Winter has come in Montana. Mom has left for Borrego. I am alone, again. The snow falls down, the grief sets in, along with the anxiety of life choices and crippling self doubt. I combat these dark hellish feelings with self-care as best I might: do my nails, color, take baths, spend hours escaping into Netflix and Pinterest, and I cook.
One of the reasons I moved back to Montana was to let myself have a grieving period… I felt I didn’t have time, and couldn’t in LA… it wasn’t safe or acceptable. So now I’m faced with a long winter of reflection. This is needed, I know… but it is terrifying…. Much like the increasing snow on the ground.
The snow comes falling down and I long for comfort. When all about is cold, harsh and un-answering. I just need something to warm me.
Love through Cooking and Food, this, is a Neils family thing. We show love through food, we aren’t very good at expressing it any other way. My grandparents were this way, my father was this way, I am this way.
My grandfather was the self-proclaimed sourdough king… he’d make waffles, pancakes, fry-bread, biscuits, bread and anything else you could think of. (I'm really sad I never learned the art of sourdough from him)
My grandmother has a hard sort of love… hers is double edged with the “Here I made this for you it’s your favorite, here have seconds, don't you like my cooking?, you’re fat, no man will love you if your fat. Here have some pie. You’re failing in life because you’re fat”. This diatribe goes back as far as I can remember. Seriously, this speech is some of my earliest memories. I love her despite all this.... but we don't communicate well... and I live in constant fear of her bringing up my being fat... because apparently fat is the worst thing you can be and causes all your failings. I know she loves me too... despite my being fat.... she just doesn't approve.. but here... have some pie. I have many memories of my grandmother cooking. She loved to cook and was incredibly good at it. Cooking and Baking, complicated recipes, or simple fare, she could do it all. She still tries on occasion but age makes it hard. The people she most cared to cook for are mostly gone. (I've just gone through all my photos and very strangely have no picture of her cooking... this makes me sad too)
I’m sure my grandmother did a similar psychological number on my Dad, which contributed to his own issues with food as he repeated the pattern, at least so far as showing love through food…. He’d cook for an army, even if it was just the two of us. As I try desperately to understand my father, now that he is gone, I sometimes think (and hope) that maybe he just had so much love and such a big heart that he wanted to take care of love the world. But the world is hard, and people are often cruel, after so much rejection, and disappointment it made him cruel and hard and angry.
Dads outlet for love was food. I think it was the only way in the end he could express it. I honestly don’t remember the last time he unprompted told me he loved me. My aunt in his final days got him to mumble it to me on skype… maybe he meant it. I don’t know. I hope so. We were both full of hurt, and anger. Before that, when he was still able, he’d cook. When I was living at home in college we didn’t talk much… but we’d on occasion cook for one another. We were unable to communicate well through words, our beliefs and ideas were so different at this point and compounded with all the years of hurt and anger… that ever growing volcano of feeling. I still loved him and I think he still loved me, we just couldn’t express it, we didn’t know how. So we’d experience a few moments of peace over a plate of food. He’d make my favorite casserole or soup and in that action I would know that despite whatever disappointment or anger he felt towards me, he still loved me. He didn't teach me to cook. I taught myself. I think he was afraid that if I learned to cook for myself his only way of expressing love to me would be taken away. He never really thought of it as something we could share together. Which is a deep unending sadness.
My own experience with love is…. Well I’m not very good at it I guess. I don’t know how to go about it. I’ve talked about the reasons for this before so I won’t get into it yet again… but I too express love with food. If I care about you I will cook for you. If I like you, I’ll invite you over for dinner. If I love you I’ll learn your favorite foods and make them regularly. I'm lucky in my friends who understand and accept this, despite my under or over communications. Hopefully one day I’ll find a romantic love, someone who accepts my awkward forms of communication and loves me anyway. I think I’ve just failed at this yet again... so the outlook is bleak… But unlike my father I’m really determined not to have this make me bitter and angry. I’m determined not to give up hope of love. Im determined not to be defeated and give in to feelings of unworthiness and self-loathing.
When Dad went into the nursing home, before he died I started the process of going through his stuff and getting rid of things. I tried to sell what I could to pay his bills. Dad was a hoarder but most of it was junk. This action caused more anger from him (and me too if I'm honest..)but there was no choice. I had to pay his bills and the hope at that point was he would get better but even so he’d have to be in a studio or small apartment so most everything would need to go in any case. I carefully tried to set aside what I knew were his favorite things. The books were hard, he had a library of books, there were books in every room growing up. My grandparents garage was full of boxes and boxes of hundreds of books and everything else he owned.
In the end I kept maybe 20. One of them is a book called “Soup – a way of life” by Barbara Kafka. This cookbook more than any of the others is full of bookmarks.
Soup was a thing we agreed on. Soup was and is a favorite food. So this is my grief process this winter. Soup. I’m going to go through this cookbook he loved so much, and go through my Pinterest board and also just make stuff up because creativity is part of the joy of cooking.
Self-care, and grieving through soup. This is the start of my journey. My first soup is one of my own invention. I made it yesterday before I really decided that this was to be a journey so the ingredients are a rough estimate and I didn't’ take pictures of the process… so here it is.
Early Winter Split Pea and Red Lentil Soup with Sweet Potato and Bacon. – makes about 6 medium sized bowls
2 ½ strips of smoked bacon – cut into lardons
¼ Sweet Onion – chopped
1 medium Carrot – chopped
1 stalk celery including leafy top – chopped
½ sweet potato – peeled and chopped
1 Tb Chopped Garlic
1 Tb Vegetable Paste
1 Tb Better than Bullion Lobster stock base
1 Tb Better than Bullion Chicken stock base
1 Cup Split Peas
½ Cup Red Lentils
4 ½ Cups Water
½ Tb Cajun seasoning
½ Tb Dill
Salt and Pepper to taste
In a soup pot sauté the bacon lardons until they start to color, add the onions and sauté till they turn translucent, add the garlic, carrot, celery and sweet potato. Continue cooking several minutes till things start to soften, add the spoonfuls of stock base and vegetable paste and seasoning and stir so things are coated. Mix in the lentils and peas and cover in water. Simmer on low till the peas are soft and mushy… this was about 6 hours.
I eat, and remember the split pea soup my dad used to make me because he knew it was a favorite, and feel loved, and sad and watch I the snow fall down. I know that like for Persephone spring will come and I will return to life from all this grief and sadness.
About the Blog
I've been blogging on and off for years. This is my area to explore healing, food, wine, travel and various thoughts on life. My goal: Be True. Be Kind. Heal. Dream. Inspire. Discover. Create.