the road ahead—reflections on day 111

I'm staring at the keyboard, not knowing what to title this post. Needless to say, I've been a mix of emotions the last few days. I want to say we got through our first Thanksgiving without Mikey, but "got through" doesn't do the day justice. We spent it with a very dear friend and her family. I spent the day cooking, and for the first time in 109 days I felt really alive.

I was in my element, at the stove.

I made cinnamon buns for breakfast, then proceeded to make chocolate chess pie, brown butter apple pie, caponata, sauteed mushrooms, mashed potatoes, and roast turkey.

Even once they left, the calm that had settled over me remained, and I started to feel guilty for not crying. I mean tears are supposed to signify my sadness, right?

I woke the next morning, the day after Thanksgiving, and went back to the kitchen. This time I took out the White Lily flour MJ sent me, and made fluffy, buttery biscuits for bacon and egg sandwiches. The girls and I went to see the Muppets, and when we came home I headed into the kitchen again to make pizza for our Friday night ritual.

This was our first pizza Friday in the new apartment. We've eaten pizza here a few times now, but those were takeout. Those pizzas didn't count.

This pizza, the one with thin slivers of cacciatorini leftover from the Thanksgiving antipasto, those bits of dried sausage crisped up into what tasted like sausage chips.

He would've loved this pizza.

And as the girls sat in the next room, watching Olive the Other Reindeer, I wept. Soon the weeping led to a pool of tears sopped up by the cloth napkin in my lap. And that's when I realized that as much as cooking is my path to healing, the journey is going to break me first.

The walls need to crumble before I can figure out how to fix them. My memories will shore them up, as I rebuild my life and create a new foundation for new memories, memories that my life with Mikey will inevitably shape.

I will remember what happened as I made the apple pie on Thursday morning, and use that to soften the blows when my world seems to come crashing in. As I sliced apples at the counter, I felt a breathe of warm air on my neck, as if he were watching over my shoulder, and I smiled. He was near me in spirit, and in some crazy way breezed through the barrier of heaven and earth to make me feel his presence.

And so here we are, on a lazy Saturday morning. I took out some mixed berry conserves to spread on our toast, and read the date on the jar—July 2011. Mikey was alive when I made them. The sweet burst of summer reminded me of the day I went overboard buying berries, and decided to make a quick conserve out of them. That slather on my toast this morning bridged my past and present.

When The Food 52 Cookbook came in the mail last week, I felt happy and sad simultaneously. I have three recipes featured in the book—3 out of 140! He was so proud when I won the first contest, for my sweet and savory tomato jam. Then came my seriously delicious ribs, a wildcard winner. But the one I was most proud of was the one for my manicotti. As an Italian-American I felt especially reaffirmed that our culinary heritage is one to be embraced and respected.

Food52recipe    Food52picture

Mikey didn't live to see this, the day when my recipes finally appeared in a cookbook. Recipes that were tested and given the seal of approval from two food writers and recipe developers I respect and admire, and voted as the best in their category from home cooks, people like me and you creating meals and memories for their families.

Yet on day 109, he came to me in the kitchen, with a whisper of warm of on my neck.


Jennie’s Homemade Manicotti

Serves 4

For the pasta crepes 

1 large egg

1 cup flour

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup whole milk, more as needed to thin the batter

canola oil, to lightly grease pan (see note)

For the filling

16 ounces ricotta cheese (here's my homemade recipe)

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon freshly chopped parsley, plus more for garnish

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan or locatelli cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

To Assemble the dish

2 cups marinara sauce

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Add the pasta ingredients to the bowl of a blender. Blend, adding more milk one teaspoon at a time, until batter is a thin, almost runny consistency. Heat a nonstick 8-inch skillet or crepe pan over medium-low heat. Brush pan lightly with oil, if needed (see note). Hold pan at an angle, and swirl pan as you pour in enough batter to coat bottom of skillet. Cook 30 to 45 seconds, flip and cook for 15 more seconds. And don’t forget, the first one or two might end up being sacrificial until you get the hang of swirling the pan. Transfer to a flat dish or tray. Repeat with remaining batter.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spread ½ cup of marinara sauce into the bottom of a 9-inch by 13-inch casserole dish. Combine all the filling ingredients in a medium bowl; mix well. Lay pasta crepes on a flat surface and spoon an event amount of filling in a long strip down the center of each one. Roll crepes closed, and place seam-side down into the casserole dish. Evenly pour remaining sauce over filled crepes. Sprinkle remaining grated cheese over top and bake 20 minutes, until golden and bubbly. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and serve immediately.


  • Jennifer Olson

    This post both made my heart sing and weep for you at the same time.
    My family and I weeped for you (and a couple other bloggers I follow that are going through hard times)as we prayed over our Thanksgiving meal and remembered families like yourself facing a difficult day. We prayed specifically for “jennies kitchen” as this is how we know you, and asked God to be with you and to give you peace that passes all understanding and to comfort you AND to send you Mikey’s spirit so that you could feel him and know he is with you. As I read your post, I began to cry and thanked God for hearing us, for knowing exactly what you need…
    I am excited about your cookbook entries, congratulations!!
    Loving and praying for you from a distance,
    Jen Olson(recent blog reader)

  • Meg

    I’ve heard much about this book and had no idea your recipes were in it. Your path over the last few months has been very moving. I’m sorry Mikey didn’t live to celebrate this with you.

  • Maria

    You’ve been in my thoughts all weekend. I’m glad Mikey appeared in the breeze. Your self awareness, courageous and ability to live in the moment continues to greatly inspire me.
    xo Maria

  • Maria

    Congrats paisano girl!!! And for your non Italian readers that’s mon-a-guot not man-a-cotti…LOL no really, very proud of you and that is exactly how we make ours with the paper thin crepes…
    He is all around you, just look at your girls, he’s there…
    I want to share this site for you, you probably know it but maybe your readers don’t… I have a couple of recipes posted there, my grandma from Italy brought her zappoli recipe with her from Italy, we make ours with potato, put those street vendors to shame they do…

  • Tracey

    I always look forward to your posts.
    I STILL feel Tom sometimes,such a great feeling that not many will understand. I believe it is a gift for those who have lost husbands and loved ones. Never stop noticing their presence. They miss us too.
    Congrats on the entries and notoriety. Another great gift sent from above.
    Smiling at you,

  • Plaingrrl

    beautiful post. i read a few of your twitter posts and cooked right along side you the last few days. i’m a somewhat new follower and want you to know how touched I am by your words and grateful for your willingness to share. thank you.

  • Rachel at Foodfix

    Now you’re cookin’! Tears and all it is great to see you back in the’s your gift to the world and your gift to yourself too…I feel that spirit in the kitchen with my mom…keeps me cooking…looking forward to your savory journey…

  • Bevi

    Your S&S Tomato Jam was my offering at a FOOD52 book party in Brooklyn a month ago. I knew I would make it in your honor, and everyone at the party was thrilled to take a jar of your jam home. Congrats to you for your recipes appearing not once, not twice, but three times in the cookbook. Your manicotti will appear at one of our Christmas meals. You are an amazing cook and an even more amazing person.

  • Ilke

    Congratulations on your recipes making it to the cookbook!
    I am sure the same recipes will be loved and cherished by your girls for years to come.
    Hugs, Ilke

  • Jennifer Hess

    I wish I could think of something to say that wouldn’t sound trite. I am so grateful that food52 brought you into my life, and I am just gutted that Mikey’s not around to see your published recipes in the book. Thinking of you and the girls as I do every Sunday around this time, and sending much love.

  • Jody Gates

    I am a new reader and continue to read about your journey praying for you as God brings you to mind which He did on Thanksgiving. I made your spiced scented cranberry sauce which was a big hit. I could just eat it with a spoon, not turkey needed! Thank you for sharing your manicotti recipe here. I will be trying it soon. The cookbook looks like a winner too.

  • FFP

    Please be proud of every step you take…I am as just a stranger who wants to learn to be a better cook and loves collecting and trying new recipes…I check your posts everyday and just wonder how you are doing. One step forward and lots back…but you are moving, you are in a way that works. Just be you. You are amazing, you are. I am very happy I came across your website…I send you strength, comfort and peace…from Canada. Hugs

  • Jennifer

    Jennie, I made your Manicotti tonight for my family (husband and 2 small children). I thought about you while I prepared it and while we all sat down ate it. It was truly delicious. I told my family about you, the woman who lives on the other side of the world, whose recipe this is. And then I thought about how lucky we were that the recipe served four in our house. Thanks Jennie, for the recipe and for reminding me to appreciate what I have.

  • Robin Speck

    I think about you and anxiously await your blogs. Your food is delicious (even if I can’t resist modifying everything I cook), and as a nurse and a hospice nurse, I am thrilled with your ability to cope and the way you are leading your life.
    You bring happiness (and sadness) to my life. I can only hope my life has as much fulfillment as yours does. I hope you continue to keep us informed with your wonderful blogs (and recipes)

  • SamCyn

    I don’t doubt Mikey was there with you that day in the kitchen…your posts continually make me grateful for the time I spend with my husband and remind me not to take him for granted. By the way, I made him the brown butter apple pie for Thanksgiving and he loved it. Thank you so much for sharing your recipes and your strength. You’re in our prayers.

  • Christine

    Thank you for these reminders to first and foremost be thankful, every minute of every day for those still here and those who are no longer here…and second to make these delicious manicotti.
    Sending you so much love.

  • Pamela Chiasson

    Congrats on recipes in the book so fun… You write so beautifully and food looks delicious i am sure one day that you will have your own cookbook out where the two intertwine .. I saw this posted and thought of you – cooking contest! be well! blessings

  • Nutmegs_seven

    What a beautiful post. I’m always incredibly moved by your writing, and I hope these moments of peace and contentment continue. Congratulations on the cookbook!

  • jessica

    i made your brown butter apple pie on thanksgiving morning. the first pie i had ever made. i could hardly believe how pretty it looked and was excited all day to try it. it came out great! thank you for sharing the recipe. thank you for reminding me to appreciate my loved ones every day and to shower them with love. it makes us all better and creates so much peace and thanksgiving.

  • Caneel

    I am so happy to read that you felt alive again while you were cooking, and have been able to enjoy some things like homemade pizza again. You and your girls continue to be in my thoughts and prayers through this holiday season and beyond. ((HUGS))

  • Kelsey

    You are an incredible writer, Jennie. I feel your words so deeply in each of your posts, this one particularly as of late. Congratulations on your features in the Food52 cookbook, your savory jam is a family favorite. Love and light to you.

  • Kim in MD

    What a beautiful post, as always, Jennie. You are such a beautiful writer. I said a prayer for you on Thanksgiving (well- everyday). Congratulations on the cookbook…I will have to check it out!

  • Cheryl Arkison

    1. I got excited for you for finding peace. It does happen and it’s okay.
    2. I got sad for you that the joy was fleeting.
    3. There is a show of Olive the Other Reindeer?

  • Stephanie

    These sound wonderful, but was wondering, what was the fleur de sel used for in the choc. chess pie? Its mentioned in the ingredient list, but the recipe does not say where to put it in at. Did I miss something? Just curious 🙂