Support for Sandy: Serious Comfort Food, Stat

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Nov 8, 2012 5 Comments ›› Melissa Graham


Hurricanes, sadly, have long been part of the fabric of my family’s history.

During my lifetime, six hurricanes have hit my home town of Amityville, NY, a small village on the Great South Bay. I was there for four and have had to deal with the aftermath of the remaining two.

During, Agnes and Belle, I was a child. For me, a hurricane was an adventure: a day for candles, books, and family projects. When I was a teenager, Gloria hit and it was a drag. We were without power for at least a week. My most vivid remembrance of Gloria’s aftermath was a rocking party thrown by one of the high school seniors. A teenage kegger by candlelight – that’s a memory.

Hurricane Bob was a major nuisance. Not because it was a Category 2, but instead because my mom, dad, and I started a trek down the east coast the day it clipped the side of Long Island. Driving through pelting rain, we caravanned to Washington, DC, where I was starting law school. The victim? My mattress and box spring that travelled on the car’s roof. It took 2 days of hot DC sunshine to dry it out.

These first four were all escapades and inconveniences. It took Irene for tragedy to attack.

Irene came at a most inconvenient time. My dad, just weeks before, was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis, a fatal condition of the lungs. After three harrowing days in the hospital, my mom moved him home to hospice care. He was surviving on 2 ventilators, 100% oxygen, when Irene gathered steam.

In 50 years, my parents had never been ordered to evacuate, but Irene was screeching forward and the authorities my dad to move to a shelter. Only 12 hours before the scheduled evacuation, my dad smartly chose the easy way out. During cocktail time, sitting next to my mom, while Wheel of Fortune played, he passed away.

The funeral finally took place five days later. Most of the attendees had no power, but did have water in their homes. Many of the roads to the parlor were closed so the path to the funeral was not easy. Irene was a real bitch.

But she’s nothing compared to Sandy. My mom’s house, which had bone dry for the past half century, took in a foot of water. She’s still without power, without heat, and without water. That being said, she’s more fortunate than others. Sandy completely totaled my aunt’s home, pulled it off of the foundation. I’ve heard of other friends whose homes took 5 feet of water. As my mother tells me “it’s like living through a war.”

There really is no comfort when you’re living in the dark, in the cold, and in the wet. Worse yet, the storm has for many friends and family damaged forever a sense of security. My mom is coming to Chicago as soon as either the power comes on or she can drain her pipes (having those burst might take her over the edge). When she does, I’ll make many comfort food dishes: pot roast, roast chicken, macaroni and cheese. For today’s recipe, I’d rather share what I’d make for my dad.

A favorite food memory is making homemade pretzels for my dad. He was a pretzel fiend and always had a tin next to his chair under the table for the TV remote. It was a special day when my mom and I would make them from scratch: mixing the yeast raised dough, setting it to rise in our oil burner room (now damp with storm surge), painting it with egg wash, dotting it with salt, and baking it to perfection. I can close my eyes and smell the fermentation and then the nutty smell of browned bread. This recipe today is for him. Because if he’s looking down on this mess, he needs some serious comfort food.


Soft Pretzels

Makes 16

1 cup water
1 (1/4-ounce) package yeast
½ teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon white wine
¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour plus more for rolling out the dough
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Pretzel salt

Heat the water in a microwave for approximately 30 seconds until 110° F. Sprinkle yeast on top and add honey, stir to combine. Let the yeast mixture sit for 5 minutes while it foams. In the bowl of stand mixer, mix together yeast, white wine, the flours and oil and salt.

Mix the dough with a dough hook until the water is absorbed. Knead for approximately 2 more minutes. Add salt and knead for another minute. Remove from the bowl before the dough is completely smooth and knead by hand for a few minutes or until smooth and elastic, but slightly tacky. Put the dough into a large bowl coated with oil and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350° F and bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Cut the dough into 16 pieces. Roll a piece into a eight-inch rope. Twist into a pretzel shape and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.

Boil each pretzel for 1 minute. Scoop the pretzel out with a slotted spoon and set on a second parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with pretzel salt and bake until lightly browned, approximately 7 minutes.

This post is part of Food Bloggers Support for Sandy to encourage donations to the Red Cross. I know that some folks have suggested other charities to send you donations. However, the Red Cross is the only one that I’ve heard of servicing my hometown so it has a special place in my hear right now.


  1. Support for Sandy: Serious Comfort Food, Stat – via @purpleaspchi #FBS4Sandy

  2. Jenn says:

    Thank you so much for joining in and participating. The soft pretzels sound wonderful, and you posted such heartfelt words. Such a touching story about your dad.

  3. Thanks so much Jenn. And thank you for organizing Support for Sandy. The victims sure need it.

  4. Laura Hoover says:

    Oh, Melissa. This is such a touching story. It’s so beautifully written. My heart goes out to you and your family. It sounds like a rough couple of years.

  5. Thanks so much Laura. It has been. It was absolutely crazy, last year every single member of immediate family, except Thor thankfully, was in the hospital for some period or for surgery. Yuck.

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