Top | Kitchen Limbo

Mood food

(article, Carrie Floyd)

primary-image, l

[%pageBreakSettings nobreak=true] When I was a kid, around age 11, my dad joined a book-of-the-month club. New members got to choose something crazy like 12 books for 99 cents. If you’ve ever signed up with any blank-of-the-month club, you know how it goes: There are a couple of titles you definitely want, a few you’re curious about, and the eleventh and twelfth fall into the category of  “what the hell” because, at eight cents a pop, does it really matter?

Enter [%bookLink code=9780689106392 "Mood Food"]. No offense to the author, Glenn Andrews, but I’m pretty sure it was a “what the hell” pick for Dad. I don’t remember ever seeing it open on the kitchen counter, ever eating a meal cooked from its pages — that is, until I made Suzanne’s Fudge Bars, “for when you need quick strength/energy.”  When I was setting up my first kitchen at 19, it was the cookbook thrown in the box with dishes from home. 

Twenty-some years later, it’s one of my prized books. Not because it’s such a great cookbook, but because I’m nostalgic for the stories and crazy about the index. It's the only book I have with a “Mood Index.” As a girl I read all the introductions to the recipes, short stories that provided a glimpse into adult life. These adults, though, were a lot more cosmopolitan than the ones I was boarding with: shirred eggs following a nighttime winter tennis match, chicken cooked in port by the children’s nurse, braised endive for an “ascetic mood,” and martinis on the rocks for “when your nerves are frazzled.” (Let’s just say “ascetic moods” never came up in our house — there were good moods and there were bad moods — and frazzled nerves were called headaches and met with a couple of aspirin and an early bedtime.)


h1. What do you crave?

Are there particular foods you crave more than others? And do certain moods demand certain foods? Leave a comment and let me know.


Beyond frazzled nerves, the Mood Index is nothing short of brilliant to my way of thinking and eating. Although most of the categories run along the lines of soothing — “when a little elegance would help” or “when you’re too tired to eat” — there are also suggestions for “when you crave something crisp or crunchy” and facing breakfast “if it were something interesting” (ice cream, anyone?). These tips are all about eating with pleasure, rather than it being routine or, worse, a burden.

Although I don’t have the luxury to eat only what I crave, many meals at least start with the question, “What sounds good today?” Plenty of planned meals get aborted or reworked to fit my mood — that is, unless there are leftovers, and I’m hungry, which is OK because in my mental mood/food index there’s a category called “when you’re starved and care more about eating than cooking.”

Cravings, in my book, are not to be frowned upon.

Curious about the nature of food cravings, I recently scouted around to see if there is a correlation between what our bodies crave and and what they need.  Though my reading was in no way exhaustive, it appears that the current science is more speculative than definitive about such matters. Googling the words “mood,” “food,” and “craving” often leads to diet sites and questionable advice, which rings hollow for me. When I get a hankering for Kettle's Spicy Thai potato chips, I’m pretty sure it’s because I want something crunchy, spicy, and salty, not because I have emotional problems I’m avoiding. And no, carrot sticks will not appease a crunchy craving, no matter how much I may need to gnash my jaws to relieve stress. 

I realize that I am, basically, a healthy person who eats a variety of foods. Cravings get a bad rap undoubtedly from the problem of overeating and the fact that people tend to crave foods that are high in fat and sugar: French fries, potato chips, pizza, doughnuts, ice cream, and chocolate. Then the question becomes: Are we eating for survival, seeking energy and storing fat, or purely out of habit and association?


h1.Featured recipe


While I know not all of our cravings have to do with physical hunger, I blanch at what seems punitive, such as the suggestion to rinse with Listerine once the craving is classified as psychological rather than physiological. The Listerine tip is from the director of the Midtown Diet Center in New York City, who explains, “Part of wanting to eat is the taste. Nothing tastes good after you’ve gargled with Listerine.” 

Or gasoline. 

Of course we have emotional links to the food we eat. That’s the beauty of being humans, instead of lab rats; we get to choose. And therein lies the satisfaction of my pink book from the 1970s: there’s a variety of moods, and a variety of foods to meet them, and the underlying text is that food is pleasure, not a force to be reckoned with.

According to Mood Food, crunchy isn’t just potato chips, it’s also cinnamon toast, crab cakes, and — somehow I’d missed this — Hootsla (onions and bread cubes fried in butter, then scrambled with eggs). 

To think I didn’t even know what Hootsla was, and now I’m craving it!

p(bio). Carrie Floyd is the Culinate food editor.

reference-image, l