Picture this. An arctic winter day with sub-zero weather and snow steadily falling. You venture outside to shovel, and even though you’re dressed warmly, the wind almost immediately strips any heat from your body. The exercise warms you some, but your face is always icy. Eventually you come back inside, drained in many ways. You’re hungry, and you want something that will taste good and replenish you, but the last thing you want to do is spend much time cooking.
This has been some of my experience over the past week, with brutal cold and multiple storms hitting Maine. Coming in from that bitter chill, I want something warm and comforting that doesn’t require much of me. Which is why I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote from For the Love of Food by Denis Cotter, in the section on “Bowls”:
“As much as we all need to make the effort now and then to create what I’ve referred to elsewhere in this book as knife and fork food, there is a very modern need too for [a meal]… to sometimes be a simple bowl of delicious food…. I would go so far as to say that cradling a warm bowl in your hands, as you slurp some highly flavored vegetables and grains, is one of the most pleasurable ways to feed your body and soul. Primal is a word that comes to mind, in a good way.” (pp. 184-185)
Bowl food is exactly what I’ve needed lately. In the mornings, this often means oatmeal or some other warm grain (amaranth was another favorite this week). I’ve also been making lots of soups and stews, among them Thai Turkey and Cauliflower Soup, Potato Fennel Soup, and Inspiration Soup.
And I have to agree with Cotter that it fills a different sort of need. Bowl food can generally be eaten with a spoon, an implement that almost inevitably reminds us of childhood. We can also cradle a bowl, something impossible with a plate, and let the warmth of the food seep through to our hands before it makes its way to our bellies. And we can slurp, if we so choose, draining the dregs of broth with relish, an act that is definitely more primal than civilized (at least in this culture).
But what I also love is the simplicity. Cooking grains couldn’t be easier, particularly if you have a timer or rice cooker. Many soups don’t require much more than some initial chopping and occasional tending. The rest of the time it happily bubbles away on its own, filling the house with delicious aromas until you’re ready to eat. Using a crock-pot is even easier, and either method can make enough for multiple servings. That’s actually my favorite part – just reheating something that I know will fill and nourish and warm me, all the while tasting delicious.
I know that some people aren’t fans of soup, but certainly you can present other food in bowls. Beans and rice, for instance, or steamed veggies, any kind of lentil or porridge dish, and more.
Serving in bowls may not be the most elegant preparation, but I find it comforting, and some days, when I’m really stressed or its ridiculously cold out, that’s far more important.