As I was growing up, my mom worked at Western Union from 11am to 9pm. She’d cook dinner each morning and leave me with instructions to heat it up when I got home from school. Sunday mornings my dad would make french toast but that was the extent of his cooking. Then we began raising rabbits and he got into the cooking of it. It made me a little sad at first but he explained about circle of life. He said not only were the animals happy to fulfill their destiny, the onions and carrots and wheat and all plants were as well. They lived on through us as they gave their life so ours could continue. That was the reason we prayed before eating. Many relatives and friends passed during my childhood. One way my dad dealt with his grief was by cooking. He said cooking and eating reminds us we are alive even though we feel a piece of us is gone. His grandmother passed when I was in my teens, and he embarked upon a quest to duplicate Kentucky Fried Chicken’s original recipe. We had a new version every single night for weeks, months while he experimented. That was fine with 4 hungry teenagers and boy, could my brothers scarf food down. When my youngest brother bobby passed in 1976, my dad began making sourdough rolls. By hand, no bread machine. Hundreds of them, maybe thousands. By giving them away to friends and family, he was sharing his son with everyone.
So these were the memories I was having as I got the news that a longtime friend is moving across the country. Even tho we rarely see each other in the flesh, we text and joke weekly and I know I can bike the 2 miles to her house anytime I want. In reality probably nothing in the physical world would change, but my perception is already changing. I feel her absence, it feels as though a safety net of sorts has dropped. To divert my thoughts into the Now, I went into the kitchen to make a morning soup. The spices I use possess therapeutic and healing properties: turmeric powder, freshly crushed coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds. I’d make the soup as a ritual to honor the transition.
I began sauteeing an onion, 1/2 cup each of chopped celery and carrot in a pan. I added my spices, 1/2 tsp of each of black pepper, turmeric powder, freshly crushed coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp cinnamon and a thumb size piece of ginger. Then a handful of chopped cabbage (great for the lungs for grief.) No salt at this stage.
I added a quart of chicken broth as well as (this is why you don’t add extra salt) a tsp of fish sauce, a tbsp of tom yum paste and a tsp of chili garlic sauce. This makes it a little hot but not blow your face off hot. Add 1 tsp vinegar. Let it simmer together 20 minutes. At the end I added the juice of half a lemon. The soup was very flavorful.
I find spicy foods very healing, the numbing sensations on my tongue gets my endorphins flowing so it gives my body pleasant sensations. And when I’m having pleasant sensations, I can’t be sad or grieve for long.
You can create your own version of the soup using your own choice of veggies, but I find these spices, vinegar, paste and sauces are important to the relieving of my grief. My dad would have enjoyed the Asian dishes I’ve grown to love cooking. Especially when I went on a binge trying to perfect the hot and soup soup recipe. Enjoy. And the grief? This too shall pass.