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When I was age eight, my parents liked to go out nearly every Saturday night. They’d lived through the rationing and privations of World War II. The Fifties and Sixties brought huge prosperity to America. I can’t blame my parents for wanting to enjoy themselves.

My mother was a professional nutritionist in a large hospital at a time when wives and mothers typically didn’t work. My father was an electrical engineer and inventor. As first-generation Americans born of immigrants who’d escaped the Iron Curtain, they were doing pretty well in Cleveland, Ohio where I was born.

So my parents would get dressed up and go out Saturday night, leaving me alone in their house. I suppose they trusted me, with my Siamese cat for company. Maybe they never considered whether I would have liked some human companionship on those long nights. In any case, they never hired a babysitter.

Both of my parents were only children, each with brothers who had died before they were born. So I had no aunts or uncles, no cousins of my age I could call. My maternal grandmother lived nearby, but she was taking care of my grandfather with Parkinson’s disease and went to bed early.

I have vivid memories of being alone in that big, dark house, feeling very lonely and often scared.

The furnace would go on with ominous monster-in-the-basement rumblings. If there was wind, the house itself creaked and groaned. My mother would turn off all of the lights on the second floor and most of the lights on the ground floor except in the family room, where there was a library and the television. Then there was what I was watching on television.

In those days, Cleveland carried a couple of channels that aired reruns of TV shows and movies. “The Xanti Misfits” and the episode where a queen bee turns herself into a beatnik woman who tries to seduce the scientist-beekeeper (I think that one is called “Regina”) on The Outer Limits; “Demon With A Glass Hand,” on The Twilight Zone; and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo were memorably scary to an eight-year-old.

(I’m quite sure the gorgeous footage of San Francisco in the early 1950s imprinted itself on my subconscious mind. After I spent some time in Washington D.C., I made a beeline for the Bay Area. We have Vertigo in our collection to this day and I still hate the ending!)

I’m very thankful the station didn’t air Psycho. I would have never taken a shower again.

To assuage my loneliness, I’d make a short trek through the dark dining room to the kitchen where my mother would leave some under-the-counter lights on.

And there I’d make popcorn. My mother had this electric popcorn machine, an aluminum canister with a round handle of glass on the top and a wire that plugged into the bottom and into a wall outlet. I’d pour corn oil up to a line etched inside (at the time, I didn’t know corn oil is considered bad, nutrition-wise; it was the only oil my mother kept around). Then I’d pour in a third-cup of Jolly Time. I preferred the blue label containing white corn, which made a meatier, crunchier kernel. The red label, which contained yellow corn, made a bigger, fluffier kernel but it didn’t have as much taste.

I knew the drill. Pour everything in, plug the machine in. When the popped corn pressed up against the glass handle, and the machine steamed, and I could smell a bit of burning at the bottom, I’d whip off the wire. Using oven mitts, I’d carefully pour the canister into a bowl. I put nothing else on the popcorn except Morton’s salt (a lot of it).

I’ve never liked Coke, then or now, but I did like a grape soda pop my father kept in the fridge. It tasted like carbonated grape Kool-Aid. I’d pour a glass of that to wash my salty popcorn down, waiting for my parents to come home and turn on the lights.

Nowadays, I use Arrowhead Mills Organic popcorn, organic extra virgin olive oil, and Mediterranean sea salt. I’ve got a Lindy’s stainless steel popper, with a paddle on the bottom and a wood handle on the top. You crank the handle, which turns the paddle around while the corn is popping. This makes superb popcorn. I still burn the bottom a bit. I love a few burned kernels, but that’s just me.

The Lindy’s is kind of a hassle to clean, though, and I usually don’t want the extra fat. So I’ll haul out my West Bend air popper. This miraculous machine produces a bowl of virtually fat-free, fiber-rich comfort food in minutes. I still sprinkle on too much salt. Nobody’s perfect.

So there you have it. What’s your favorite comfort food and why?

From the author of Summer Of Love, A Time Travel (a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo.
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