Warning: Not for the faint of heart.
Welcome to a food blog that is born out of loss. In it, I will cook my way through grief. My name is Becca. On May 19th, 2018 my best friend Abby died unexpectedly leaving me forever changed. This blog is a creative solo exercise in honoring her memory and healing my way forward through the comfort of a kitchen, a physical space where I feel comfortable and safe. I am a home cook with a knack for finding exceptional recipes. The kitchen I will post from is in a studio apartment I leased for one year starting in June 2019. I do not live there. I cook there.
I have chosen 12 cookbooks from my library. I will cook and bake my way through as many recipes as possible each month. The catch: each post will be a first trial recipe. Like life…no practice run. The idea is to begin with the books I have collected over the years but never had the time to seriously explore and learn. And what also occurred to me in this grief process is the importance of practicing presence. I don’t need anything more than a beginner’s mind and an open heart. That feels like an authentic launching point. Abby would be pleased. Here I go. Let’s get cooking!
- June: My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss
- July: Purple Citrus Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe
- August: Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown
- September: 660 Curries by Raghaven Iyer
- October: Market Cooking David Tanis
- November: Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
- December: Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat
- January: Together: Our Community Kitchen
- February: Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibanez
- March: Ottolenghi
- April: Marion Cunningham’s Good Eating
- May: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
“And it started to dawn on me, I suppose, that a lot of things I’d always assumed I’d plenty of time to get round to doing, I might now have to act on pretty soon or else let them go forever.” Kazuo Ishiguro
“We will not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” TS Eliot
This recipe was by far way easier than the danish pastry. I found the trickiest part to be stretching the dough into translucence. It was quick, reasonably time consuming and the instructions clearer to understand.
In 1983 when we worked for Georgia Pacific, the crew had given Abby and me tree planter nicknames. Strudel and Streusel. I don’t recall either one of us ever knowing who was who. For some reason it didn’t matter back then and it remains the same now.
Tonight I miss her so much I could cry but the tears are unreachable. I am free falling into an ache of loneliness for her. If she were alive, she would have been so thrilled to see this creation. But instead I only have myself to understand its significance and meaning. I only have myself.
“So plant your own gardens and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.” Jorge Luis Borges
I have always always wanted to make pastries. Real pastries. And I finally did it! Nailed it right out of the chute too! It took 1 week of intensive studying and 12 hours today to make these Danishes. Interestingly, these lovelies originated in Austria not Denmark. Who knew? They have 20 plus layers, each one encased in butter. (Ahhh….yum!) Every step on this cold day was a labor of love. There is no way I can transcribe this recipe as it is literally pages and pages of instructions. So if you dare to try them, get this textbook on how to create everything from phyllo dough to puff pastry to croissants. I am in heaven on earth! Good night!
“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell” Carl Jung
Abby and I loved Carl Jung. We once had a magical mushroom experience at the infamous cabin with “Man and his symbols.” In it, there is that famous ink drawing of Leonardo Da Vinci of a man with his arms and legs extended. We stared at that picture for a very long time. What I mostly remember is of us both simultaneously being powerfully drawn into the image. We could communicate without words…we could read each other’s thoughts! We contemplated time and space! Of course, we were young and experimenting but the main take away was how that moment cemented our bond. We were transformed. We were different and we never forgot it. It became us. Now, she is no longer here to remember that day or so many lasting imprints of our youth. All that remains are my memories…the roots of our brief history. I keep digging and digging, deeper and deeper, dredging the emotional earth and allowing whatever comes to me, to take shape, like legs planted firmly in many directions.
Ingredients: 4 medium fennel bulbs trimmed, salt and pepper, 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds, 3 garlic cloves smashed into a paste with a little salt, 1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary, 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper, 8 ounces fresh grated mozzarella, 1/4 cup breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup parmasan cheese, 2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
1.Heat the oven to 375F. Remove a thin layer of the fennel bulbs tough exterior. Cut the fennel crosswise into 1/2 inch slices. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add the fennel and boil for 1-2 minute. ( I wished mine were a little more tender). Drain and put into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. Drain and pat dry. Season.
2. Lightly oil a large baking dish. Layer in the fennel to a depth of 1.5 inches, pushing down if necessary. In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil, fennel seeds, garlic, rosemary and crushed pepper. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of this mixture over the fennel. Cover with the mozzarella, then sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Drizzle the remaining oil mixture over the top, then sprinkle with parmasan. Bake for 20-25 minutes until nicely browned. Garnish with parsley and expect raves.
“Deep roots are not touched by the frost.” J.R.R. Tolkien
It continues to be root vegetable season. This week at market I finally succumbed to the celery root, aka, celeriac. For years I have walked by this unsightly hairy bulb, never giving it a second thought, until now. I learned the root is celery’s cousin, not the actually bulb of the celery plant and once peeled it needs to be bathed in water and lemon to prevent it from blackening. I learned that this classic salad is as popular in France as potato salad is to us. I also learned that in my older age, I really like root vegetables. Like a lot. We’re kind of having a moment.
Ingredients: 1.5 pounds celery root, salt and black pepper, juice of 1 large lemon, 1/2 cup creme fraiche, 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons grated horseradish, small pinch of cayenne, 1 tablespoon chopped chives.
Peel the celery root’s rough craggy skin with a sharp paring knife and cut into matchsticks about 3 inches long. You can also use an food processor with a julienne blade or mandoline but I just cut them by hand. It was relaxing. Put the celery root in a bowl. Salt lightly , add the lemon juice and toss well. Cover the root with parchment or plastic wrap and set a plate and a heavy weight on top and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight. Drain the root and blot with paper towel. Mix together the creme fraiche, mustard and horseradish in a small bowl.. Add seasoning and cayenne pepper. Dress root liberally with dressing and then transfer to a serving dish or bowl. Sprinkle with chives.
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” Thomas Merton
Today’s recipe isn’t particularly artistic in any way aside from its simplicity. However, in that alone there lies something worth observing and appreciating. Fresh cabbage right out of the field, red onion, chile pepper and lime juice mixed together making it a fresh crunchy coleslaw with a south of the border flavor. It makes a perfect side dish to fish tacos.
I have been reflecting more and more on the importance for me to pay closer attention to the little things, the simple things, in order to find my happier self. Audrey Hepburn has been quoted to say that everyone, every day, “should have at least one exquisite moment.” I like that. Abby and I had many exquisite moments during our friendship and it is here, in this tiny space, I am trying to recall and relive as many as possible. It is here all at once that I am finding and losing myself in the art of cooking.
When I met Abby one of the things I first discovered about her was that she wove baskets…from wild materials. She was self taught and really gifted. She knew how to tame a willow branch or maple bark into beautiful submission. My first memory of her basket weaving was of her disappearing into some eastern Texas brushy area with a silver utility knife and returning with a huge pile of vine. Incredibly within an hour she transformed that heap of twig into a tight neatly composed basket shaped out of her imagination. I was in awe of her then and I am still in awe of her now. She truly was magical.
Ingredients: 1 small firm green cabbage, cored and shredded, 1 small red onion, very thinly sliced, 1 jalapeno or serrano chile, minced, juice of 3 limes or to taste, salt and pepper.
Put the cabbage, onion, chile and lime juice in a big mixing bowl, season generously with salt and black pepper and toss well. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, after an hour, the cabbage will have wilted slightly. Taste the slaw, adjust with seasonings as desired and serve.
“Almost anything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.” Anne Lamott
Pepper season is tired and so am I. Here is a very easy side dish that has more complexity than just the average pepper and onion recipe. Tanis adds capers, garlic, crushed red pepper and red wine vinegar garnished with a little fresh parsley and basil hopefully left over in the autumn gardens. He is such a genius with his elegant simplicity in preparation but complexity in flavor. We all need easy and simple these days, especially with the change in seasons, don’t we? I am now two weeks into a three week detoxification and cleanse. It is a much needed time to reset and rest as I contemplate the next phase of this grief journey. I’m feeling better… taking tiny and mammoth steps in the foreign land of real self care. Less doing, more being.
Ingredients: 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1 red and 1 yellow bell pepper, 1 large red onion, 2 garlic cloves minced, 1 teaspoon capers roughly chopped, pinch crushed red pepper, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley and fresh basil and a pinch of dried oregano.
Put the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot add the peppers and onions, season with sea salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, capers, crushed red pepper and vinegar and cook for 1 minute. Taste and adjust seasoning. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with parsley, basil and dried oregano. Serve at room temperature, garnished with olives if desired. NOTE: it’s a good idea to make peperonata a day or two in advance of serving so flavors can meld.