Food for thought: A comfort you can taste


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My parents used to call me the "monster in the blonde wig" because I was a raging, angry, lunatic child with a wildly curly nest of platinum blonde hair.

I don't exactly remember what there was to be so upset about before the age of 5 (at which point you start worrying about real problems like who to sleep next to during naptime). Maybe my pacifiers just weren't as cool as all the other girls' in my Mommy and Me class.

Regardless of the reason, I would constantly throw huge tantrums, during which I would run ceaselessly around my house screaming and crying like the world was about to come to an end. My parents tried everything to help me, but the flow of my salty tears refused to surrender.

One magical day, however, my throat was dry and scratchy from a screaming fit. I looked around for something to quench my thirst and found a cup of Nesquik chocolate milk next to my bed.

I took a sip and prepared to resume my wailing, but something strange happened. I couldn't scream. I couldn't cry. All that my mind could focus on was the milk - I wanted more! I was swimming in the joy of that creamy, sweet chocolate milk.

And to this very day, food is my greatest source of comfort, my medicine to every ailment. From that point on, food became a powerful source of happiness and escape in my life. There are few things that possess this miraculous ability to make a bad day good, or turn my frown upside down, even if only for a moment.

There are certain foods that just have the ability to always make me smile. No matter what the problem, I know that those familiar flavors will temporarily relieve me from my troubles. My favorite happiness-inducing food is my most precious guilty pleasure. Before I came to Berkeley, I would buy tubes of Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookie dough and bake half of it, so people didn't discover my true motive. I would leave the cookies for the rest of my family and sneak the remaining dough back into my room, where the dough and I could avoid my problems in peace and quiet.

Even though this did the trick, Berkeley has taken my ultimate comfort food to a whole new level - both better-tasting and far more socially acceptable. Yogurt Park's cookie dough topping is heaven in a cup.

The cookie dough bites that grace the topping bars of most yogurt places are powdery, flavorless and, quite honestly, pretty gross. However, Yogurt Park's cookie dough topping is the furthest thing from that embarrassing substitute. It tastes just like Nestle's chocolate chip, and there's no skimping when it comes to portion.

A small vanilla yogurt with cookie dough on top is the best choice, as it is the ideal ratio of roughly two parts yogurt to one part gooey perfection.

The other food group guaranteed to put a smile on my face is the kind that triggers memories of my childhood. My lovely grandparents live in New Orleans, my favorite place in the world.

My grandmother, who understands the magical powers of food better than anyone I know, has been quelling my tears with fried chicken, biscuits and mac and cheese for years.

To this day, the comforting flavors of Southern food mixed with the nostalgia it triggers make it my morphine of the food world. My spot for a Southern fix in Berkeley is Angeline's Louisiana Kitchen on Shattuck Avenue, a restaurant that puts an upscale twist on down-home food.

The environment of the restaurant is quaint and charming, with wooden tables and brick walls. The tables are covered with newspaper and the food is presented simply, but the understated presentation is no indicator of the mouthwatering flavors that are about to hit your mouth.

My absolute go-to dish is the buttermilk fried chicken, served with ginger-vanilla sweet potato mash. The chicken is juicy with a crispy, salty crust that only fried chicken can give you. The mash is sweet but not cloying, with a complex flavor from the essence of vanilla and ginger. The baked mac and cheese is also impossible not to like. It is smooth and creamy with a delicious crunch from a crust made of bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.

Be careful to save room for dessert, because Angeline's serves beignets (pronounced ben-yays), the South's best-kept secret. Beignets are like square-shaped donuts with no hole in the middle (which is, of course, a good thing because it leaves me all the more donut to eat). They're soft and fluffy and amazing, and Angeline's are almost as good as the ones that I remember from New Orleans. Instead of glaze, beignets are covered in a thick layer of powered sugar. They are served piping hot, and paired with a cafe au lait, there's no better end to a comforting meal.

Life is about enjoying every small moment of happiness, and these comforting foods make my life that much sweeter.


Contact Harley at [email protected]

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