The make-everything-better food
Growing up, whenever I was sick, my mom made sure to have two things on hand: old movies and Jif peanut butter toast. This means two things: First, I was extremely familiar with all of Audrey Hepburn's movies by the age of nine and second, I still crave peanut butter toast whenever I'm not feeling well. Stomach flu? Peanut butter toast will stick to your ribs. Strep throat? Smooth peanut butter makes it feel okay going down. Bad cold? There's still enough texture there that not being able to taste anything doesn't actually matter. I may have moved past a strict peanut butter toast-only sick diet, but toast—any kind—remains a comforting mainstay. It's what you want to eat when you don't want to eat anything at all, or when you can't make up your mind. And it's because of this quality that toast is the solid food equivalent to a warm mug of tea.
Think about it. Like toast, tea is warm and it's soothing, and it doesn't require you to grapple with any complex flavors or strange textures or bright colors—as much as I normally relish that. Their familiarity is paramount to their success as culinary comforters of the first order. Of course, it's important to note that I'm obviously not talking about magical, color-changing butterfly pea tea here. I'm also not talking about avocado toast. And I'm certainly not talking about unicorn toast.
There are few foods that are available with this sort of ease: neither toast nor tea require any special trips to the grocery store, or advanced cooking techniques. You make both things using probably the first kitchen skills you acquired: how to boil water and how to wield a bread knife. They're customizable in a way that doesn't seem overwhelming. For tea: you just have to decide if you want to add milk or sugar. For toast, you just have to decide if you want a lot of butter or a little butter. (Or no butter, I guess, but who are you?)
Even when I'm not sick-sick—in those times when I feel unsettled or overwhelmed or just off somehow—and I still need to have something, it's tea or toast—or both!—that always seems to be the answer. And in those times, it's especially nice to have an answer to at least one question. Even if it's just "What can I eat?"