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 safe and in control. 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 and I will cook and bake my way through as many recipes as possible each month, from each book. 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 to practice presence with what I already internally possess. 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 Curriesby Raghaven Iyer
October: Market CookingDavid Tanis
November: Tender by Nigel Slater
December: Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat
January: Together: Our Community Kitchen
February: Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibanez
April: Marion Cunningham’s Good Eating
May: Essentials of Classic Italian Cookingby Marcella Hazan
My intention today was to be at the studio calmly and peacefully making bread. I am at the studio making bread but not calmly and peacefully. Halfway through the rising, my step-dad called to say that my mother is once again going to the emergency room. She has had another acute episode in the setting of a chronic illness. We are all on an up and down course with her. She is aging, she is ill and she suffers greatly. So here comes another kind of grief….anticipatory grief. My sister stopped by and we talked as the bread was rising and that was comforting. We are preparing for the unknown, as much as one can. This grief work is tough and we don’t get a say in how much is thrown at us. It’s just one step at a time.
2 cups warm water under 125F, 3 packets of active yeast, 3 tablespoons of fresh rosemary minced, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 cup unbleached white flour, 1.5 cups whole wheat flour, 3 cups unbleached flour, olive oil for glazing, course sea salt
Start with adding yeast to the water. Stir in the rosemary (I chose to put the rosemary on top instead of the inside), olive oil and salt. Stir in 1 cup of unbleached flour and 1.5 cups whole wheat and beat for 100 strokes. Fold in remaining 2 cups of unbleached, 1/2 cup at a time. Turn onto floured board and add an additional cup fo flour if needed to keep dough from sticking. Knead until smooth and elastic. Let the dough rise for an hour or until doubles in size. Punch down and let rise for an additional 40 minutes. Divide dough in half and shape as desired. I used most of the dough in a 9×13 pan with an additional piece pressed into a cake pan.
“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” James Baldwin
Been away for a week on vacation to a small cottage in the Finger Lake region of New York. It was calming and awe inspiring and just plain wonderful. I feel so grateful for the experience. We met a retiree, now a very skilled peach farmer, who grows the most amazing peaches, apricots and apples. His place is called Long Point Orchards and we bought a whole bunch of peaches. This variety is Red Haven which I have discovered is my fav. I also discovered that near this orchard once occupied the Cayuga Indians, a branch of the mighty Iroquois Nation. In the historic town of Aurora, NY there is a marker stating that the area was once called Chonodote or Peachtown for the grand number of peaches that the Cayuga Indians were growing, estimated to be about 1500 trees in fact. Who knew? I had no idea that Native Americans grew peaches. Corn, squash and beans….yes….but peaches? George Washington who was a general at the time in 1779 ordered General John Sullivan, in a devastating strategic plan called the Sullivan Clinton campaign, to destroy entire villages and all food sources including these thousand plus peach trees. I guess this shit has been going on forever, no surprise there. We all know the history book stories but re-thinking about this waste, greed and senselessness stirred another feeling in me. The realization of the collective grief I carry. This is a tough one and it isn’t really fleshed out yet. I don’t just grieve Abby or my Aunt June or my grandparents or my pets or my lost loves or my lost dreams….I also grieve the world’s grief. We are all connected to each other and our human history story becomes the legacy that gets handed down to all of us. It’s just like James Baldwin says, it’s in us. It isn’t always pretty and it’s often frightening and extremely painful. Just like the dark page of history we find ourselves in right now. What to do? I don’t know. For me…love and forgive as best as I can? keep learning? keep helping in small or large ways? speak up? stand up? remember? REMEMBER. Yes, right now, I remember.
Ingredients: 2 cups flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup butter, 12 skinned peach halves, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 egg yolks, 1 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 400F. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Cut in butter with fingers or pastry cutter until course meal. Press firmly in the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Arrange peach halves face down on top. Sprinkle remaining mixed sugar and cinnamon on top. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn down heat to 375F and mix 2 egg yolks with cream and pour over top of peaches. Bake for an additional 40 minutes or until peaches soften and custard thickens.
Cinnamon is a warming spice and reminiscent of delicious childhood treats in which cinnamon buns are the ultimate. I have been craving comfort these days and thinking about all the people in my life who have passed who WERE my comfort. My great-aunt and uncle, great-grandmother, grandmother and of course Abby. I often find myself longing for the elders, the old ones who were ever present and ever available for me. We lived very close to these relatives, so close, that as a child I could easily walk to their houses. I spent many days and many weeks at a time with them, so much so, that in my heart’s memory, those relatives are my home. When I was quite young I would sleep in my great grandmother’s bed with her. She was soft and warm and I felt safe. In her bedroom was a painting, a dreamy painting of the back of a young woman with a brunette ponytail just like mine. Her clothes were from another era; long dress, bonnet and parasol so white that her impressionistic image becomes the focal point. When I awoke from those nights my eye always went to that painting. Now, that painting hangs in my own bedroom and when I awake, it’s the first thing I see again, many decades later. When my great aunt June died in 2017 she passed this heirloom onto me and I treasure it. I looked at that painting for so many years but it wasn’t until Abby’s death was I able to see a deeper significance in it. In the background is another figure, a smaller one, just a few strokes of white and flesh and red. It is of another woman and she is blonde. The women are walking towards each other. They are alone and they have come from a distance in opposite directions. Soon they will be together but in this moment they are separated. Yet they see each other. It’s comforting to me now to think of this possibility of seeing my loved ones again. They are in the distance but I can still see them so clearly as though as they were right in front of me. I know it’s a mystery, what really happens after death, and I don’t try to pretend that I know anything absolute. I’m not even sure what I believe as it changes and shifts with the years. What I do know, is that I had so much love, love that was simple and clearer somehow. And after all this time… I still long for them and for that love.
Ingredients: 1 cup lukewarm water (85-105F), 2 packets of yeast, 3 tablespoons honey or sugar, 1/3 cup dry milk, 1 egg, 2. 5 cups unbleached flour, 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1 1/4 teaspoon salt, more flour for kneading. (see recipe for additional ingredients)
Procedure is the same as for Tassajara yeasted bread except for the rising times. Dissolve yeast in water, stir in sweetening, dry milk, egg and 1/5 cups flour.Beat for 100 strokes and let rise for 30 minutes. Fold in butter and salt. Fold in one cup of flour until dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Knead for 5 to 10 minutes. Let rise for 40 minutes. Roll onto a floured board in a rectangle 1/4 to 3/8 inch thick. Spread on the softened or melted butter about 1/4 cup. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup brown sugar mixed with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon. Sprinkle 1/2 cup raisins. Starting at one edge roll up the dough as tight as you would a carpet. Cut the roll in 1/2 to 3/4 inch thickness and place on greased baking sheet leaving space for them to rise. Rise 20 minutes. Brush with egg wash and bake at 375 for about 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Frost with powdered sugar glaze of 1 cup of powdered sugar and 4-6 teaspoons of milk or cream or lemon juice. Frost pastry hot.
“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” Joseph Campbell
Challah is a special bread that is often eaten on Jewish ceremonial occasions. Historically it holds additional significance worth mentioning. A portion of the dough was separated from the braid as an offering and it connotes letting go of something. I had planned on making this bread earlier this morning and had no idea of its meaning until now. Today was my last day of working as a hospice nurse. For twenty years I have been a companion to the dying and hopefully a comfort to some of the hundreds of patients and families I have met along the way. I was dreading working for some reason and wanted to move through it as quickly as possible. I was done…spent. The universe apparently had other plans I guess. On my last visit I just happened to run into a physician whom I admire who also works with the dying. I would go even further to say that he is my favorite physician to work with as he is very kind as well as an exceptional listener willing to put himself aside in order to bear witness and see the person in front of him. We chatted and I shared with him that today was my last hospice meeting. He then told me some very sad news about someone we both know. I couldn’t believe it! I was stunned! Even in this work, we still are shocked when hearing of an illness or impending death of a friend, colleague or family member. It is the human condition. We talked about grief and he said something that struck me about the “loneliness of grief” and later that “many of us are together in our perceived aloneness.” Grief is solitary work. It is uniquely personal and if we are lucky we have loved ones willing to listen and support but no one can really experience it with us. We must go it alone. Yet we all share the predicament. So today I am letting go of a very large part of my career and my life. I have learned volumes, more than I can ever attempt to put into language. It is something felt deep in my being. I have offered myself to others for years but now in my own grief I need to offer myself to myself. I will stumble. I will fall into the abyss. And I will stop and marvel at the recovered treasures along the way. (in offering I dedicate this to LH)
Ingredients: 2 1/2 cups lukewarm water, 2 packets of dry yeast, 1/4 cup honey, 1 cup dry milk, 2 eggs beaten, 7 cups of all purpose flour, 4 teaspoons salt, 1/3 cup butter and more flour for kneading.
Proceed with the directions from the Tassajara yeasted bread recipe adding the beaten eggs after stirring in the dry milk. Braid. Makes 2 loaves. Bake at 350F until golden.
It’s August! This month I am tackling bread. The Washington Post endorsed this book in 1970 (!) as “the bible for bread baking.” We shall see if the oldie remains goodie! The author, Edward Espe Brown is a Zen monk famous for his baking and classes at the Tassajara Mountain Zen Center in California. For years I have used his guest recipe cookbook but this book is apparently a classic and I am both excited and intimidated to begin exploring these recipes. I am starting with the foundational Tassajara yeast bread from which many variations follow. I made a mistake right out of the chute though for substituting scalded milk for dry milk. He explains that we can exchange but somehow forgets to warn us to decrease some water so I ended up with a very sticky dough that required way more flour to correct my mistake. The result was a denser crumb than I expected. Conclusion: Bread is daunting! Bread is an art! Bread takes patience! Earlier I drove to my studio, ready to roll up my sleeves and dive into August only to discover a large festival was taking place this weekend, along with all the parking spaces. I absolutely could not find one spot! Discouraged and disappointed I drove back home. I started making the bread sponge, you know, the yeasty wet starter and found the warmest spot in the kitchen for rising was the window sill. As I placed it on the ledge I noticed a juvenile robin in the driveway just sitting in the hot sun. I went outside and clearly there was something wrong. It looked healthy enough and the wings appeared uninjured. All of a sudden the bird peeped and its mother appeared. I went back into the house to get out of her way and just like that the little one tipped over and started to die. The mother robin began squeaking and squawking and out of nowhere an entourage of sparrows appeared for curiosity and support fluttering here and there.I was amazed at the commotion. Within minutes the juvenile was dead while the mother chirped and flitted the whole time, helpless yet present and very much aware. It was so intense and so strange and so quick. I just watched in awe wondering why this was happening and realized if I had been at the studio I would not have witnessed this. It was both sad and oddly beautiful and weird and natural. Life and death. It made me think of Abby and how she died so quickly, one moment alive drinking her beloved coffee at breakfast and the next one gone. Her father who was present told me “no pain” when we spoke of it. Quick. No Pain. Not alone. Just like this beautiful robin…
Ingredients: 3 cups lukewarm water (85 to 105F), 2 packets of active yeast, 1/4 cup honey, 1 cup dry milk (or 1 cup scalded and cooled milk but decrease water by 1 cup), 7 cups whole wheat flour (I used half white), 4 teaspoons salt, 1/3 cup butter, egg wash of 1 beaten egg with 2 tablespoons milk or water.
Dissolve the yeast in water, Stir in sweetening and dry milk, Stir in 4 cups of flour, Beat well with spoon 100 strokes, let rest for 45 minutes, fold in the salt and oil, fold in additional 3 cups flour until dough comes away for the sides of the bowl, knead on floured board adding more flour (about 1 cup) until dough stops sticking, about 8 to 10 minutes until smooth. Rise again for 60 minutes. Punch down. Let rise 40 to 50 minutes until doubles in size. Shape into loaves and place in pans. Rise for 20 to 25 minutes. Brush tops with egg wash. Bake at 350F for one hour or until golden.
Today’s gluten free cake is my last post from Silvena Rowe’s exquisite cookbook “Purple Citrus Sweet Perfume.” July is almost over. I hope you have enjoyed seeing or better yet cooking some of her amazing creations as much as I have. Which leads me to reflect on even more amazement. Lately strange things have been happening. It seems like every day something magical or out of the ordinary occurs. I swear I am not making this stuff up!! This morning on our walk, my husband and I were talking about future plans. One of mine is to enroll in culinary classes in NYC, particularly for artisanal breads. We remembered the landmark society house tour this year and meeting a middle aged guy in our neighborhood who took classes for fun at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Suddenly there he was… in his yard gardening! Had a thought and poof! Later, at the co-op looking for the difficult to find hazelnut flour, I ran into a very dear old friend. He is a brilliant engineer and a good photographer who knew Abby and whom had taken many photos of us at Longwood gardens, PA (see below) when we were all younger and different people. He was going to Maine with his lady to a plein air workshop and paint outdoors for eight hours a day. It was wonderful to see him. It got me wondering about two themes of the day: the FUTURE and FRIENDS. Here I am unexpectedly getting ready for something new as I unravel somethings old. Wonder what lies ahead? What new miraculous relationships are waiting? By facing grief my heart is cracking open. And all alone in this studio, in my very private space, I catch little clues, like segments, leading me onward, forward, upward and backward. It’s multi directional and all I can focus on for some reason is what is directly in front of me. Rumi is right…what I am seeking is seeking me. Go figure.
Ingredients: for the syrup: 1 1/4 cup superfine sugar, 2 1/2 tablespoons orange juice, 2 1/2 tablespoons orange flower water ( I used less than half) and grated zest of 1 orange. for the cake: 5 large eggs, 1 cup superfine sugar ( I used less), 2 1/4 cup hazelnut flour. to serve: greek style yogurt and pulp of passion fruits ( I could not find so omitted)
To make the syrup: bring 2/3 cup of water to boil, add sugar and orange juice and simmer for 10-12 minutes until mixture gets syrupy. Cool. Stir in orange flour water and orange zest.
Make the cake but beating eggs with sugar until pale and thick. Fold in hazelnut flour. Beat egg whites until stiff and glossy and very carefully and slowly, gently mix egg whites into hazelnut mixture. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes until golden brown. Loaf pan 8/4 inch and pan should be greased with parchment paper in bottom.
Remove cake from oven and pour syrup over cake. Serve with yogurt. (I put the syrup on the side.)
I stopped at the grocery store to get a fillet of monkfish…rose petal salt was made days ago. A single red rose caught my eye in the florist department and I thought it would be a nice touch to spread some petals around the fish. While checking out, the cashier said with excitement, “Oh, a single red rose! It reminds me of Beauty and the Beast!” She laughed and I smiled and thought, “This is perfect.” Unwittingly, this blog has been evolving into writing about whatever insights bubble up that day and so many amazing things happen! Beginner’s mind. So here we are. Beauty and the Beast. Once again this takes me back to the concept of duality, you know, both sides of the one coin thing. It really is frustratingly true. Those damn fairy tales aren’t such fairy tales after all, huh? I guess we all the want the beauty without the beast. But maybe today, this means something else. Maybe the beauty is the love and the beast is the grief. It made me think of a passage from Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle. She writes so eloquently that “Grief is love’s souvenir. It’s our proof that we once loved. Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: LOOK! LOVE WAS ONCE MINE. I LOVED WELL. HERE IS THE PROOF THAT I PAID THE PRICE!” That rings so loud and so clear to me. Maybe that is why I feel like I have been grieving for centuries…I love, I just love. And maybe, just maybe, the grief is OK because it means that love was once mine and that I loved well. What else can I ask for? I think I’m beginning to understand.
Ingredients: petals of 1 large unsprayed red rose washed and dried, 2 tablespoons Maldon salt, 1 1/2 pds monkfish fillet, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon ghee or clarified butter.
One day in advance make the rose petal salt. Place the petals and salt on a platter and rub together, don’t overwork the mixture. Transfer to a jar and let infuse overnight.
On the day of serving, cut the monkfish into 12 chunky pieces. Lightly oil the fish. Heat the clarified butter in a large skillet. Add the fish and cook turning one about 2 1/2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Serve hot with a generous portion of rose petal salt on top.