Comfort Food (Fall 2013)

“Culture, when it comes to food, is of course a fancy word for your mom.”

― Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

What food makes you think of mom, or grandma, or home?  What food conjures memories of good times shared with friends and family?  What do you consider to be comfort food?

Just in time for the holidays we asked the Sturgis community: what is your favorite comfort food?  We asked those who have lived overseas to describe favorite foods from other cultures.   Enjoy their stories, recipes, and photos.  Bon appetit!



Ellen Boucher — West     Eat, Pray, Love in Indonesia

Eat, Pray, LoveWhile living in Indonesia, a huge treat was escaping the crowds and pollution of Jakarta for the weekend to enjoy an “Eat, Pray, Love Weekend” in Bali — minus the pray and the love! We would travel to Bali just to enjoy good food. Most of Indonesia is Muslim, thus does not eat pork. However, on Hindu-majority Bali, it’s a different story. The suckling pork (“Babi Guling”) at Ibu Oka’s (a spot deservedly made famous by Anthony Bourdain) is incredible. We would often visit twice in one weekend. A true comfort food, indeed.

Laurie Carah — West     Venezuelan Pabellon Criollo

One of my favorite memories of Venezuela was going to Magdalena, usually on a hot, swampy Saturday and spending the day in this tiny artist town at the tip of a mountain.  Known best for the fine woods carved there, I always looked for unique angel statues colorfully painted in rich color, but I also sought out the hemp baskets woven by an aged woman, unable to walk, who always recognized me.  A day on the tiny Magdalena streets was never enough without a look at the original pottery created  by an Asian influenced artist where I often bought my Christmas presents.  After tracking down the artist in his tiny space, and viewing his latest artistic creation, my husband, Mr. Carah, and I would inevitably be drawn by the rich aromas emanating from the simple restaurants lining the streets, where the real art is performed in Venezuela-culinary art!

Knowing our hunger would soon be soothed, we’d duck into a shop open to the street to call out an order of Pabellon Criollo, the national dish of the Venezuelans, which may not even be on the menu, but is provided by every restaurant in the country!

Pabellon Criollo

This meal is a delicious combination of carne mechada (shredded beef), arroz blanco (white rice), caraotas negras (black beans) and tajadas (fried plantains), which are delicious banana-like fruits fried to a golden brown and offering just the right amount of sweetness to complement the salty beans and beef. The secret of a great Pabellon is the combination of red and green peppers and sweet onions mixed with just the right amount of cumin!  Of course, the rich sauce of this Venezuelan staple is sopped up with delicious home-made areapas, looking much like English muffins, but offering the sweet and salty taste of corn, unlike any other breads.  We enjoyed arepas to such an extent, we showed our children how to make them when returning to the U.S. and now, this delicious corn bread is a treat enjoyed at many of our holiday meals!

Matthew Fetzer – East     Comfort Food in Colonial Plimoth

Matt Fetzer 1As a pilgrim, I take special pride in this time of year. While I have moved on to harvest other crops, I can never forget my Thanksgivings at Plimoth Plantation. Strange part was we kept getting all of these party crashers in my home who kept asking me all of these personal questions while I was trying to enjoy a quiet meal on a special day with my family.  I must say that the town was especially busy that day with all of these strange people who didn’t seem to know how they got there. I am not even sure how they found us. Looking at how they were dressed, they were clearly lost (with all of this immodest clothing and such). Then some locals showed up and they brought about 90 of their buddies.  We ate roasted goose, corn pottage, and baked bread. Everyone seemed to think it was Turkey. They must have asked my wife what she was cooking about a thousand times and if she enjoyed it. She just kept glaring at me when this happened. These strangers kept asking if this was the first thanksgiving which was weird, as if we were the first Christians to thank the Lord for his many blessings. Having traveled so long, their confusion was understandable.

The day had begun with a morning wood chop for the fire and then fowling I went with several of my neighbors to celebrate a harvest feast to thank the Lord for his generosity after our first year in the new world.  I must say that this native corn grew much better than our English corn. Squanto was of great help with all this, telling us when to set the corn, how to set it and how to fertilize it. Don’t set the corn until the leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear, he would say. And it’s true. As well, the goose we brought back was fat and tasty, good belly cheer to be sure.  If you haven’t prepared a goose, it is well worth learning. You must then of course pluck it, chop off the head and then garbage it. Turning it on a spit works best for a slow and thorough roast. After this you can baste it in all of the juice that comes off the bird. Yum.  I turned the spit for about three hours. Kept hitting my head on the hearth and forgot we had visitors in the house and that I was a Christian with some of the language that passed my lips. That will teach me to leave my hat on in the house. Found my humility that day.

I hope those visitors had a safe journey home. Travel aboard dark, cold stinky ships is not for everyone or more people would do it I guess.  Everything feels like Noah’s flood out there. These days of course I only talk about such things because I have left that Plantation and joined another that fertilizes the soil of young minds for a harvest much richer than anything I could ever dream of in Plimoth. And I am much richer for it. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Denise Hyer – East     Southern Comfort

There is nothing like Kentucky Southern Comfort Food! Biscuits, sausage gravy, fried chicken!!

My mom was famous in our family for her country fried chicken, crispy in a way that can only be achieved by frying in a well-seasoned iron skillet. Then she’d smother homemade mashed potatoes with the creamy chicken gravy made with milk and the “crispies” left in the skillet. Comforting and yummy.

My grandmother made biscuits from dough so light in texture that it was a miracle to anyone watching that she was able to pick up the small clouds from the floured surface where she rolled and cut them out then successfully place them on the baking pan without destroying their perfectness. Those fluffy biscuits were heavenly served with butter and homemade blackberry jam, but they were a meal served with honest-to-goodness country sausage gravy. My grandparents slaughtered their hogs, ground the meat and made their own sausage. But, by the time I started learning to make the gravy, we purchased sausage made on a farm in Simpsonville, Ky – Purnells Old Folks Country Sausage. The farm still makes sausage and I buy at least a dozen rolls when I go home, freeze it and cart it back to the Cape in a cooler to enjoy a taste of home whenever the mood strikes.

My mouth is watering already. I see sausage gravy and biscuits making an appearance on our breakfast table real soon.

photo credit: Christine McDowell

Christine McDowell – West     Sichuan Hotpot for a Cold Day

Mushroom hotpot – When living in Sichuan, China I would go out for mushroom hotpot a couple times a month.  You pick and choose the mushrooms you want to add to the soup and cook it in front of you.  You can keep adding mushrooms and other vegetables until you can no longer eat anymore.

photo credit: Christine McDowell

I also love crepes.  So versatile and so easy.  Can be eaten at any time of the day and can be made sweet or savory.  For dessert, try chocolate, bananas, and walnuts.  For breakfast, try spinach, mushrooms, and cheese.  For dinner, try stuffing with a seafood stuffing and serving with shrimp or some other seafood.

 Patrick O’Kane – East     La Tortilla Española

Patrick O'Kane

La Tortilla Española

When you live overseas as a student, as I did back in the ’90s, you quickly learn how to fill your stomach for as few dollars (or pesetas, in my case) as possible.  One dish I quickly learned to seek was the Spanish potato omelette.  Consisting of a fried mixture of potatoes, eggs, and onions (with lots of other optional ingredients), this dish was not only tasty, but filled your stomach at any time of the day (or night).  Cost was about a dollar for a huge wedge (and if you were lucky, bread was thrown in for free).

Whenever I long to return to Sevilla–or anywhere in the south of Spain–I peel 4 potatoes, crack a half-dozen eggs, and scour my refrigerator for any leftover vegetables and fry up this delicious memory.


Claire Shea – East  Tortilla and Salmorejo

Two comfort foods that remind me of Spain are tortilla and salmorejo. Tortilla, or Spanish omelette, is just that: a circular, thick omelette that has few ingredients: eggs, olive oil, sliced potatoes and onions. Salmorejo is not well known as it comes from a smaller city (Córdoba) and is not often featured on menus in other parts of Spain; I have yet to see it on a tapas menu here in the States. It is a cross between a dip/topping and a soup. Like gazpacho, it is served cold; unlike gazpacho, it is thick because it has bread in it and its only vegetable is tomato. Often, salmorejo is served with tortilla or with a side of bread (think baguette, not sliced). Spaniards joke that salmorejo and bread as a tapa is “pan con pan” — it’s bread served with a side of bread. That’s probably why I love it so much!




  • 1 large baguette bread that’s a day old
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • salt
  • 1/6 cup red wine vinegar
  • 5 or more tomatoes

-to top it (optional): one or two diced hardboiled eggs and diced jamón serrano (Serrano ham); if you can’t find Serrano ham (I believe Trader Joe’s has it), prosciutto works as well.

1) Take out crumbs/middle of the baguette and discard the crust.

2) Soak the inside of the bread in water, press it well so the excess water is discarded.

3) Puree the soaked bread, oil, tomatoes, garlic, vinegar and salt.

4) If necessary, add cold water until desired consistency is achieved (it is traditionally thick)

5) If desired, sprinkle the diced hardboiled eggs and Serrano ham on top and serve it with nice bread or with tortilla.

Robin Singer — West     Sweet Cinnamon Comfort



My favorite comfort food is applesauce!  I love to pick apples from organic apple trees and I don’t care if the apples are perfect looking or not.  I spend a lot of time paring and cutting them (it’s laborious but rather zen).  I put them directly into a crockpot with spring water and cinnamon.

While they are cooking (one can use either the high or low setting on the crockpot), the house smells of cinnamon. After some hours I come to stir it and find delicious applesauce – soft and sweet (but not too sweet), hot, and yummy.

Marsha Yalden – East     Cape Cod Comfort Food

I think one of my favorite comfort foods is what I would consider a typical Cape Cod cookout meal – a medium-rare hamburger cooked on the grill on a fresh soft hamburger bun smothered in ketchup, a sweet juicy ear of corn drenched in real butter and salt, a handful of Cape Cod potato chips, a crisp dill pickle, and, the best part, is a side of potato salad made from my grandmother’s recipe (see below).  I could eat any of these foods year round, but I don’t – to me the meal is only special when enjoyed on a warm summer night while sitting outside with friends and family. To me, this is the ultimate comfort food.

Marsha’s Grandmother’s Potato Salad:

  • 5 lbs of potatoes
  • 4-6 eggs
  • olive oil
  • celery seed
  • celery salt
  • onion powder
  • garlic powder
  • parsley
  • salt
  • pepper
  • mayonnaise (I prefer Helmen’s)

Cut the potatoes into bite sized pieces (skin on or off – whichever you prefer) and boil until soft.  Hard boil the eggs while cooking the potatoes.  Drain the potatoes and cut the eggs up into small chunks and mix with the potato.  Coat the potatoes and eggs with olive oil (enough to coat it but not too much). Add all the spices to taste (isn’t that the way all grandmothers cook?) and let the whole mixture sit for a few hours until cool (overnight is even better).  Don’t mix in the mayonnaise until after it is cool. Enjoy!

Marion Weeks — East     The Beauty of Black Beans

Tor serves black bean chili at Common Ground on Wednesdays

Tor serves black bean chili at
Common Ground on Wednesdays

Much to my disappointment, black beans were never part of my family fare while growing up. The first time I experienced the wonder of black beans was in my early twenties at a small Cuban restaurant in DC. It was love at first bite. I knew I had found my food and wondered how we could have been separated for so long. So great was my newfound appetite for black beans, I wondered if I might have been Cuban in a former life.

Although many years have passed since that transformative meal in DC, I never tire of the beauty and delicious flavor of black beans. Every Wednesday, I head to Common Ground Café with many local regulars who seek the comfort of Black Bean Chili complimented by a cup of iced hibiscus tea.

When summer rolls around, I go for black bean salad made with fresh vegetables straight from the garden. Three Sisters Salad is so named because it features the three sisters of Native American cuisine: corn, beans and squash. For more information about the “mythical three sisters,” see:

The Mythical “Three Sisters” of Native American Cuisine: 

One of the World’s Most Interesting Farming and Food Success Stories

I have made Three Sisters Salad at least 100 times and enjoy it anew with each serving.  I hope you will enjoy it too.

Three Sisters Salad. jpg

Three Sisters Salad

Three Sisters Salad

  • 3 cans black beans
  • 4-5 ears of corn
  • 1 lb zucchini
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 red peppers
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup (or more) cilantro


  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or regular vinegar)
  • salt and pepper

Rinse and drain black beans. Cook corn and remove from cob. Chop remaining vegetables and combine in large bowl. Toss with marinade one hour before serving at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers.

Sandra Weisman – Mother of East Sophomore  Antojitos


I love food and as in any country of the world we connect food with festivities, traditional parties, holidays or social gatherings. Getting nostalgic and craving special food happens to all of us and particularly in the Mexican culture in which I was born and raised. The emotional connection with food is seen very strongly and I think is because of it that we proudly keep a lot of traditions and continue making those delicious old recipes over and over again. They give us comfort to eat and share with family and friends.

Food it is a very common topic of conversation every time I meet somebody that ever lived in Mexico– there is always, “where is a good restaurant that serves Mexican food?” or “where can I get some special ingredient for that Mexican food recipe? ”

In Mexico there is even a special word for comfort foods: antojitos. Translated literally it means “little cravings.” Some of my favorites are tamales, tacos, enchiladas, gorditas, and mole full of flavorful and spicy hot sauces. I also love desserts like capirotada and glorias. But when you need some TLC there is nothing like a Mexican rendition of the world’s traditional chicken soup. We add cilantro or mint, squeeze some lemon juice and eat it dipping a rolled soft corn tortilla.

If you adopted as your comfort food some Mexican dishes you can find online numerous recipes or simply go to your favorite Mexican restaurant. I’m happy to announce that there is one brand new restaurant nearby Sturgis. The owner, Osvaldo Valdovinos, told me that he is working on getting a special discount for all Sturgis students.



Delicious and easy avocado salsa:

  • 1  ripe avocado
  • water (150 ml.)
  • jalapeño vinegar (buy the Goya green pickled jalapeño 312 g can and use only the liquid)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt

Blend the avocado pulp and all the other ingredients and enjoy it as a dip or as a sauce for your favorite fish or salad.

Notes on the foods mentioned:

Tamales: corn husks wrapping corn flavorful dough filled with spicy chicken, pork or beef

Capirotada: dessert made of bread, cloves, cinnamon, anise, raisins, coconut, peanuts and sometimes cheese and fruits

Mole: spicy sauce dish made of blended sesame seeds, pecans, peppers, chocolate that is usually served with chicken or chicken enchiladas

Glorias: a regional northern candy made with Goat milk and pecans

Gorditas: little corn pads filled with vegetables, beans, pork, chicken or beef

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