Comfort Food and Good Books

RECIPE: Upside Down Shepherd’s Pie

I had another post cooked, written, and ready to go for this week.  Then, as they often do, my students changed my mind.

Anyone who knows me could tell you that my favorite kind of food is comfort food.  Giant pots of soups, chiles, stews, or something equally warm and stomach-filling and delicious and preferably covered in some sort of cheese or canned fried onions.  For example see this and this.

This is one of my favorite times of year in my Senior English class.  We’re reading (well, they’re supposed to be reading…) Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant,  which is basically about a family who has issues and eventually tries to work them out.  The kids don’t understand the value of the book, because you can’t tell teenagers that some day they’re going to appreciate their parents or that one day they’ll actually love their siblings.  They’ll just stare at you with their evil eyes and hope you’ll stop talking so they can get back to surreptitiously texting in their backpacks.

What is more comforting and delicious than the worst food in the world for you?

The novel (which the boys call a “chick book” because it’s about family, when really three of the five narrators are dudes), makes some great comments on food, because the middle child, Ezra, grows up to open a restaurant, aptly named The Homesick Restaurant.  He serves comfort food, which he thinks people need to fill their souls, and help their lives.

He says of one of the dishes they serve, “‘It’s not only pot roast,’ Ezra said.  He sat in a chair.  His suit had a way of waddling around him, as if purchased for a much larger man.  ‘This is something more.  I mean, pot roast is really not the right name; it’s more like…what you long for when you’re sad and everyone’s been wearing you down’” (137).

Those are the kind of meals I enjoy.

The book defines people in two ways, feeders and nonfeeders, “Cody cut into a huge wedge of pie and gave some thought to food — to its inexplicable, loaded meaning in other people’s lives.  Couldn’t you classify a person, he wondered, purely by examining his attitude toward food?  Look at Cody’s mother — a nonfeeder if there ever was one.  Even back in his childhood, when they’d depended on her for nourishment…why mention you were hungry and she’s suddenly act rushed and harassed, fretful, out of breath, distracted…  But above all else, [Ezra] was a feeder.  He’d set a dish before you and then stand there with his face expectant, his hands clasped tightly under his chin, his eyes following your fork.  There was something tender, almost loving, about his attitude toward people who were eating what he’s cooked them” (159, 161).

I think we here at WandaS are all feeders.  Even if sometimes we’re rushed and harried and need to get things done, we all appreciate food and want to take time to enjoy it with our families.  That’s why we’re here, talking about food, our families, and our lives five days a week.

So make this recipe, and read Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, and have a glass of wine (if you’re of age), and enjoy the deliciousness of comfort.

Rating: My mom used to make this when I was a kid, and she was the one who provided the recipe.  When I was a kid, I would have given it 5 out of 5 glasses of milk, but as an adult I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 glasses of wine.  What can I say?  Tastes change.

Upside Down Shepherd’s Pie
Author: Manda
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Total time: 30 mins
  • 4 cups frozen hash brown potatoes, thawed
  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 package to brown gravy mix
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt (I use garlic powder without salt)
  • 1 10 oz. package frozen mixed vegetables (I used a 16 oz bag)
  • 1 cup (4 oz) shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 2.8 oz can french fried onions
  1. Combine potato, oil, and pepper in a shallow 1 1/2 qt. baking dish, firmly pressing mixture across bottom and up sides of dish to form a shell.
  2. Bake, uncovered at 400 for 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile brown beef; drain.
  4. Stir in gravy mix, water, and garlic salt; bring to a boil.
  5. Add mixed vegetables; reduce heat to medium and cook 5 minutes.
  6. Stir in 1/2 of cheese and 1/2 of onions.
  7. Place in potato shell; bake uncovered at 350 for 15 minutes.
  8. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and onion.
  9. Bake 5 minutes longer.
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