As I walked into La Boulangerie around two o’clock on a Friday afternoon, I noticed that the glass, domed case that typically contains their pastries and assorted desserts was quite empty and thought: Perhaps people tend to buy their pastries and desserts in the morning. A waft of freshly baked bread filled my nose, and the sound of clinking plates and glass cups softly rang in my ears. I spotted people lounging in their chairs and one woman drinking hot tea and indulging in a small piece of cheesecake. As I enjoyed my meal that day, an iced vanilla latte that was $5.75 and chicken salad on a warm, toasted croissant that was $9.50, I felt no rush to finish and leave, and neither did those around me.
I frequently find myself and my peers throwing around the word “comfort.” We will say, “That brings me so much comfort,” but rarely do we take a step back to examine the meaning of the term. One of the most straightforward explanations of “comfort” is a “pleasant feeling of being relaxed and free from pain.” Teresa Dobrzykowski states that “feeling comfortable is the sense of calm, or repose, experienced while knowing that all is okay, even when things could be better.” Of course, one can dive deeper and discover that according to Ortiz et al., definitions of comfort vary across fields, from healthcare to ergonomics; however, holistically speaking, comfort can be referred to as ‘wellbeing.’
Unseen Comfort Item at La Boulangerie: “Let it Be” by the Beatles
In Charles Spence’s Comfort food: A review, he discusses the phenomenon of comfort food, which he describes as “those foods whose consumption provides consolation or a feeling of well-being” and foods that “offer some sort of psychological, specifically emotional, comfort.” He adds that there are suggestions of comfort foods being high-calorific and having a soft texture. More specifically, Spence forges the connection between comfort foods and loved ones and states that “comfort foods are often prepared in a simple or traditional style and may have a nostalgic or sentimental appeal, perhaps reminding us of home, family, and/or friends.” Furthermore, Spence emphasizes that comfort foods come about when individuals associate specific foods with positive social encounters from their past, such as their childhood.
La Boulangerie showcases and provides freshly baked bread, an assortment of pastries, such as fruit turnovers and blueberry muffins, and a variety of desserts, like carrot cake and seasonal pies. According to Nutritionix, a baguette is a monstrous 881 calories. For pastries and desserts, a single apple turnover is 285 calories, and a piece of carrot cakeis 577 calories, to name two examples. These are calorie-dense foods, and as Charles Spence states in his review, “It is often suggested that comfort foods have a high calorie content.” While in La Boulangerie on that Friday, I observed many people sitting alone, yet relaxed and content. They all had stress-free demeanors in that they were reclining in their chairs, smiling gently, and those on their computers did not have furrowed brows. In Spence’s review, he states that it is inferred “that those who are alone tend to eat more comfort foods than those who are not.” With that, the tables at La Boulangerie are so small that it is as if the café intentionally arranged spaces for individuals to eat alone because they know that those who are alone will eat more comfort food, which they provide. Furthermore, Spence highlights that “according to the results of one recent North American survey, the majority (81%) of those asked either agreed, or else strongly agreed, that eating their preferred comfort food would make them feel better.” While I was not sitting alone that Friday, eating one of my preferred comfort foods – a croissant, which was part of my chicken salad sandwich – made me feel better about my weekend workload. Croissants remind me of home and family – a factor that makes comfort foods what they are to some – because when I was young, my mom would often greet me on Sunday mornings with croissants fresh out of the oven. According to Spence, accompanying the overall discussion of comfort foods comes the point that comfort foods vary across individuals and cultures. For, different people associate different foods with different things. That being said, La Boulangerie allows everyone to revel in their distinctive comfort foods. It not only has baked goods, but a range of sandwiches, and even ice cream too.
Unseen Comfort Item at La Boulangerie: The “Stella’s Mom” Ceramic Mug
The comfort that Americans and so many other countries strive to describe and fabricate, Danes have a word for – hygge. Hygge is a Danish concept interpreted by others apart from Denmark natives as coziness. As Lisa Tolin highlights in her NBC News article, it can be “loosely translated as cozy contentment.” The concept of hygge developed due to the Danes’ environment and way of life, for they are stricken by brutally cold winters and must seek shelter indoors. To this point, Tolin states, “Appropriate to Denmark’s climate (and our winter), hygge is about hunkering down: It’s all candles, blazing fires, warm blankets and fuzzy slippers, reading nooks (called hyggekrog), comfortable pants (hyggebukser), wollen socks (hyggesokker) and tea.” Moreover, in his BBC News article, Justin Parkinson states that hygge is also “eating home-made cinnamon pastries” and “family get-togethers at Christmas.” While Americans do not have an equivalent word to hygge, not even with the term ‘comfort,’ Danes see hygge as part of their identity parallel to how Americans view democracy as part of theirs. Denmark has been named the happiest country, and with that, Americans have been trying to cultivate hygge in their restaurant and café settings.
While La Boulangerie does not offer blazing fires and warm blankets, it allows Americans to experience hygge in other ways. For example, the café provides people with a place to hunker down with a cup of hot tea and a pastry. The woman sitting down behind me had her feet propped up on the windowsill in a hunkering down manner. All she was missing was a blanket, which she could have brought with her. According to Bean’s and Cranz’s journal, “illumination should be neither too bright nor too dark” when trying to achieve hygge. Because lighting is an essential aspect of hygge, Lisa Tolin says that “you won’t find many big fluorescent harsh white lights,” which are unseen in La Boulangerie. The atmosphere excludes artificial lighting and is instead lit by the natural light through the large windows. Additionally, La Boulangerie, partly because they cater comfort foods, welcomes and encourages self-love, of what seems to be one of the principal components of hygge. In Justin Parkinson’s BBC News article, he includes a quote from Helen Russel about her take on hygge: “Hygge seems to me to be about being kind to yourself – indulging, having a nice time, not punishing or denying yourself anything.” Whenever I am at La Boulangerie, I never desire to order a salad because the café creates an environment that makes me want to indulge. It radiates hygge. Because of the display of treats, I am persuaded to love myself and reach for a piece of cake instead of the one salad on the menu.
Now for why my comfort items are “unseen” at La Boulangerie: When I think of comfort, specifically comfort foods and hygge – the things La Boulangerie provides – I think of “Let it Be” and my mom’s coffee mug. “Let it Be” was the song we blared in car rides home from eating spaghetti when I was young, and my mom always drank her tea out of her “Stella’s Mom” mug at night while we watched movies. A “Let it Be” singalong is the childhood memory I associate with one of my comfort foods – spaghetti, and my mom’s mug is part of my hygge. It is essential to find those places in life that make you feel at ease and warm inside, and La Boulangerie is one of those places for me.