Sunday, December 7, 2008

Comfort Foods

This has been a really, really tough week in our small town. Like everyone else, we started our week with the Mumbai attack and a barrage of bad economic news. Then on Wednesday we learned that 600 of our local mine employees were being laid off. 600 might not be disastrous in some communities, but in a town of 10,000, we're really hurting. Being the number cruncher at the store I immediately said 5% newly unemployed. If the spouses weren't working, that's 10%. Those were just the mine employees and not including the contractors that supported the mine.

I had heard that the woman who used to do most of the mine catering was starting a business in town for the full community. Now I understand why. She must have had her contract terminated already.

But here we sit, heading into the end of year holiday season. We watch commercials full of cheer and joy, urging us to go out and spend money. Its money we need to spend if the economic is to recover, but financially and emotionally its so hard.

We saw an immediate impact to the layoffs. The day after, our sales dropped 40%. A community that felt cautious, but confident in our insulation, now felt panic and despair. Where do small businesses fit into a small community when the big blue Wal-Mart sits just atop the hill with their low prices?

This is also the time when we all reflect on the previous year. We think about loved ones passed. At church this morning we shed tears over the friends who passed over the summer.

And even looking at our pooches our emotions are jerked. Just yesterday Tyler was walking our dogs north of town and our little Lucia was caught in steel claw animal trap. Miraculously she was fine (Tyler believes her to be our reincarnate cat which would explain her nine lives).

This is the season of comfort food. I want my casseroles which I mock during the rest of the year. I want my plain old box cake, which I lift my nose from at the potluck table. I want a good old bowl of oatmeal with a spoonful of brown sugar (okay, maybe palm sugar). I need these foods right now to push past the bleak midwinter. I know these strifes will pass.

I find hope in my New Mexico sunrises each morning. I get that joyful jump start when I see comments from Mark and Larry (and the rest of you too). I feel the connection to my multitude of online friends who are always there for me. A great example - I'm teaching a holiday cookie class for kids today. I don't do cookies very often so I was plum out of ideas. I posted a message at eG right before bed and hoped for some recipes. Sure enough, although the North Americans were sleeping, friends from across the globe posted recipes for me to try. When I awoke and read the responses, I felt that connection that we've formed even though we've never met.

When I eat these holiday cookies today, I get to share that connection with the kids. I get to talk about Chufi, Hummmingbirdkiss, Prasantrin, Verjuice, Jummangy, Tri2Cook and all the other goofy screen names that are part of my pseudonym family. They are the greatest comfort food of all.


Tri2Cook said...

I hear ya Rob. We're facing something similar. The logging industry is a big part of the economy here and the local mill shut down last year, opened for a short time this summer and closed again this fall. It resulted in about 200 or so direct layoffs plus an even larger number of bush workers (loggers, truck drivers, etc.) lose their work as well. Like you said, it's a big impact in a small town (we're a population of just over 5,000, well off of the major highways and several hours from the nearest large cities). We have tourism (mainly fishing and hunting) as a backup but it only goes so far and that too has taken a hit from the economy this year.
My partner in the catering business owns the restaurant were I cook and she's seriously considering selling it and just concentrating on catering full time. I've told her not to panic but in reality it may not be a bad thing. With catering, the margins are better, the overhead smaller and the local economy doesn't have as much impact on it. A large number of our catering customers are government-funded organizations that have no real connection to the logging and tourism economy.
Anyway, I still enjoy the holiday season. I'm not really a religious person and the whole "giftmas" thing saddens me a bit (not the giving of gifts but the number of people who wouldn't even bother with the season if they new they wouldn't be getting gifts) but it's still an enjoyable time of year for me. Lots of good memories. I miss my mom the most during this time because she loved christmas and really came alive around this time of year. She fought a lifelong battle with depression and was a bit of a recluse later in life but all of that seemed to disappear during the holiday season.
And yes, friends are a great thing. Including those on a computer screen.

Klary Koopmans said...

Dear Rob, I didn´t see the eG thread on time, but if you still need some comfort baking, use the speculaas spices I sent you and make speculaas.. I can´t think of a more comforting smell coming out of the oven.
I, too, have been cooking lots of stews and braises and old fashioned Dutch winter comfort food. I did not really understand why but now I think that yes, it might have something to do with the news of the world...

Manggy said...

Gfron, what're you doing making me verklempt?! Thank you for this last year too. It was just 1 year ago that I jumped in head-first into my first real daring project-- an Opera cake. I couldn't have done it without being inspired/pushed by you.
The attacks in Mumbai were just so horrible. I saw the CNN report while I was out, felt all choked up inside. It becomes easy to forget with all this evil that is too insane to believe exists under normal circumstances that there are good people all over the world struggling to fight it. As for the lay-offs-- when I saw the raw number I immediately recognized how dire the situation was in Silver City. I pray there's a turn for the better, and soon.
I'm glad the puppy is fine :) You're looking quite fit on that big rock, too :)
If you were here (or vice-versa) I'd do my best to churn out one comfort food after another :)

Gfron1 said...

4 in the morning and can't quite sleep...uggghh! I'll respond to Klary and Larry when I re-awake. Mark - click on that pic of fit-me. That's for perspective on our little Lucia. She's standing by my feet. Cute lil' thing. We're calling the Game Warden today to report the trap.

Gfron1 said...

Speculaas it is for today! I need something that will put me back into the spirit. Our store mission is to bring joy to our customers, and we take it very seriously. They need it now more than ever. I was thinking after I got more sleep last night that times like this really help us all to peel the layers away and be more in touch with our lives. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all not have to do our 9 to 5s (not that any of us do those type of hours) and focus on our friends, families and communities. Maybe this global crisis will get us closer to that. There's been a distinct drop in potlucks in our community over the past 5 years. Maybe we'll see a revival. If we didn't have a hole in our bathroom floor, we would lead that revival! :)