Monday, January 9, 2012
Cradle of Comfort
Some time during the late 1940's, my mother (3 or 4 years old) would sit in her grandmother Molly's kitchen and eat baked barley with mushrooms. Throughout her life it was one of her ultimate comfort foods. Although I hardly know a thing about my great-grandmother, I understood something about her as the rich aroma of the barley and mushrooms filled my kitchen. Molly had given to the people in her life through small gestures like a smile, or a dish of something warming.
I understood more about comfort today, eating the leftovers with a fried egg on top. Roman peered over my plate and asked for some. I told him what it was called, and his sweet little voice kept repeating "barley? barley?" so I spooned up as much as he demanded.
As I watched him eat, I found solace knowing that sustenance was being passed down to him through the hands of four different generations of women, all with the same goal. To nurture the little bodies they created and make them grow up healthy. And to make it taste good at the same time.
Then it all became clear. This is who I am, thanks to the line of women who came before me. I give and receive comfort through foods, and through the act of nurturing my family. A warm plate of something delicious and healthy, given with a smile and a kiss on the forehead. It's simple, really. That's where I find the greatest sense of serenity.
Baked Barley with Mushrooms
4 - 6 servings
1 onion, diced
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 cup barley
salt and pepper to taste
5 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth, boiling
In a large, deep frying pan, sauté the onion, mushrooms, barley, salt and pepper in butter. Stir frequently until the barley is lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
Place in a casserole and stir in boiling broth.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for approximately 1 hour at 350 degrees.
Note: After 1 hour of baking, there was still plenty of liquid, so I continued to bake, uncovered, for an additional 30 minutes until the broth had been absorbed and the texture was perfect. Check the texture of the barley after one hour. If you need to, you can add additional boiling water if the barley is too hard. It should be firm and slightly crunchy.