This past week, we started group therapy with a “feelings check-in”. I said mine are a never-ending game of ping pong. Sure, I’ve had some very good, downright funny, moments throughout the days, weeks and months since Mikey died, but at the core lies a gaping hole where my deep-rooted happiness used to gently simmer.
I was anxious about starting group last week, but decided to take the leap because I convinced myself it was more for Isabella than myself. The group is organized by a non-profit called A Caring Hand, and is first and foremost to help children understand and manage their grief. Obviously, parents have a great impact on how their kids handle a traumatic event like this, so while the kids are in smaller groups, by age, the parents talk about parallel issues the kids are working on that week.
I went into group feeling confused. I really didn’t think I had anything to offer anyone, since I barely know how to help myself on some days.
Yes, I dress. I make my kids breakfast, pack lunches and most days get them to school on time.
I do all the things I have to do to survive “on paper”. But the broken bits of my heart—I don’t know how to fix that. It often feels like my body is on life-support, the difference being I have compleyte brain function, and instead it’s my heart that is being sustained so the rest of my body can function. And the whole “time heals” phrase, please just don’t say it, because the further I get from August 7th, the further removed I am from when he was a living, breathing, magnificent man, friend, father and husband.
Time is not my friend right now. Perhaps that feeling will change in months and years to come, but for the purpose of this “feelings check-in”, time is not on my side.
Funny enough, The Stones’ Time is on My Side came on as I was working on recipes for the cookbook. My friend Bryan was over helping me cook, and when the song came on Pandora, I looked at my iPod and said “F— you, Mick—time wasn’t on my husband’s side”, and promptly gave it a thumbs down.
It wasn’t the songs fault. I used to sing it blasting in the car. The trigger for my reaction was that salad you see above—it’s a chickpea, fennel and parmesan salad. I hadn’t made it since before Michael passed away. It is one of my favorite salads, with a black licorice undercurrent from the fennel, salty flecks of shredded Parmesan and chickpeas made from scratch. There’s more to the recipe than those three ingredients, but you’ll have to wait until Spring 2013.
Why did the salad become my undoing? I began flipping through my recipe journal, and my life before August 7th came flooding in like a tsunami of emotions. These were dishes we once shared together. These are dishes I still love, but have to sometimes choke back tears to get down a bite.
And so, this is my cooking life in a world without Mikey. Bryan was none the wiser to the scene playing out in my heart and mind at that moment. I used a generous pinch of wit and sarcasm to beat the feelings into submission. He would’ve no doubt given me a hug and let me cry, but we had work to do, and so I kept myself focused.
I did what I know how to do, what I used to do effortlessly 166 days ago. I chopped, I stirred, I whisked—I even talked to my ingredients, a quirky habit of mine that used to drive Mikey batty. He’d raise an eyebrow and say “you know only crazy people talk to their vegetables”. Yeah, I was crazy alright—crazy for him.
slow-roasted ginger-lime carrots, one of the recipes for City Girl, Country Kitchen (Running Press, 2013)
I don’t have a new recipe to share today, with all my efforts going into the book at the moment, but figured it would be nice to share an oldie but goodie, and one of Mikey’s favorite’s—slow-roasted tomato soup with parmesan croutons. I plan on making a batch myself this weekend since it looks like snow may finally be arriving in New York City.
Slow-Roasted Tomato Soup
While I love to finish this soup with a bit of cream, you can omit it all together for a lighter, vegan version.
One 28-ounce can of whole, peeled tomatoes, juices reserved
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon brown sugar
drizzle of olive oil, about 2 teaspoons worth
1 cup vegetable stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
Parmesan Skillet Croutons, to garnish (here’s the recipe)
Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Line a baking sheet with heavy duty foil; set aside.
Drain tomatoes, saving the juices for preparing the soup (you should have about 1 1/2 cups). Slice the tomatoes in half and place cut-side up on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and brown sugar. Drizzle with olive oil and roast in the preheated oven for one hour. Remove tray from oven and let cool 10 minutes.
Transfer the cooled tomatoes to a blender. Add the vegetable stock, reserved tomato juice and blend until smooth. Pour soup into a 2-quart pot and heat until warmed, but not boiling. Stir in the cream and cook for one more minute. Season with more salt and pepper, to taste, if necessary. Serve garnished with the parmesan croutons.