I had occasion to spend several hours outdoors on one of those below-freezing February days. I was wrapped in so many layers that if I’d fallen down, I would have bounced away like an out-of-bounds basketball, but numb fingers and toes eventually said it was time to give in and go in.
After I thawed out, I heated up a lunch of leftover Cajun-spiced shrimp, rice and green beans. The meal had been lovely and satisfying the night before.
Not this time. My inner self spoke, and it cried “meat.”
Like most people, I have claimed that I crave one thing or another at some time (usually ice cream or chocolate). However, I realized that what I’d called a craving before that day was merely a mental game to excuse naughty nibbles. Just was what my mother used to call “having a taste in your mouth” for something.
At that lunch I felt a true craving. And it wasn’t for vegetables and shellfish. I threw plenty of shrimp to the lion inside, and it still roared for the satisfaction of something beefy or porky, heavy with fat and solidity.
I went to the grocery store, bought a chicken to sensibly roast later and tried to ignore it, but still it prowled. The need seemed to rise from my very DNA, stronger even than the deep-seated urge to accessorize.
When I got home, I dumped the groceries on the kitchen counter and thawed out five sausage balls from a frozen bag of snacks that was originally intended for use while watching basketball games. I tossed them to the beast. It lay down, finally, in uneasy rest.
In my house, we call this the need for “thud food,” something that settles warmly and satisfyingly in the tummy to sustain us through cold nights. Others call it “comfort food.” Either way, vegetarian chickpea-sweet potato casserole doesn’t answer the call, no matter how hard I’ve tried to make it so. And I have tried.
Meat loaf. Chunky chili. Old-fashioned spaghetti sauce with Italian sausage. That’s thud food, and that’s what the beast cries out for.
The Hub and I are refined modern eaters who do pay some attention to healthy foods. We eat our kale and blueberries like good middle-aged, cancer-fearing people. I instituted a weekly vegetarian night, which is a delight in the summer of fresh, fat tomatoes and luscious eggplant. We are fond of elegant sushi and gleaming wild-caught salmon.
But I have to give up in the winter. I’m fighting some far too formidable opponents: meteorology and biology.
Long, cold, dark winter days are boring. I need stimulation and fat is flavor, as a wise chef once told me. Experts say that even if you don’t officially have seasonal affective disorder, you can still need a pick-me-up – and rich, flavorful food does it.
Although we evolved humans post on Facebook and tweet about “Downton Abbey,” we are still animals, with that animal urge to stock up on calories for cold weather before we dig into our electrically heated burrows ’til spring.
A day later, when Hub and I met some friends for lunch, I could feel that the beast was still restless. I glanced at the menu options of BLTs, soups and salads, but all I could think of was the patty melt, oozing with Swiss cheese and burning with jalapeños.
When the sandwich arrived in all its greasy glory, I wanted to purr. I knew that the lion would sleep tonight.