Leftover Thanksgiving casserole and comfort cooking

There is a poem by Randall Jarrell, entitled "90 North", I find hauntingly compelling. It's bleak, and achingly truthful; yet  somehow beckons to the fanciful, sleepy-eyed, dreamy, imaginative inner child who keeps us alive in the blind search for meaning.  The theme, essentially, is  pain and disillusionment. Not exactly a blissful affirmation, but in some twisted fashion I'm drawn to the keen, raw sense of longing and bewildered frustration it evokes. The last four lines, in particular, wherein the poet addresses the hard-earned knowledge he "wrung from the darkness", as being: worthless as ignorance: nothing comes from nothing, The darkness from the darkness. Pain comes from the darkness And we call it wisdom. It is pain.

Why focus on a poem of bitterness, one step away from the unequivocally loving, peaceful holiday of Thanksgiving, in a food blog?

I guess I was feeling a little lost in darkness, this week. Not a terrible, black shroud, not even a melodramatic, theatrical drowning in soap opera darkness; just a quiet, familiar, shadowy confusion like the dull sinus headache I had for two weeks, until mid-week when I finally got antibiotics (really, thought I'd kicked the whole trend of bi-annual sinus infections!). It's because I'm tired; because I dashed from work early to attend a food writing luncheon at which I felt ridiculously shy, small, and out of place; because a slew of things have been going wrong, almost like a comedy only really frustrating;  and because I feel like indulging in the whole big picture- cloud confusion for a bit, questioning my purpose and knowing it'll pass, but also that it's time for another kick in the pants to be bolder with certain areas of my life, "not a dress rehearsal".


Usually, I get back to reality with a really good run, or I cook my way into calmness, meditatively turning off the mind reveling in the simple things, like tumbling "little trees" seen in the child's eyes as crisp broccoli florets are chopped from the stalk. Which brings me back to  "90 North". Today, when I was lingering over Jarrell's concluding lines, stark with finality, a new angle on comfort food flashed in my head. When we dive into food in self pity, it's escapism. Comfort eating. But lately there seems to be an increasing,  beautiful trend of comfort cooking.  More and more, people seem to create in their kitchens with healthier focus.We choose whole ingredients and enjoy with wholehearted slowness (doesn't Pollan say, alongside eating real food, mostly plants, not too much, etc, whatever you do, let yourself enjoy it, slowly,  and move on?).  We trial favorite classics using quality foods and smarter methods. We are trying to become more aware.

Today, I'm seeking comfort attempting to cook something creamy and cheesy and topped with bread, but leaner than it seems. A curried chicken, broccoli, and carrot casserole with stuffing. I'm yearning for some feel good factor. I have some homemade bread I was given at the dentist's office of all places (shout out to Dr. Rogge's office, Artistic Smiles!), and I can't tell them how grateful I am that I happened to be the lucky recipient. Mainly because that would mean admitting to grumpy doldrums. It'll make amazing stuffing, cubed, lightly toasted, and sauteed in olive oil with onions and herbs.

My tried-and-true hand-me-down recipe calls for a can of condensed soup; I'm swapping out the whopping flood of gooey sodium for a homemade white sauce with stock, milk, and some cheese.

There can be a lot of snobbery, mean-spiritedness, and exclusivity involved in being human.  It's hard to win with one another, sometimes.  It's especially hard to win with ourselves. I am undoubtedly going to continue letting my brain come near to combustion in pondering what my true purpose is, until there is no purposeful time left to explore. I do know it's pretty darn absolute my reason for being is not to become some fabulous chef one day. I may scrape the time and budget for some culinary classes. But one thing I love so much about cooking is that enjoyment comes unfettered by the agendas powered by goals and ambitions. Creating good meals  allows us to experience a moment that is stupendously satisfying on a daily basis.  Most comforting is, the end result is nearly always intended to be shared. And I'm thankful.

Leftover Thanksgiving Casserole

The best part of this casserole is, it's an easy, throw-it-all-in, versatile dish that really doesn't need an official recipe or take much time, if you time it right. Make it vegetarian--just leave out the meat and add a more diverse mix of vegetables. I'm not timing it ideally in this case, because Thanksgiving hasn't happened yet, and so I'm making everything from scratch. It's still pretty simple, anyway:

Just take a couple cups (about 3?) worth of cooked chicken or turkey, chopped, cubed, or shredded, and mix up with a cheesy, (literally, not figuratively : )), curried, homemade alternative to condensed soup (see below). Stir in a bunch of vegetables (I like steamed broccoli and carrots, about 4-5 cups worth). Transfer to a 9 X 13 baking pan, top with leftover stuffing, and bake for 40 minutes at 350 F. Happy easy days after Thanksgiving!

"Use instead of a can of condensed soup" simple sauce (based on a recipe from  Simple Organic with thanks!)

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup unbleached flour
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese of choice (this week I got hold of some awesome portabello jack on sale at Sprouts)
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  1. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan.
  2. Blend in flour and salt, and cook until bubbly.
  3. Stir in stock and milk, whisking to keep smooth.
  4. Add cheese, stirring until melted.