Recipes

Don’t Go. Don’t Go.

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I summed up the pages of books read in 2019. A rather disappointing 10,689 pages. I wasn’t surprised. I hadn’t prioritized reading last year. While I still racked in 30 titles, I chose scrolling over page turning. There are seasons for reading and retreat and seasons for trying to re-enter the world.

I chose the later.

The first weekend of the new year, I picked titles to download on my Kindle – light books to lift the spirit.

This week, I consumed Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love and Food by Ann Hood. Her series of essays based on food and the comfort in brings in all seasons of life was a page turner and delightful, and to my surprise, was laced with grief. She lost a daughter at the age of five, went through a divorce, had to recreate and remember someone dear who never grew into size six shoes.

“Dang it,” I thought, “wasn’t this supposed to be a light read?”

On the pages were permission to use food as comfort, to create something out of nothing, and sit and chew and swallow in sad remembrance.

Turn the page and still another essay was about the simplicity of tomatoes and the multitude of ways we can use the fruit to celebrate – soak them in vodka, mash into sauce, cover meat and simmer into something else all together.

Hood integrates her sadness into her studies with food and then uses words and morsels to comfort herself. Her exercises also brought comfort to me.

And later, on a bright Saturday afternoon, I accepted an invitation to see Little Women and walked out of the sun into a dark theater. The seat squeaked as I sat down, my feet crunching on kernels left by the guest before me.

An intended afternoon escape, the movie mixed dark and light, and creativity and giving and loss so beautifully, I started to vibrate.

As the movie danced back and forth from past to present, I knew what was coming. (Spoiler Alert) How could I have forgotten that Beth is going to die?

Jo lays on the twin mattress next to her fading sister and pleads, “Fight for us Bethie. Stay here and fight.” I heard stories of something similar although the words for us were different.

“Don’t go. Don’t go. Don’t go.”

In the dark theater, it seemed once again that I can’t escape it. The truth of mortality, the thread of loss weaving us all together in some cluster of something. I see my stitches – what’s still unclear is the mess they are creating when I pull my own threads in line with those of others.

In stories, in movie theaters, in recipes calling us to mix salt and soda and sugar and sweet. It’s here. This grief. I can’t escape it.

I work on writing to you, dear readers, stories and experience of the beauty our world has to offer and each week I will my fingers and my spirits to speak of lighter things. I’m trying to focus my view on only the good and in doing so the dark seeps, waiting to be tickled and seen.

For awhile, I felt sorry.

For now, I feel it’s the only way I know how.

To nod to it’s being here and still search for the good God promises will follow, or perhaps has been here all along.

In the ink of Hood’s writing were woven stories of love and compassion and longing and recovery. The magic of melting cheese and butter in an omelet made by someone you love. Grandmother’s recipes and the gift of giving tiny tastes to tiny mouths.

And in Gerwig’s Little Women, I was awed by the costumes, the light, the magic of sisterly bonds and the beautiful choice of choosing ambition and creativity over love and recognizing the ache for the people we want to be with us forever.

The beauty is so mixed, I can no longer separate the good and the hurt. It’s all there. Wherever I go.

Please stay with me. Please continue to read. For this is my world, your world, ours. And in it are beautiful things to be seen.

The feel of a warm decaf latte in cold hands at tea time, the crunch of pop corn kernels drizzled in butter, the creative things people choose to put out into the world. Our connectedness. Our hurting. The mixture of love and light and darkness and our aching.

Don’t go. Don’t go. Stay here with me. What beautiful things we can find.

 

Mary Wasn’t Ready Either

“Nine days til’ Christmas!” the radio announcer proclaimed in a voice much like a Who in the 2000 version of The Grinch.

I imagined his tiny teeth and coiffed hair proclaiming the minutes ticking by to the Big Holiday as I turned the corner on to the major highway on my way to work.

We’ve been hustling and bustling with packages and bows. Dodging Suburbans in parking lots and honking at stop lights. Just like the travels on their way to Jerusalem for the Census. Right?

Christmas is coming and I’m not ready.

I’m not ready for the waves. Waves of excitement. Waves of grief. Waves of anxiety that come with the planning for pulling people who love each other together in a room for a purpose we easily forget in a gift giving world.

As I drove and listened to celebrities sing about holy nights, I paused and thought of Mary. She wasn’t ready. She didn’t ask for this baby at all.

I didn’t ask for grief. For missing. For aching. For the need for reinvention and the embracing discomfort to push through to potential. I didn’t ask for the mystery of the “What the heck – this wasn’t quite how it was supposed to be” moments.

Mary didn’t either.

And yet, Jesus came.

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Hope in the form of an infant, on a cold dark night and with him came the angels and the promise of healing and restoration and wholeness. Can you imagine witnessing all that potential just laying in scratchy straw?

A woman surrounded by men in awe. Probably telling her what to do – how to swaddle, where to sit, what to consider next.

And in the confusion, I’d like to hope peace came to her that night. In some form or another as she sat and wondered, “How will God use me in this?”

I’m not ready for the mysterious of mix of hurt and hope and sparkle. I’m not ready for the shadows looming, his empty chair, the small talk at holiday parties.

I’m not ready.

And yet here we are. “How will God use me in this?”

So, I start to pray.

I’m praying for the miraculous possibly found at a home-made table surrounded by beautiful, broken, seeking, healing people. I’m praying for peace as we sit among the fallen nettles of a tree-farmed pine tree under twinkling lights.

I’m praying for toasts and witnesses and a squeeze of my hands or shoulders or a kiss on the cheek. I’m praying for the Holy to come and be with us and those who can’t or won’t be in my living room.

Nine days ’til Christmas!

Turning left, I pulled into an icy parking spot at the local King Soopers.  I rushed in to buy green pears and soft cheese. Simple offerings for the Holiday lunch at the office. After paying and slipping on wet linoleum, I started to fumble for my keys in my pit of a purse. Looking up, I caught sight of something special.

Both wearing printed pajamas and snow boots, two small children walked hand in hand with their tired- looking mother. They stomped and they hopped and they wrestled for a cart. Children in pajamas at the grocery store. Beautiful.
Whispered prayers and wondering hearts. Beautiful.

Incomplete to-do lists, anxieties, hopes and healing. Beautiful.

I’m not ready for Christmas – I’m guessing Mary wasn’t either.

What a beautiful thing.

October Favorite Things – 2019

I’m burnt out on pumpkin spice. The joy has been sucked away by commercialism and over-done everything. Why is it we have a tendency to squeeze potential out of things, drip by sugary drip?

This October I’m focused on turning inward a bit – asking new questions and preparing to lay down old stories with the falling of leaves.

Here are a few things I’m loving this month:

  1. Roasted chicken – fill the house with amazing aromas on a Saturday evening. Don’t burn your hand on the roasting pan like I did. 425 degrees means 425 degrees.
  2. One Hope Wine – I’m intrigued by their business model and am excited to raise money for a good cause. If you’re thinking about stocking up on tasty wine for the holidays, check this out.
  3. Candy corn. Still. Yes. It’s a classic. Once a year because we will never burn out on their perfect chew if we only consume the kernels for one month a year.

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  4. Classic T’s – Maybe I’ve got some latent grief begging to be honored by the donning of black clothes. Maybe I’m channeling my inner New Yorker. Maybe I’m just craving a simpler closet. I’ve been stocking up on comfy black t-shirts and getting back to the basics with my wardrobe. As we head in to the season of layering, add these gems to your staples pile.
  5. Rising Strong by Brene Brown – for when you need permission to accept life as it is and a gentle reminder that magic meets us when we’re face down in the ring.

What can you lay down this month? What is bringing you joy?

Isn’t Life Grand?

It was probably in the second month when we were in my clunky, blue car. I can’t remember where we were headed, but I was driving. Dylan was in the passenger seat and Mom sat in the back, folding her hunched shoulders over her knees. Her black rain coat covered her shrinking body and each time she sighed, the Gore-Tex material would crinkle along with her.

Waiting at the stop light at the intersection I glanced over my shoulder to look at her.

No tears in this moment, at least not yet.

“Claudia called today,” she mumbled.

“Oh yeah?” I responded, “What did she say?”

“Nothing much. There’s nothing to talk about with people. They keep asking me how it’s going and I just want to scream, ‘life sucks’. Nothing to talk about. Nothing to see.”

Her words were quick and full of bitterness. My muscles clenched.

“I get that,” I murmured.

The light turned green and we kept on going. Driving ourselves further into the muck of grief.

It gets worse before it gets better. And in our case, it got much, much worse.

Another three months later and she had a breakdown. In the king-sized bed with the plaid-checked comforter, where he used to lay next to her on vacation. Her tears would not stop. We brought in aunts and uncles and caring cousins and tried, half-heartedly to create a care plan.

Holistic practitioners scrawled solutions on pads of paper. Remedies of rest, tinctures and hemp oils to soothe a grieving heart. Nothing seemed to be working.

Brought in more medication. The western doctor said it best when he asked, “What helps the most?” and her answer, “red wine” got not a rebuff, but permission.

“Then drink a bit more of it” he said, “Right when you wake up.”

We hired a care-taker and continued to drive her around, always in the back seat, always in the rain coat. We’d stroke her hands and play soothing songs, tensing our aching hearts toward her when the songs prompted more tears, not less.

Sat in the dark. For months.

Watched the tears roll over and over down her cheeks. The drips of emotion puddling in worn jeans and wrinkles on her hands all the way down to her painted toes.

She knew she had to start moving those appendages. They were getting stiff.

Baby steps.

Two and a half years passed.

Some involving actual babies – a job at a daycare, a trip to Italy. Lots of therapy with said therapist.

Her black rain coat hangs in the closet now, above his hiking boots. It’s ready for the next storm, but no longer needed as a daily accessory.

She’s cooking again – real meals that taste good. Not just spaghetti with mush of tomatoes or toast with butter.  This time there’s lobster tails, and pasta with cream, and crunchy salads full of life.

Last night, we sat on the deck after dinner, and she relaxed back in her chair. Bending her torso back over the supportive seat, she ran her newly graying hair through her hands. She took a deep inhale – this one full of joy.

“Isn’t life grand?” she murmured.

The sauvignon blanc in her glass goblet glittered in the light, matching the twinkle in her eye. The one that returned.

 

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I wasn’t sure she would say such things again.

That life is grand.

Even without you.

That we are making it, and she is smiling, and we are no longer driving her around as she sits, waiting for something or someone, to move her out of the backseat.

 

Grief Cookies – A Story of Resilience

I just turned it over onto the cutting board. The banana bread, that is, as my pinky fingers flexed to hold the hot glass bread pan over the corner. It bounced out of the pan. Success. No oozing. No repeat experience like this one. I am learning to follow the instructions and actually leave the gooey batter in the oven for the full time that the recipe calls for. It usually works, if you follow the directions.

I think that’s why I like baking. You take flour – yum – sugar – double yum – and butter -yes please – and can blend them into all kinds of beautiful things. Add the essence of cocoa, a bit of fruit, chunks of chocolate and the results get even better. I can follow a recipe and mix and blend and whisk and the outcome is usually pretty tasty. Sure, sometimes an extra bit of baking soda gets in, but that just adds fluff to the cookie. Fluff, cushion, softness, chew. A beautiful thing.

I wish there was a recipe for grief.

Er no, ha, not a recipe. All that requires is loss of something big or small.

I wish there was something like a baking manual for grief. A set of instructions that tell me to do this or that and put your emotions and anger, newly complicated family relationships, and friends who don’t “get you” anymore in an oven at 350 degrees for ten minutes and ding, you’re done. You’re free from this drastic change and ready to be enjoyed.

No such thing.

This week Dylan has been sick so I’ve been trying to keep myself occupied in the evenings as he rests on the couch. On Tuesday, after watching The Crown (we have to pace ourselves people. There’s only eight more episodes in Season Two!) I wanted to bake. I went searching in my pile of Cooking Light magazines. I had a specific one in mind.  I started with the March 2016 edition. No, that couldn’t be right. The April edition would have arrived by then.

Cooking Light April 2016.

I inhaled sharply.

That magazine sat on my counter top as I cooked the last meal my dad would ever eat. Its open pages got speckled with oil as we prepared the main meal. I had tagged the corner, folding the fragile paper over as I was waiting to make the cookies after they went home for the evening. On March 17, 2016 I made these cookies and they turned out perfectly. And then, the morning of March 18, 2016, my dad died.

I ate these cookies the morning of his funeral for breakfast. I chewed absent-mindedly on the chocolate chunks and sea salt as I stared out the window from our kitchen, moving my foot against my calves as my black tights bothered my legs. Then someone told me it was time to go.

Later, in the evening, I offered the cookies to my cousins who were visiting from out of town. They reached into the jar, fingering the morsels, looking at me cautiously as they took a bite.

Weeks later I put that magazine back in the pile and ignored it. For almost two years. It took that long for me to be able to flip through the pages and find the recipe. Tuesday night I texted my mom for support, got out my white mixing bowl and I baked.

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I mixed flour and sugar and honey and butter and chocolate. I rolled the dough into tiny little balls. Smooshed salt into them with my fingers. I waited while chemistry worked its magic in the oven. And after the cookies cooled, I sat on the kitchen floor and ate one. Or two. Ok, yes, two. Then I packed up a tupperware full of them and sent them to work with Dylan.

Grief cookies.

Bummer there is no set of instructions for getting over grief. Maybe I never will. But I will continue to get back my strength, choose resilience, and bake. The gift of beautiful baked goods lightens others hearts. Extra baking soda effervesces and softens mine.

 

 

Favorite Things – July

Little Rascals Quote

 – Hint Hint –

Bonus points if you remember which charming movie character swooned with the words above.

We made it! To July! To real, live, summer. Here are my favorite things this month. Fresh cooking and little life savers that keep the bugs away and make the evenings sparkle. Enjoy!

  1. Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home

I picked up this delightful cookbook at the library and could not stop flipping through the pages. Famous Chef Marcus Samuelsson shares his favorite recipes, and even includes a playlist for each type of food that inspires him! May I suggest his recipe for Crab Fried Rice on page 44. Um. Yum.

2. Popsicle Molds Set – 6 Ice Pop Makers + Ice Cream Recipes E-book

Remember what Darla says. Popsicles melt quickly on the 4th of July! And I’m really into making my own this summer. Thanks to my mother-in-law who let me borrow her molds. May I suggest this recipe?

3. Citronella Tub Candles

The bugs! They are out to get me! I have to invest in a citronella candle to keep the little stinkers away. While the candle smells bad, it can still be pretty.

4. Globe String Lights with Clear Bulbs

True confession – we’ve had a set of globe lights in a box on our kitchen table for a few months. They eagerly await getting stapled to our deck so the nights can be twinkly and charming. I love the way these look at night. I promise, we will get ours up soon.

5. Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence

I’m working on committing to a devotional and after coming across this one at my good friend’s house (see here) I was thrilled to receive a copy. Each morning I have the reminder to look for Jesus. This is a good and beautiful thing.