was a kid and I suspect the fact lipstick doesn’t taste like that anymore is why I’ve never owned one, reserving my colour love for nail polish instead.

I’ll know I’m on the mend again when I want colour on my plate. I’ll be sticking with my mashed potato, steaming bowls of porridge and fluffy white rice in the meantime. Simple and easy to make when I lack energy, they taste homemade when there’s no one else to make them for me and of course, they can incorporate butter beautifully… What about you? What food comforts you when you feel ill or wearied by life? Does it matter who makes it or food just fuel when life is full of pressure?

PS: here’s a preview of Recipes from Brixton Village so take a trip to the market with this fabulous video and start counting down the days til May 22nd when you can get your copy!

12 replies
  1. misspiggy
    misspiggy says:

    Miso soup (from a packet), or proper Jewish chicken soup with noodles and dumplings. Plus cashew nuts and green tea. Instant recovery.

  2. Chloe
    Chloe says:

    It has to be my mum’s leek and potato soup (heavy on the potato), mashed potato with anything and cheese toasties, but only if cooked on a hot plate and smothered in Lea & Perrins. Strong cheese a must as well. Enjoyed this post, hope you get well soon 🙂

  3. Kavey
    Kavey says:

    It’s awful being ill — hope you’re feeling better soon so we can finally schedule getting together for chatter and munching.
    When I’m ill, I usually want comfort food too – I crave roast potatoes (Pete will oblige if he’s not poorly) or Pete’s cheese potato bake. If I’m feeding myself, then processed pappy white bread, slathered with butter and Heinz tomato soup. I did try posh tomato soups and they just didn’t cut it, so Pete recreated a Heinz kind of taste for me made from homegrown tomatoes, chicken stock, a little cream…
    Cheese toast, that’s another one…
    The video is great, by the way!

  4. azure
    azure says:

    Slow cooked scrambled eggs on toast or congee made w/chicken stock, garlic & ginger. The former, my mom used to make for me sometimes (or a poached egg) when I was a child & had a year or two w/several tonsilitis and/or strep throats. Scrambled or poached eggs tend to slide smoothly down a sore throat (not so much the toast unless chewed very thoroughly). The congee I tried the last time I had a bad cold–a friend had mentioned it’s what she always ate when her stomach was upset. Making the chicken stock gave me something good to smell for several hours, then I added all the garlic & ginger I had, put in the rice, let it cook. It felt good going down & the next day I felt better.

    Brixton Village sounds like a place to visit if I ever get to the UK again (I live in the western US). Good luck w/your cookbook.

  5. David Kelly
    David Kelly says:

    I guess it’s not surprising to have potato as a basic staple of a comfort food for a Northern Irish person – it must be in our blood 😉
    For me it would have to be a bowl of Irish stew dowsed in freshly ground black pepper. I guess it takes me back to teenage days getting home from school on a winters day and the aroma of a big pot of stew on the go for dinner would always be a welcome respite from the cold, wet weather outside.
    And it didn’t matter if there wasn’t so much meat in the stew, so long as there was plenty of potato in it 🙂

  6. KBeee
    KBeee says:

    My cure-all sick feast is Heinz tomato soup + mashed potatoe mixed together, and cheap white sliced bread (none of the crusty home made stuff when I’m ill) with plenty of butter on it.
    Actually, I might move my emergency cans of soup from the kitchen cupboard to the medecine cupboard…

  7. Lynne
    Lynne says:

    Plain potatoes is the first thing I want when ill. Hot ginger and lemon without sugar if I can’t taste very well. I always hate the sugar mouth coating left by sweet drinks and really can’t take it at all when unwell. Hope you are better soon.

    The tonsillectomy/Rice Krispies story struck a nerve. I was five when they took mine out in South Wales. The first thing they tried to push into me afterwards was cornflakes. I have never touched them since. Was this a UK-wide madness in times gone by?

  8. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Miss Piggy: I had some miso soup after reading this comment. Just the ticket. And packet stuff is MUCH better in this situation.

    Chloe: leek and potato soup is my hangover cure. It feels virtuous in the circumstances.

    Kavey: I like the odd dabble with ‘posh’ tomato soups but when I’m ill, it has to be Heinz. Something magical about it. Try it with a toasted cheese sandwich on the side for the ultimate comfort lunch.

  9. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Azure: love the idea of congee in this situation. I’ve been meaning to see if I could make it in the slow cooker so I think I might play around now you’ve reminded me. The ginger and stock will be nourishing but make a change from just soup.

  10. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    David: you are so right about the Irish stew, the potatoes are the best bit by far. Especially when they start to melt round the edges and thicken up the stew. Love it.

  11. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    KBeee: this is evil genius. I am sorely tempted to try this next time I have some white sliced in the house. Sounds delicious.

    Lynne: I hate that sticky mouthed feeling too. Lemsip is my idea of hell. Not as bad as the post tonsillectomy cereal feel though. Ouch!

  12. Emma
    Emma says:

    Egg beaten up in a cup! That’s just made me well up with happy 🙂 I thought it was a made up thing from my lovely dear-departed Belfast mum and I had forgotten it for so long! That and ‘mock crab’ made with onion, tomato and egg were my childhood poorly foods.

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