When life is hard, I have a habit of wanting to go back to a simpler time, when things were easy. When smiles, laughter, contentment didn’t have to be worked for and nothing was in the way of just enjoying life.
The thing that allows me to do that, in the most economical way, is food. Comfort food to be specific. Comfort food for everyone is something different. It is usually associated with a specific moment, memory, time. The sense of smell and taste does wonders able to grab those precious moments and bring them back.
For me comfort food is all about the food from my childhood. Caribbean food. Things like roti (Dinners out), doubles (Early mornings at the airport), paleau (Saturday nights), bake and salt fish (Sunday mornings). All things that conjure up warm days, aromatic smells, and not-so-stressful times.
My mother cooked most of our meals. With love and care she chopped and boiled and fried in our bright kitchen, sun streaming in the windows and a cool breeze blowing through the open back door, my brother and I would be running around giggling, laughing, and playing. The warm island air, the lack of worry, and the smell of food, it was a great time for all the senses.
Mother would always include us in her cooking. It was something to do as a family and a skill that everyone should have. First it would be gathering ingredients then we got to put things in the pot. When we got older we were allowed to slice, chop, and mince.
Besides licking the spoon when she made fudge, my favourite thing to do was rolling dumplings for the soup. Soup in Trinidad is a meal. It isn’t something that just whets your appetite, it is the main course. So instead of just liquid it is filled with everything that makes up a balanced meal. It has meat, vegetables, and grain.
9 out of 10 times the soup of choice was split pea. This thick yellow elixir was a panacea for all that ailed. You couldn’t be angry while eating it. It’s warmth and flavour trumped any negative emotions. You were no longer tense or achy. Any pain you were suffering was numbed by this ambrosia. It was truly the food of the gods.
It was made with split peas, of course, beef, potatoes, carrots, and dumplings. When available cassava or pumpkin was added. All this was combined in one large pot that seemed to boil for hours. She would move back and forth adding ingredients dropping in herds and spices in a specific order allowing the flavours to fuse and mix.
The dumplings were always the last thing to add as it was the ingredient that took the least amount of time to cook. She would take a small piece of the dough she had prepared, roll it in her hands and let it drop into the pot in one fluid motion. She would hand me a piece. The cool tacky dough was softer than the stuff we got to play with in school. I would roll it trying to mimic her motions as best as possible and, when I was too short, she’d pick me up and let me drop it in the pot. The steam hitting my face and hands as it fell into the simmering, rolling concoction that was brewing. It would disappear, slipping below the surface, becoming one with the rest of the soup. She would put me down and the world was suddenly cooler.
After doing this a few times I would be sent off to help set the table so she could finish doing the rest of the dumplings. I would run off, grabbing spoons, or bowls, or place mats with my brother.
We would anxiously sit at the table as my mother doled out the soup. She would also provide me a glass of ice cold water. A thing that drove my brother crazy as to him eating hot soup and drinking cold water together made no sense. I am not sure when I started doing that but it is something I have done as long as I can remember. I think it has something to do with the juxtaposition of the flavours and temperatures. It enhances each making them even better. It is a habit I have never out grown.
All I am saying is that I made soup. It has been a hard few months, years even, and I just needed something comforting. As I rolled those dumplings into that bubbling brew, inhaling its almost intoxication aroma, the memory of warm days, happy times, and running through that kitchen came back and I felt just a bit better. And despite things are always better when your mom makes it for you, it was exactly what I needed.