Store-bought rotisserie chicken, rice cooked in stock, vegetables from the farmers market, lemon from the neighbor and herbs from the garden.
What Nosh writer Cirrus Wood is eating for comfort: Store-bought rotisserie chicken, rice cooked in stock, vegetables from the farmers market, lemon from a neighbor and herbs from the garden. Photo: Cirrus Wood

With social distancing in effect, it’s not always possible to give or get a hug. For many, food has been a stand-in for hugs. Savory foods, sweet foods, decadent foods and simple foods that comfort and console.

We recently asked readers to tell us the culinary delights they’re reaching for during this time. Everyone seems to be baking — we heard from many who find solace in cookies, cakes and bread. And of course, many love their carbs.

On the creative side, some readers discovered — or rediscovered — an appreciation for stretching ingredients as long as necessary. Several wrote of culinary projects that just go on and on and on, lingering through the days, weeks and now months of sheltering in place. The sourdough starter, the neverending batch of soup stock, the 500 ingredient chili that comes back and back in endless encore. The comfort in these is in the eating, but also in having something reliable to tend to.

Despite occasional admonitions from well-intentioned friends, family and healthcare providers to “not comfort oneself with food,” the general sentiment from readers was a big fat “phooey!” During a time when travel, socializing and human contact are off-limits, enjoying good food — rich in carbs, rich in memory — may just be what it is to be living one’s best life right now.

Sasha Futran: Yes, it counts

Does chocolate chip cookies for dinner, twice, count as comfort food? Longing for chocolate chip cookies but knowing better than to just run to the store, I picked the easiest online recipe for a normal shopping trip. I admit I was worried how they would turn out. My mother only baked apple pies. Same has been true for me. But 10 delish cookies later, I’d had my supper. I’ve done it again. (Now, they aren’t perfectly round and gorgeous and I don’t want to get cookie crumbs on my cell phone. So, sorry no picture.)

Nadine Samuels: The biggest pleasure

Photo: Nadine Samuels

The last few weeks we started eating our garden salads, artichokes and French radishes. Harvesting in our garden has been the biggest pleasure I’ve had in weeks.

Brittany Young: A challenge and an opportunity

Photo: Brittany Young

I know it’s cliché these days, but I’ve derived so much comfort from my sourdough starter lately. It reminds me I’m taking care of something, nurturing it. And I love working with wild yeast, being patient, expanding what I can do. So far I’ve made focaccia, pizza, and cinnamon rolls, as well as country breads with it. It’s a challenge and a learning opportunity, not just a food.

Stephanie Thompson: Balance

Photo: Stephanie Thompson

My famous “cereal” is my current comfort food. It’s a huge bowlful of fresh and frozen berries with a few spoonfuls of flourless cereal tossed on top. I then add a splash of almond milk. It also balances out the Heath Bar I had earlier…

Nils Skudra: Sweet nostalgia for a beloved restaurant

Photo: Nils Skudra

My absolute favorite dessert is flourless chocolate torte with raspberry sauce and homemade whipped cream (not that stuff from a can). I first fell in love with this when Cocolat in Berkeley carried it. When Cocolat closed, I freaked out because that was the end of my go-to fave. However, necessity is the mother of invention and I figured out how to make it myself. Voila! Just as good as Cocolat.

Jennifer Lombardi: The best part of waking up

Photo: Jennifer Lombardi

When the SIP started taking hold, I found this jar of Folgers, which I remember both my mother and grandmother drank. And they both kept a kettle on the stove, ready to produce a cup of coffee whenever desired. I asked for the kettle as a birthday gift a few weeks ago, and now this is the scene I enjoy every morning and this is my “comfort food.”

Jonathan Ruhe: Not quite the original, but not half bad

Photo: Jonathan Ruhe

The shihan ful from Alem’s Coffee in Oakland is the East Bay’s best breakfast. I was sad to see they closed for the lockdown, and I tried making my own. It’s not a patch on the original, but it’s not half bad, and it’s really easy if you’re cool with canned fava beans! I sure hope Alem’s can spring back when restrictions are eased. [Editor’s note: Alem’s Coffee is now open for takeout]

Beth Alyse Snyder: Creative carb loading

Photo: Beth Alyse Snyder

All the carbs! My son and I are both high-risk asthmatics so we no longer go out much, but one routine we have maintained is the occasional pilgrimage to Acme (they even have flour!) and for Mother’s Day I splurged on a pasta machine. It’s been fun for my five-year-old kiddo and me to experiment with the different shapes and to come up with creative new ways to eat pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Gaby Raymond: A sticky situation

Photo: Gaby Raymond

This is the giant cinnamon bun I baked today to pull us up out of the foggy gloom. Brown sugar, cinnamon from Lhasa Karnak, a touch of cream cheese in the frosting. Mmmmmm. Now we are sticky.

Constanze Huther: The food is ready when it sings

Photo: Constanze Huther

Our comfort food is dampfnudeln, a sweet steamed yeast dumpling from my Bavarian childhood. It’s not a very fancy dish but requires some planning because the dough rises twice. They are ready when they begin to “sing” and crackle in the pan — you will learn to recognize this sound. Beware, if you take off the lid too soon, they collapse! We eat them with applesauce.

Sue Gluss: Worth the weight

Photo: Sue Gluss

I’m not a baker. At least — not until now. Staring at a bunch of ripening bananas, I decided to bake comfort food. I pulled out my classic go-to, “Joy of Cooking.” Buried in its back pages, I found a banana nut muffin recipe. I doubled it and added organic Turbinado sugar. Oh la la! They were so good! I baked 18 large muffins, froze a dozen and we’ve been savoring them every day. Remember the “Freshman 15?” Well, I’ve got the “Covid 19” (in pounds, not fever!).

Sophie Fanelli: Every part of the vegetable

Photo: Sophie Fanelli

Making vegetable broth using kitchen scraps has become our favorite thing to do. The house smells amazing and it feels good to use as much of our veggies as possible.

Heather Lord: Winchester Mystery Chili

Photo: Heather Lord

Before quarantine, I made chili. After two months of quarantine, I now make Miss Lord’s Crazy 500 Ingredient Quarantine Chili. I’ve got nothin’ but time, so I just keep tweaking it and adding stuff to it! Worcestershire sauce, cocoa powder, cinnamon, beer AND wine, smoked Spanish paprika, etc. I use just about every spice in the cabinet. Ridiculously elaborate, ridiculously good. Can be made keto or veggie, delicious over rice or riced cauliflower.

Laurie Swiadon: Inspiration on the page

Photo: Laurie Swiadon

I am cooking from two Mollie Katzen cookbooks that I have neglected for years: “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest” and “Still Life with Menu Cookbook.” All of it is nutritious and delicious comfort food, with beautifully illustrated, simple recipes using easy-to-find ingredients. Highly recommended!

Natalia Gawlikowski, age 9: Food as love

Photo: Nick Gawlikowski

If there’s something good that comes with COVID-19, it’s the food. Since shelter-in-place started, my family has been exploring different recipes. We’ve made all sorts. One of my favorites was butter chicken, saag paneer and freshly made naan, all homemade. It was really good.

Food has been really comforting because when I sit down at the table there is a beautiful meal waiting for me, or, more accurately, I’m waiting for it. To me, homemade meals make me feel loved. When I make something, I feel proud. I hope food is a comfort to you as well.

Cirrus Wood is a freelance writer and photographer living in downtown Berkeley. There are few things he enjoys as much as playing around with the alphabet.