If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know how passionate I am about food and that I derive a great deal of joy from cooking for friends and family. The intention varies from simple nourishment to celebration, but preparing meals is most often an act of love. When my mother died, several friends took turns bringing dinner to my family anticipating I would be too paralyzed to do anything, and it was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. Whether purchased or prepared, the meals that came through the door (and the comforting hugs and words that came with them) made us feel taken care of.
Truthfully, I was cooking a lot during that time. The immediacy of tasks like chopping, baking, and kneading kept my mind occupied while allowing me to feel connected to my mother and the times we had shared in the kitchen. In essence, I needed to return to my experiences with her in a way that only food could fulfill. I can’t prepare a roast chicken and baked potatoes without being transported to my childhood kitchen table with my sister, mother and grandmother surrounding me or have mussels in white wine and not mentally flip back to Le Bouchon in Chicago where my now husband and I used to go on special occasions when he was in law school. Isn’t it astonishing how scent and taste can take you back in ways nothing else can?
Easter was a little rough and emotional. It was my first holiday without her and one we had often prepared for together. Part of me did not want to celebrate this favorite holiday of mine but I needed to do it, to cook for those I love and to have them near me. My daughter Hannah and I spent three days preparing the food, decorations, and Easter eggs for 24 guests, and we made my mother’s famous carrot cake. When she took her first bite, Hannah said the cake felt comforting like home, and in that moment I knew she was with us, smiling down on her family’s bittersweet celebration of life.