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renewal, and feeding the pain

April 4th, 2010 | 12 Comments »

Our life can be marked by our losses, which often can be more defining than the days that take our breath away. A loss in life is like running smack into a brick wall, after which you shake off the tweeting birds floating around your head and look around at what’s landed in your path. There is no more going forward as you have been; it’s time to look to either side and determine which is the next best step, choosing your new direction, heading off into the unknown. But sometimes those brick walls of life stop us cold. We had no idea it was coming and it’s frozen us in time, unable to shift our direction and find the new normal. We sit in front of it and stare, uncomprehending this change that we don’t want, and didn’t ask for.

I’ve had times like that. Bad times that have stopped me senseless. I lost my sister in 1991, my Mom in 1994. Both times it was so numbing that I simply sat down, right where I was, and hardly budged. I got stuck a lot in those days, and held big-time pity parties for myself complete with isolation, junk food binges, too much alcohol, or worse, something stronger. I lost a lot of time that I’ll never get back.

This loss was much different, as I had seen it coming for some time. But it didn’t hurt any less. Even with Mike and Griffin right there with me in the Vet’s office, as I held Harmon and felt him slip into an eternal sleep, it was the loneliest feeling I think I have ever known. The past 17 years flashed through my head; every little thing about him that endeared him to me, from the first glimpse of his face to his final day. He was such a part of me that I can’t even imagine how long it will take to stop looking around the house for him. Seventeen years is a very long time. Griffin has never known his life without this big orange cat. I can’t remember much about mine before he came along.

But we move on. We have no choice. And in the days following our loss, I was overcome with urges to eat foods I hadn’t touched in years. The need to cover the pain became very real, and yet none of my old coping mechanisms were still in place and I had to just let the pain seep out of me. It gripped me so hard that it left me physically gasping for air. I had no appetite, but ate mechanically. Nothing had any taste. I wept often, and uncontrollably. I craved fried foods, greasy burgers, heavy pizza, drinks with funny names, being prone under a pile of blankets and more isolation than is humanly wise. I was staring at yet another brick wall and the only thing I knew how to do with pain like this was collapse and disappear from life again.

This is now, however, the kinder and gentler Kate, and after the first acute and tenderly painful days, I realized that I did want food, and was pleased that I wanted good food. And the first dish that I took out and set before my grief was my most favorite Lentils and Farro with Caramelized Leeks. The attention to slowly caramelizing the leeks seemed to almost take my mind off the fact that there was no eager golden-hued face at my feet, weaving in and out of my legs as I stood at the stove. Then copious amounts of this white bean and roasted garlic spread not only had me set for life against vampires, but provided heady aromatic and tasty relief (that photo above should give you some clue as to how critical roasted garlic is in my kitchen). There were more roasted vegetables, despite the warm end to March in Minnesota, a succulent grilled pork tenderloin that I buried under a thick mustard glaze, salads crunchy enough to fill the echo within my heart.

And I baked, because what could soothe one more than homemade scones? Lacking fresh fruit for a Sunday morning treat before a necessary and pleasantly grueling 3.5 mile hike, I gently blended thick fruit preserves with the liquid in my favorite scone recipe, and came up with a delightfully light and flavorful round, studded with chopped pecans and warmly comforting to my tummy. Another batch of Orange-Cardamom Scones sent me skyrocketing into sheer happiness, lush with the crisp citrus scent. The secret to these, I am 100% certain, is the citrus-infused turbinado sugar that filled the interior and decked out the tops. With the crunchy sugar and fresh zest, really, can it go wrong?

And Brownies. Let’s just say that in everyone’s coping arsenal should be a good solid recipe for a Brownie that will calm even the worst of one’s inner storms. Fudgey or cakey, I’m OK with either because where good chocolate therapy is concerned, I’m always a willing participant.

There was also Spring Break with my Teen that included him getting contacts, and or course, the golden sunshine that tickled and warmed our faces as March bid us farewell. I busied myself cleaning up last year’s detritus in the garden, and marveled that I was sweating on the last day of a typically snowy and cold month. I took a very long bike ride. And I cooked more soothing foods. I’m exploring some terrific options for the weeks ahead, in April, the month where Spring explodes over our part of the Earth. I don’t want to miss out on that, or anything else coming my way these days. There’s no more hiding. Not for this girl.

And Easter Sunday I feel, is an appropriate time for a new beginning, wouldn’t you agree??

Orange Cardamom Scones
adapted heavily from Tyler Florence’s Real Kitchen

2-1/2 c. AP flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt
2 T. sugar
1 T. orange zest
1/2 t. ground cardamon
5 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 c. fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking tray with parchment.

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, cardamom and salt. Blend together juice, zest and buttermilk, add to dry ingredients and mix gently with a fork until all flour is incorporated. Careful not to overmix.

Gently scoop individual portions onto cookie sheet. You should get about 8 scones. Bake until slightly browned on top, about 15-18 minutes.

For the Citrus Sugar that I sprinkled on top- Zest one orange and mix the zest with half a cup of turbinado sugar. Place in blender and mix until fully combined. Scrape into container and keep refrigerated. Use regular sugar if you have no turbinado. Sprinkle over tops of scones before baking.

12 responses to “renewal, and feeding the pain”

  1. MarkSpizer says:

    great post as usual!

  2. oh KATE! i’m reading old posts to catch up and i’m almost crying. i’m so, so, so sorry. i’ve been reading your blog since, well, 2007, and i always loved the posts where harmon was featured. that cat was one of the most beautiful i’ve seen. i’m so sorry for your loss and i really, really understand and feel your pain. i really do. i’ve been there with both a 20 year old dog and, just recently, the cat i got when i was in 8th (yes, 8th) grade. we had to put her down in november after 19 years. here’s to harmon!!

  3. Louise says:

    I too am sorry for you loss Kate. Times like these call for a huge arsenal of baking pans, I always say. My appetite for cooking usually takes over until one day, I grab for a nibble and I know I’m on my way…

    Thank you so much for sharing…Easter Sunday is a perfect time to renew and rejoice!!! May I please have an Orange Cardamom Scone? They look gorgeous:)

  4. Your poor baby! I’m so sorry for your loss and glad you were able to find comfort in delicious food. Sometimes for me the preparation is just as soothing as eating the actual food!

  5. Baking is good. Walking is good. Exercise works wonders. Fresh air cleans one’s head. Take the time to get out and about and to renew your spirit. It sounds like you have been to some very dark places and know how to avoid those places again. Honor her death by honouring yourself.

  6. angelaskitchen says:

    I was so happy to see you Sunday, so I could squeeze you, especially after these past couple of weeks… This post was so lovely, how you are choosing (even while still honoring your grief) to celebrate Harmon’s memory and move forward, bit by bit into the sunshine. Love you, sweetie…

    And I agree, roasted garlic, scones and chocolate are all part of well rounded comfort foods!!

  7. kat says:

    We all get over things in different way & I’m glad you are finding a way that works for you.

  8. janelle says:

    Kate: I am so sorry. I am so glad you are putting one foot in front of the other (and one good fork-full after another) instead of stopping under the pile of grief and sadness and disbelief.

    Your post was stirring, and your words poignant. Thank you for putting words to your experience.

    If I was closer, I would gladly have made you piles of roasted garlic;).

    I am trying to digest the grief with my sons growing up much too fast; and realize that having plans—things to look forward to—in the future is an important piece of puzzling together a new version of your existing life. Whether it is a few recipes, a new season of foods, a Spring Break with a Teen or summer plans… it is good to look forward with anticipation of good things to come.

    Big hug.

  9. Astrid says:

    all words I typed up seem so utterly unimportant so me and the kitties simply will send huge *hugs*.

  10. Chris says:

    I hope this post is as cathartic as it seems. You seem to have a meaningful action plan that will help you move forward from this loss.

  11. Kate, you are such an amazing writer. I really love when you open up. Leaves me breathless.

  12. What a wonderful blog post. Your words put the feeling of loss so perfectly. I’ve been in that same place before. Your post brings tears to my eyes. Sad memories, mixed with happy ones. I love your pictures of Harmon.