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Rachel Ellison MBE

Rachel Ellison Ltd

Executive Leadership Coach and Author

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Comfort food in lockdown


As you may have seen, I've been writing a content series on this site on panic and the coronavirus pandemic. As an accompaniment to this, I wanted to take this opportunity to look at our go-to foods during the Covid-19 crisis and get some views from the learning and development community about this. 

In parallel with the coronavirus pandemic, there is a full-on outbreak of self-catering. With most people in lockdown, working from home and only venturing out for exercise once a day, the focus is on staying well, staying sane and making nutritious meals…that just keep coming!

As I try to make sure our food stocks are wisely used, I know that over the next few weeks we may enjoy some surprising food combinations, a potential monotony of porridge and perhaps a dip in citrus fruit.

I am currently living in a different country from my parents - separated by two international borders and a body of seawater. I keep thinking of my mother’s beautifully prepared, comforting and creative cooking.

As a teenager, I remember the sound of the pressure cooker issuing steam at high volume in the kitchen, whilst I did my homework upstairs. At that time I had little idea how to cook, but I did know that a waft of fried onion and the clatter of pans, were strong indicators that soup was in the making.

Food security

There are still certain foods that give me a feeling of comfort and containment. Especially if I’m not feeling well. I have a particularly strong association with apple puree. One of my earliest memories of is my mother buying a jar of it in our local chemist. I’m not sure why she bought it as I perceive her to have made everything we ate from scratch…but this may be a beneath-the-surface imagining of a 100% homespun childhood.

A couple of years ago I bought a jar of apple puree from a chemist in London’s Heathrow airport. It was 5am. I had just flown in from Myanmar - a journey involving one boat trip, two taxis, a 24 seater plane and two international flights. I had clearly caught a bug and headed straight for my comfort food of choice: apple puree.

The English refer to ‘nursery foods’, meaning the foods we go back to when something is wrong. These foods are associated with our earliest care givers. They offer comfort and containment. Often they are very simple, such as eggy-bread, hot cocoa, or banana and honey. They make things feel better. Perhaps an emotional reset. On a psychoanalytic or beneath-the-surface level, they evoke the feeling of a secure base.

Your turn…

What foods do you associate with comfort and a feeling of security? What dishes come to mind when you’re feeling vulnerable or unwell?

If you’d like to share your favourite go-to recipe or family favourite (and you're happy for me to potentially use it in a future blog post elsewhere), have a glance at these questions and either comment here or email me: [email protected]. I’ll anonymise all answers.

  • What is your comfort food or dish?
  • Where is it from?
  • What’s its meaning for you?
  • Your beneath-the-surface interpretation if you have one?

Some responses so far

Here are just a few responses I've had from the community so far. Please feel free to share your own in the comments below.

‘Last night I found a frozen pot of smoked salmon scraps I’d saved. A quick whizz the blender, add some lemon juice, black pepper and Greek yoghurt…it all made for a surprisingly palatable dip to enjoy with celery sticks.’ [JS]

‘We live in the countryside so I gathered some nettle tips and wild garlic (we have a narrow leafed version here). Wilt in butter and blend to make a green sauce to swirl through pasta. [EL]

‘In a crisis, my husband goes straight to baking. He thinks that’s a far better use of our flour ration than making bread. So far he’s made date and walnut loaf, blueberry muffins and is now threatening a chocolate tray bake!’ [AT]

‘For me at times like this I go to the comfort food my children loved (and still request even though they are now adult): spaghetti Bolognese, fish pie, sausage casserole with apple, smoked haddock crunch curry, curry and curry!’ [PB]

‘Mine is cocoa. Its warming, deliciously chocolatey (all milk, no water!), give me comforting associations with early childhood and afternoon tea.’ [LW]

‘Our very favourite family comfort meal is Lamb Polo from my childhood in Iran. It's the main reason I do slow cooked shoulder of lamb - to have the lovely leftovers in the freezer ready to be whipped out and put in a dry frying pan with cumin, ras el hanout, and chinese 5 spice, cherry tomatoes, sultanas and well fried onions. Mix in cooked basmati rice and top with toasted pine nuts, pomegranate seeds and fresh coriander. Lastly sprinkle with lashings of sumac and serve with yoghurt and fresh mint and a squeeze of lemon. Lamb Polo takes me right back to Teheran and brings my mother into the room!’ [PT]

‘When I had just given birth, the only thing I wanted was chicken soup. I remember stipulating from the delivery suite, that it had to be home-made and not shop-bought. I drank litres of it. My body seemed to know want it wanted. Piping hot, light broth. Nourishing comfort. [RE]


Author Profile Picture
Rachel Ellison MBE

Executive Leadership Coach and Author

Read more from Rachel Ellison MBE

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