Thursday, August 26, 2010




: a timid, meek, or unassertive person

While this word comes directly from the surname of a rather timid comic strip character, Merriam-Webster warns me that the word "might remind you of 'milk toast,' a bland concoction of buttered toast served in a dish of warm milk."

Might remind us? Come now, Merriam.

Milk Toast is supposedly great for the ailing—soothing and easy to digest. Even so, the thought of soggy bread in tepid milk is mildly nauseating to me. I'll take a can of room-temp ginger ale and some saltines, thanks.

Various general internet sites inform me that Milk Toast is still considered a "comfort food" to many, although I'm not sure who is included in this "many." Comfort foods are commonly warm, use simple ingredients, are easily home-cooked, and reek of nostalgia. According to the folks at he University of Illinois Food and Brand Lab, comfort foods are defined as, "foods whose consumption evokes a psychologically comfortable and pleasurable state for a person." Choice of comfort food is influenced by gender, age, and ethnicity. Those factors aside, some widely observed comfort foods in America are: mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, hot chocolate, meat loaf, and various casseroles. A study conducted by ICR (International Communications Research) states that more than half of the surveyed prefer comfort foods during the winter. So, basically, anything one would want to eat after a day of playing in the snow as a child. My memories are conjuring up Swiss Miss and Chicken Flavor Ramen Noodles. Gross.

I think it's fair to say my comfort food now is oatmeal, although it's not at all nostalgic (I didn't start eating oatmeal until I was in my mid-twenties). It is, however, warm, simple, and easily home-cooked. What's also comforting to me about oatmeal is routine. Anything I make almost every morning will become comforting to me. Oatmeal is also frugal, and I take a whole lot of comfort in getting a good deal.

But, back to Milk Toast. The character MILQUETOAST was obviously named after the bowl of soggy bread—bland, soft, easy to digest, akin to the frail and weak-stomached. Once an old coworker and I were bored and began to label each of our colleagues as an appropriate food. He designated me as a plum. I liked this, I thought a plum was appropriate for me, and I'm not sure why. Asian plums seem to have more cultural symbolism than the western varieties. In China, plum blossoms bloom in winter and are hence understood as a symbol of resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity. In Japan, plums function as a protective charm against evil and, if eaten pickled for breakfast, are said to stave off misfortune. I don't think this relates at all to whatever kind of person I think I am. I suppose I just thought the plum was an ideal fruit—a little sweet, a little sour, and fairly under-appreciated.

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