The first clue I was really, really sick was when I craved nothing but Cream of Wheat. This neutral gruel has been my cold care comfort food since I was a kid, and while I rarely eat it when I'm well, it's always in my pantry. Just in case.
I really needed it a couple of weeks ago when I was feverish, chilled, and dead sure the swine flu had struck. In between pounding pain meds and trying to drown this nasty bug in gallons of herb tea, I scanned various medical websites looking for symptoms and cures.
It's never a good time to get sick, but this chunk of my calendar was especially full. I was forced to miss a friend's fabulous salt tasting party and had to skip being a judge at a contest called Iron Vintners, where winemakers were teamed with chefs to come up with the ultimate food pairings. (Fortunately, I got to attend the finals this week.) My brother flew in from Maui for a visit and though I wanted to make him a special welcome home feast, I could barely get out of bed.
Plus, it was sunny. Being under the weather when it's cold and rainy seems less of a bummer somehow than when everybody's out having summer fun. No fair!
Okay, enough whining. Besides the Cream of Wheat, I found some measure of relief in steaming bowls of pho from the noodle shop down the block and blasted open the sinus passages with extra sriracha on top.
After two long weeks, I knew I was finally on the mend because my appetite returned. (Welcome back! I've missed you!) Food tasted good again. I celebrated by frying up a mess of catfish, chips, and coleslaw, and making a double batch of chocolate chip cookies.
This ordeal made me wonder and worry about what happens when professional cooks get sick. I've seen more than a few power through a shift while suffering, but those were mostly cases of the bottle flu. You can't really come to work and handle food when you're super sick, can you?
I'm still searching for the upside of these two lost weeks when I was absolutely worthless. I did catch up on those movies stacking up in my Netflix queue. And I reorganized my cookbooks, moving out titles that I never crack and rediscovering some old gems. (So, that's where my Casablanca Cookbook was hiding. Here's looking at you, kid!)
But the best part of being so sick is how grateful I am that it's finally over. I'm healthy and awfully hungry.
On that note, what food gives you relief when you're ailing? Maybe there's a making of a business plan in this mess: Comfort Food Catering. Food that makes you feel better, delivered by a kindly grandmother type. Whaddaya think?
About the author: Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer restaurant critic Leslie Kelly has been apprenticing in professional kitchens since the newspaper folded in March 2009 and chronicling her culinary journey from pen to pan for Serious Eats. Inspired by Michael Ruhlman, she recently started a new project on her personal blog, exploring "An Egg A Day".