Comfort food key for unnamed time

I am challenging myself to write this column without (not once) mentioning that word we are all tiring of. Here goes ...

I would not consider myself a good cook. Adequate, yes. I fed my children fairly nutritious food - although an occasional Pop-Tart or chicken nugget wasn't unheard of. Now that the kids are gone, I have even less motivation in the kitchen. I am reminded of my Norwegian mother's sentiment: the only reason I have a kitchen is because it came with the house! Yet recent "events" (didn't say it) have led me to resurrect some tried and true recipes. Children reappeared, studying and working remotely. This tribe needed food. I had to step it up. And I did, reluctantly but somewhat competently. It's like riding a bicycle - which by the way I have recently started doing again! Then as quickly as they re-appeared, they all found their way back to their own lives (and kitchens). The "chief cook and bottle washer" was again retired.

Which leads me to this. While I never liked cooking and I actually broke into a sweat at the question "What's for dinner?", food is a touchstone for me and many. Hence, the recent shortage of flour and yeast (again - did not say it!). Besides Norwegian, I have Italian blood in my veins and food is the bedrock of that heritage. It is why at 88 my father still grows his own herbs and makes homemade pesto. He has Pesto Parties (well not this year because, well, you know) to teach my children the art of the perfect pesto. It is why every summer I have two unbreakable traditions: zucchini bread and eggplant parmigiana.

In July, when the local zucchini appear, I pull out the rarely used food processor and start shredding zucchini. A friend's recipe, it's the world's best zucchini bread. I make individual loaves for each grandchild so that they don't fight over it. Sometimes I relent and make it again later in the summer, but that's it. Once summer is gone so is my zucchini bread. I know I can buy zucchini anytime, but I won't. This way, my way, it's stays special. Summertime special.

By August the local eggplant are abundant and (just like the zucchini bread) the preparation begins. Now, unlike zucchini bread, I make eggplant parmigiana only once. Not for lack of ingredients but because it takes every pan in my kitchen to prepare and I will clean that mess up only once. It's my dad's recipe: peel, slice, pat dry, grill, egg wash, dry mix, grill again, shred cheese, make sauce, layer, layer, layer and bake. It is soooo good. I never make enough, but in the end it is enough because when it's gone, it's gone!

Even though I don't cook much, these are the things my children (and grandchildren) remember about summer, about our kitchen. They anchor us to our past, our childhood, our traditions. It's why we have turned to food in this time of uncertainty. It takes us home to a safe place with the people we love. Food, glorious food. (I did it. Right?).

- Laura LaPlaca of Hinsdale is a former contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].