Saturdays in the Kitchen

Picture of our walk – photo by Eli 5 Stone

As January rolled in with our first snowstorm and kid snow day, so did a critical phase of what Eli and I are referring to as our ’10 year plan’, our combined target of some big goals, like adoption, which we are just in the waiting phase on, and some really big house renovations, and a parallel track to financial independence. In order to achieve our goals it’s going to require serious focus. And in 2022, that means tightening our belts and evaluating all of our expenses.

I’ve found that spending less feels onerous without a goal, and only minimally painful with one (or more). And we are going for strategic use of our money, with travel a priority, but focused on trips where we can use hotel, airline and car rental points or the RV, as much as possible. Our recent loss of my brother in law, still fresh and painful, has taught us not to wait to make memories, but like with all things, balance and a plan for the future – a plan that there will be a future -is required.

I sat down to start this post the other night with a glass of inexpensive wine, and a bowl of Half Baked Harvest’s One Pot Hamburger Helper , which uses up a lot of my frozen shredded zucchini, as well as a bunch of the fancy leftover Christmas cheese and is filling and warm and yummy. I used cassava pasta instead of traditional pasta and added a splash of white wine for flavor, but this recipe is good, healthy and uses up what’s in the freezer and the pantry.

Because if you preserve something you really need to eat it. Past me was admittedly terrible about this, forgetting things in the freezer and fridge, current me is getting much, much better at it. For us, meal plans, batch cooking and planning ahead are the only things that work. And because our lives get so busy, cooking ahead saves us a ton of stress.

Yesterday Eli and I went to the grocery store and then I spent about 5-6 hours in the kitchen. I made Anadama Bread, a double batch of Butternut Squash Lasagna with Garlic and Rosemary, chipotle turkey stuffed sweet potatoes with spinach, and a pot of healthy Butter Chicken with mashed cauliflower for Saturday dinner. I also took some of the last of the beets we had from our farm share, and peeled and chopped them small, coated them in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted them at 375 degrees until slightly crunchy. Roasted beets are a no-recipe recipe that both Eli and I love.

We have lunches now to take us at least until Wednesday, between the stuffed sweet potatoes and a pot of French Onion Soup I made on Friday night. We have a squash lasagna for the freezer, which will reappear on a night where no one has the time and energy to cook and provide lunch leftovers for a few days, and we had a great dinner from about 20 minutes of effort.

Later this morning I will return to the kitchen and prep tonight’s dinner and Monday as well. Tonight is a simple batch of parmesan-crusted chicken, with broccoli and popovers on the side, and Monday is likely the bulgogi I prepped and froze in December, with a side of couscous and edamame. Eli takes meal prep Tuesday and Thursday so the next time I’m on duty is Wednesday, but we’ll see how the leftover situation is then, we might need to eat down what we’ve made, or we may pull some chili from the freezer.

We’ve tried batch cooking and eating the same thing for days, but generally that isn’t popular here, and it doesn’t help us when we have highly variable meats that arrive from our local meat subscription, or when we have to plan around garden/CSA produce, also highly variable, so we try instead to rotate meals that we enjoy that allow us to use up the food we have. And I go looking (and get inventive) when I need new recipes for when we have something to use up. Right now our pumpkins and squashes need using, so the squash lasagna and stuffed sweet potatoes served multiple purposes.

We’ll be eating stuffed spaghetti squash probably once a week for the next few weeks too, as we have a plethora of them that we grew, and they won’t last forever. I’m holding on to some tomatoes that I froze in the fall to make a giant batch of sauce later this month, and that will turn into spaghetti and meatball dinners and probably lasagna and homemade pizza too.

Come February, it will be time to go to work on the sweet potatoes and keeping onions we bought back in October before they reach the end of their life. By early March, when we start our seeds most of the pesto will be gone from the freezer and we’ll be mostly beholden to the grocery store for our fresh fruit and veggies, although my plan is to plant some greens next weekend to supplement with lettuce for salads and greens for stir fry. In April and May the farm stands will open again, and we’ll maybe wander into Boston to Haymarket to supplement now and again if time allows. By then we’ll be back in the garden as well, and by June the garlic scapes will be turning into pesto again. But for now, the unhurried afternoons in the kitchen keep us warm and well-fed, and are part of what has become our annual cycle of food use here at Sithean.

Bird Feeder in the Snow by Eli 5 Stone

All the Reasons to Love January

All the cozy

Most people I know hate January. Cold, dark, it is the month of giving up alcohol and unhealthy food, with it’s only holiday one that not a lot of people get to take off.

I used to feel the same, but after returning from a 2 1/2 year stint in Florida 5 years ago, I now love the it, dark and cold and all. As a recovering winter-hater, the peace and quiet of the month is a breath in our general busyness. There’s no birthdays, no major holidays, nothing that needs to be bought or wrapped or shopped for. Our weekends, even without Omicron putting things on hold, are calm and unplanned. Seedlings, unless I want winter lettuce or sweet peas aren’t planted. There’s no yardwork to do except the occasional shoveling.

It’s a time to get frugal and eat up what we have in our pantry and freezer. I try to limit what we buy, make meal plans, and find new and interesting healthy recipes to try with what we have. The winter squash start to soften up around now, so we need to consume them before they become compost-worthy. We still have tons of onions, garlic and sweet potatoes. Pesto, Kale, and other preserved foods are waiting to be used in cozy meals.

It’s also time to clean and declutter. On January 1, the lovely holiday decorations somehow magically transform themselves into annoying clutter that needs to be immediately put away. I like to hang on to the outside lights for a week or two, but the inside stuff needs to go. Along with that I spend my time sorting and clearing surfaces and spaces.

It’s time to be cozy. A new coverlet and knit blanket cover our bed in creams and whites with touches of red trim, making for a warm spot to curl up. There’s fires in the woodstove, there”s soup and stews on the regular, and lots of cups of tea after walks in the cold. We have throw blankets everywhere in the house, and we use them.

Hygge is a term that has been widely circulated in the US, the Danish concept of cozy, and we live it here at Sithean. Warm things, soft clothes, cozy homemade food, getting rid of clutter and time with people we love. Come February there are school breaks, my daughter’s birthday, Valentine’s day and the world starts to pick up energy again, but in January, restful and warm is the only way to be..

Over Easy

Sheep grazing in the field – Topsfield MA

After the holidays, the kids went to their Dad’s for a couple of days, and Eli and I finally took a breath. There were lots of chores to do, including deep cleans of the various bedrooms, and the start of dismantling the Christmas decor, but there was also quiet mornings sitting with coffee and my thoughts, and time together. I was also inexplicably cranky and mad at the world some of the time, despite getting more sleep than I had in probably years. Still, I managed to put my cranky down long enough to celebrate the 4 years, and immense changes in our life, since Eli and I had our first date on a bitterly cold December 30th night, a quick drink that turned into 6 hours, mostly spent laughing.

And then our New Year’s Eve feast, with our traditional homemade scallion pancakes (there’s non-paleo ones to be made as well of course, but these are so good I don’t know why you would bother), homemade lo mein and this year’s new star was Eli taking on Crab Rangoon that supplemented some take out, and was paired with the 2nd Harry Potter movie, now that the kids are old enough to work our way through the series.



The new year is coming, and I’m not too old or too cynical to set resolutions and plan for things to be different. Our eating always gets healthier in January, using up all the veggies we’ve preserved over the summer and fall, and trying to spend as little as possible on groceries. Tonight we’ll eat homemade Chicken Tortilla Soup, a simple pantry-based recipe

In addition to our New Years Day tradition of setting goals for the year, Melissa, my next-door-neighbor/close friend/life coach guru, handed me a tradition a few years ago of choosing a word or phrase each year that defines what you want of it – a mantra, so to speak, with an expiration date.

Thoughts of what it should be percolated in my head as I went to HMart to stock up last week, and as I went for long walks as many mornings as I could. This year is not one for radical change, that I knew. It’s for tweaks to make our lives more balanced, less cluttered, easier. It’s about acceptance, making peace with our loss and the things that I don’t love about myself. It’s about making things easier for myself and others.

And so this year, for 2022, Go Easy is my mantra. Go easy on the world around me, struggling with all the things. Go easy on my family, who do the best they can. Go easy on myself – I expect too much, and push too hard. I’ll invent recipes, blog and do a great job at work and as a parent and a spouse without having to feel bad when I sometimes miss the mark.

January and February are for decluttering, relaxing, exercising, and making cozy, healthy foods. Work and school of course. But I’m going to try to let up the pressure on myself and others to get it all right and go easy on all of us.

Happy New Year everyone. I hope 2022 is softer and gentler than 2021 for all of us.

Holiday Lights

Twas the Night Before Christmas….

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” – Abraham Lincoln

Right after Thanksgiving, we went to cut down a Christmas tree. My husband lit up the house beautifully at my request to have all the lights, and we began to celebrate the season despite the underpinning of grief, and the news that my uncle was hitting new lows in his cancer battle.

And I found myself unable to write or really, make clear decisions about almost anything.

It was a little like the final guitar wire snapped, 2 months after the bomb that was the loss of my brother-in-law detonated in our family, as we tried to navigate our grief and a way to live with it. I found myself tired constantly, forgetful, and disorganized. The kids were just…off. No one could concentrate. I would buy groceries and forget to use them, couldn’t for the life of me remember what to make for dinner, and wander into rooms and just stare. The Omicron variant blew up some of our plans. “Why do we even make plans?” I wondered not infrequently.

Grief, they say, is disorienting, but I found it to be more along the lines of dislocating. Something is not where it belongs, and the ripples of that strange ‘gap in the system’ mean that nothing quite makes sense, which in turn made my brain feel like it was wearing a sweater most of the time.

But we are blessed, and the greatest way we are is in that our people just keep showing up. My best friend, tired of hearing me cry from 1500 miles away, hopped a plane and joined us for a weekend in the mountains, surprising my children and creating a sense of normalcy and fun, then extended her stay a few days when my daughter wasn’t ready for her to go. My next door neighbor showed up with a bag of dog food for Teddy (also, he keeps eating their dog’s food, so this was partially an investment in brokering peace on earth and goodwill between dogs) and checked in frequently. My husband took over much of the cooking and mostly adapted to a weary, forgetful wife, perhaps preparing for what it might be like 30 years from now.

But my children, most of all, grounded me. Because my son still fiercely and fully believes in all the magic of Christmas. Elves on shelves, magical appearing candy and surprises in Advent Calendars, and Santa in all his magic. He made lists and planned surprises for all. No matter what, all the enchantments that are the holiday season needed to appear, and so they did.

Every morning, finding Elphidelphia, our Elf on the Shelf, and checking the advent calendar for treats or treasures, but most of all, as my husband strung the house with lights, he decided to make me a lighted North Pole for the yard with my husband as a gift. My daughter made us all homemade Ramen for dinner.

Our Christmas was filled with love, and then a multi-day playdate/sleepover with the kids down the street capped it all off. I took some days off and started to catch up on sleep. I cooked all day on Christmas, the kids loved their gifts, and suddenly joy crept back in, like vines that flower through cracks in the pavement.

Tempered of course, with sadness and worry about those whose loss is greater than ours, but joy and hope nonetheless. I wish the same to you and yours.

The First Law of Thermodynamics

First Snow

Thanksgiving passed with light and food and joy and sadness as well, augmented by another death – this one of my brother-in-law’s mom, who had come to the end of her time with little quality of life, but so soon after her son, and on the Thanksgiving holiday as well is another brutal knife in that family.

This year, we are all winding more tightly together as a result for the holidays. Every candle in the window, light on the porches, and tradition that can be upheld will be. Every hug of our people is another candle lit.

Eli and I were fortunate enough to have a day out to do some small-business holiday shopping and even go out to dinner in an actual restaurant for the first time in ages. Of course, we woke up to headlines about the Omicron variant the next day, so it might be the last time in a while. While I don’t miss all the things of the before-times, before Covid-19, I do miss some. Restaurants are one of them, mostly because it often symbolized a too-rare evening out with my husband.

I miss my brother too, with a grief that is sometimes so deep I need an extension ladder to climb out and back into the world. Saturday morning was particularly tough. I woke up too early again, and prepared to go for a walk with my neighbor and friend, Melissa. I wasn’t feeling it, sad and unmotivated, but I had postponed enough times that I knew I was out of excuses, although she would have understood. There was an ever-so-tiny bit of snow on the ground, and the wind was biting. All too many excuses to stay home were there.

But.

I saw something oddly pink in the stark landscape as I stepped off the porch.

A Rose in Winter

Melissa describes the process of grief as much like the book ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ and I’d add to that the ever-pervasive pandemic as well.

You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You can’t go around it. You have to go through it.

By the end of the walk I was warm through from talking and smiling. And I kept returning in my thoughts to that one rose which really shouldn’t be blooming on a day like yesterday. It was too cold, too grey, too out of season, too-all-the-things. But bloom it did, if only for a day. By the time we got home from a lovely dinner at my parents that night, it had started to crumple and die, as all things must, leaving behind a photograph, and my memory.

Even though it only stayed for less than a day, it was enough to remind me that there is always magic here, and that nothing ever truly leaves us, that energy is neither created nor destroyed.

“You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen. Aaron Freeman, via NPR


The Last of the Sunflowers

Mexican Torch Sunflowers

Up until yesterday there was still no hard freeze, despite the chilly mornings and regular frosts, and as a result, a few hardy tomatillos ripened, and against all odds, a few last flowers grew into the middle of the month. They are gone now at last, as colder nights came, but the the lovely orange flowers in my garden served as a touchstone for me.

I mostly leave the sunflowers to the bees and the birds, but they were so utterly lovely that one morning I couldn’t resist a few to sit behind my desk while I work.

We tore out the garden with many more tomatillos ripening but not yet there. Next year I need to remember to plant them even earlier. Nonetheless I got about 3 more batches of salsa worth. Since we both gift it and eat it, I got to work on making a few more jars to finish out the season. It’s been an unusual year for us in many ways, but the holidays are coming, and packages of homemade goodies will still get mailed.

Indeed, the holidays are coming, and my response to them is to want all the merry. I want lights, lots and lots of lights to ward off the cold and the darkness, and the sadness that still flows through and over our family like a river. Celebrating does not feel like a disservice to the dead but instead is a gift to us and those around us – what is love of one’s family members if not a light against the darkness?

Sometimes a literal one or a few hundred is just what is needed.

I remembered as Eli and I ripped out the dead vines and plants how peaceful I find the garden. I haven’t spent as much time as usual in it this year after a rainy summer and a stormy autumn. I start to feel as though I am coming back to myself after a long absence, slowly. I am still sad, and I likely will be for a while, but I am incorporating it into my days rather than it consuming them. I’m sure I’ll have more recipes and things soon, but for now, the ability to take in air while swimming in a sea of grief is enough.

And to turn that into action has been our next step. Care packages for my sister. And more. Billy was, above all, kind. He would help anyone, and his sister asked all of those who grieved with us to do something kind in his name.

Last night, our daughter and I chose a little girl in Ecuador for her to sponsor from World Vision. This is something I’ve done for years, and it’s a wonderful feeling to know you’ve made an actual life better. She now has the responsibility to write emails and letters and send small packages over the years, in addition to our sponsorship donation. Tonight, we and our son will pick something to make the world better. Then Eli and I.

It can never bring him back, but it’s a path back from sadness, to turn outward and add some love to the world.

Autumn Mourning

Pumpkins and Firewood on the Porch at Sithean – Photo by Eli 5 Stone

November has rolled in, and with it the cold nights. We lit our wood stove for the first time, and the heat has clicked on. It’s time to do the final preparations for winter – taking down the paper lanterns that adorn the roof of the porch in warm weather, insulating windows, covering the RV for the wintry weather to come. The last of the things that will allow us to curl up inside for the respite that we get when the cold finally takes hold.

In the mornings, frost covers almost everthing, but by mid-day the sunshine glow is glorious.

Our grieving is tempered by a return to life, but it’s still there, around every corner, commingled with love and worry for those he left behind. Big family celebrations of the upcoming holidays are being traded for something more quiet and simple this year. There’s an empty seat at our table, and none of us will recover from the loss very quickly.

Loss – not just of the person but also all the things they, and we, will miss out on. Milestones. Joy. Grief is not just for today and simple presence, but all the future things that no longer get to happen. It’s a perpetual gap in what should be, a future missed out on from all sides. Someday we will learn to move around the terrible hole in our midst, over time it will be less of an abyss, but not now. Not anytime soon. My sister grieves and we all join her in her sorrow.

I’ve noticed, a few weeks in, that my return to the topics of grief and loss and sadness makes others uncomfortable, but I’ve reached a point where I won’t apologize or speed it along to make another person at ease. I can’t, it consumes us all, and so be it. Someday I won’t wake up and hope it was a bad dream, someday it will be a loss that fits into the landscape of my family’s life. Not today.

Still, we continue to move, as we must. There are chores and homework to be done, yard work to be performed, work, school and all the interactions of our lives, food to be made, laundry to be folded, birthdays to be celebrated, vaccination for my son to be scheduled. We serve nothing and no one by stopping our movement. The show, as it were, must go on.

And go on it does, in this place that gives me a sense of the eternal. My brother in law and I were very different people, but we shared a sense of belonging to a place, him by his river, watching the sunsets with my sister, me with Eli, here in the garden of fairies and witches and ever-so-pink sunrises.

Sithean is a sanctuary, in all the ways.

Our garden has continued to grow despite the light frosts and so I harvested another pumpkin yesterday, and I think there’s hope for the last few still-ripening squashes. I picked them partially ripened and put them in the sunlight to finish their process, turning them every couple days. This is not a foolproof process, but it can work, and there are at least 10 more spaghetti squashes, so it is worth the effort.

A large number of tomatillos survived the frost as well, so one last batch of salsa verde is on the horizon.

The garden is dying down slowly this year, and I’m letting it take it’s time. We’ll get out and rip it out and plant our garlic when it’s all done. Leaves are still on trees, rather than the bare grey of November. My lawn is still green. The endless rains have slowed, but not stopped. It’s in the 50s and 60s still, for days on end after the night chill ends in the sunshine.

Still, I’ll plant my spring flower bulbs and we’ll prepare for winter, because it will come. My son yearns for snow that we hope will arrive soon. On weekend mornings, the living room stays warm if we throw one last log on the fire before bed and close the door, and becomes a cozy spot to return to after I brave the chill to feed the bunnies their breakfast. The wood stove can’t warm the whole house, but it does keep the living room nice and toasty.

I’ve begun to cook again and do food prep in earnest. This morning I made 2 meals worth of Beef Bulgogi and froze the beef in it’s marinade to be cooked later, and then started in on some applesauce. We have infinity apples, and they won’t keep forever, so preservation is key. Applesauce is another no-recipe recipe – apples, some water, maybe a bit of sugar to taste. It freezes well and is great alone or in baked goods.

2 large-ish zucchini were left from the garden, so a last batch of zucchini fritters will be part of tomorrow’s dinner, and for tonight I made popovers to go with Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon. Added to the leftovers from Saturday’s dinner, Oven Risotto with Kale Pesto and stuffed chicken.

Despite the days tinged by sadness, I am grateful for the peacefulness of my kitchen, and the love that surrounds me, the flowers that bloom still, against all odds, and the gift of each day.

A few Mexican Torch Sunflowers Remain in the Garden

Black Watch

What do you wear to bear witness to the end of things for someone who is part of your family and you love has been the all-consuming question this week. I mean, it wasn’t really, but then again it was.

It’s a thing you can control. In a time where no one is very hungry or sleeping well, and there’s more sorrow than anyone, especially my sister, should have to bear, at least you can pick an outfit.

What is lovely to me is that the world rises.

So we put on our black, our mourning clothes, and we went to lend our bodies to the grieving at the wake. To watch my sister stand next to the body of her beloved, him but also no longer him, nearly drove me to my knees. She, and her children did what was necessary.

And then she walked out alone.

I’m not a fan of platitudes at death. It’s crap to lose people, and it’s more crap when they go too young. Sure, there are always upsides – death can be an end to suffering, or a quick death can mean minimal suffering. And there should always be a celebration that the person happened to those who love and care for them. “I’m sorry for your loss” is wonderful. “They are in a better place” is a pile of poo even if you really believe that. Keep it to yourself. Try “This is such crap. It’s garbage. I’m sorry.”

It is now our job to follow her into the long twilight ahead, to be there for as long as it takes, to sit quietly in the darkness. It’s not our job to rush this, only to be present with a hug, support, help.

We cannot go where she and her children are going, we can only stand watch to ensure that their journey is smoothed as much as possible. So stand we will, even as the waves of sorrow try to bring us down.

Grief, after all, is the price of love.

Comfort Food

Saturday Comfort Soup

Having a stomach bug followed by immense tragedy kind of sticks a fork, as it were, in food preparation. Other than the occasional piece of toast I didn’t really eat for several days again after our loss, but when I did get hungry again I just wanted soup.

Meanwhile, the food here was piling up. More than 20 spaghetti squashes, and several pumpkins, not to mention tomatillos were still ripening in the garden. My husband, daughter and niece came home from our last week of CSA with tons of veggies, followed immediately by an order from Azure Standard, placed long before we knew that we would not be hungry. And my lovely friend brought a half bushel of apples over. Add to that the food already here that had been uneaten for almost a week, plus the overflow of generosity that was emanating from my sister’s, and there was no way I could justify anything like take out.

I was in the process of turning roaster chicken into chicken broth in my crock pot that will become Chicken Soup with Rice for Sunday dinner. The kids were with their Dad, and chicken rice soup is something we would only eat with them, so instead I turned to the the piles of butternut squash and sweet potatoes and onions we had brought home from New York, and started googling. And there wasn’t quite the thing. But a few ideas from other recipes and some of me just tossing things into a pot later, and what came out was all the right parts of dense, spicy, tangy, creamy, slightly sweet and warm in one. Cheap, healthy and filling too. But importantly it was comforting. There’s just something about soup that fills in not just on cold days but also in moments where you need to feel warm in your soul.

I roasted a butternut squash in the oven and then began to cut up onions and garlic, sauteeing them in olive oil. I then added a largeish sweet potato in chunks and a quart of chicken broth. Once that had cooked for a while, and the potatoes were tender, I scooped in the roasted squash, added 2 tablespoons of red curry, salt, a can of coconut milk, cilantro and a generous teaspoon of lime juice. I had no idea how this was all going to come out.

I cooked it all together for a few more minutes and spooned it into my bowl. I suppose I could have pureed the whole thing, but I liked the chunks of sweet potatoes swirling in the orange soup. I topped it with more lime juice, which added brightness and depth, some chives and then proceeded to eat more than my fair share. This is a meal you could serve to company or just eat in bed with a book and a cup of tea on the side, very carefully, as I did.

And then…I felt better. For the first time in days, almost myself. And then the sun came out, and Eli brought me tea.

Saturday Comfort Soup
1 medium butternut squash, halved and seeded
1 large sweet potato, chopped into spoon-sized chunks
3 onions, diced
2-4 cloves garlic, depending on the size
2-3 teaspoons red curry paste
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1 quart of chicken or vegetable broth
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cilantro
Lime juice, to taste and more for topping each bowl

Oil a baking sheet and roast the butternut squash, face down until fork tender, about 25 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Meanwhile, saute the onion and garlic until soft. Add the broth and sweet potato and cook until tender. Add the fish sauce, salt, coconut milk, cilantro, curry paste and lime juice and let cook another 5 minutes or so.

Serve with a sprinkle of chives and a little lime juice for extra flavor. The good feeling that will spread through your belly comes free with the food.

Sky Fall

Sometimes everything just goes along as it does. Seasons change, harvests get harvested, days pass in rapid succession in our full life. And then, every now and again, the world spins off its axis.

Which is what happened on the night of October 20th. The phone rang at 10:24 pm, long after sleep has usually come for me.

The phone never rings that late.

Grief, to me, is like the ocean. Vast, inexorable, with waves that can pull you off of your feet and riptides that can pull you under as you try to hold yourself upright carrying heavy loads in each arm that you cannot put down no matter how badly you want to. Rapid fire, one after another the waves take you down until you are too exhausted keep standing, but stand you must.

Eventually it is more like a gentle tide on the beach. There, but peaceful most of the time, except when the occasional giant wave soaks you and takes you off your footing. They become less and less, but the surprise waves still arrive unbidden, at a smell, a memory, a moment. The heavy loads are lighter, smaller, then eventually they have begun to wash away.

That second part takes a long time. For some it never comes. And for us now, the grief is too fresh. My beloved brother in law, gone too fast and too soon, leaving my sister and her daughters alone against the buffeting water and falling horizon, too young to be a widow, too young to be fatherless. My sister was fortunate to have found a real love story in her other half, and that story should not have ended the way it did.

Too soon, brother mine. Too soon.

So we grieve. People send food, far too much food. More food than anyone could possibly eat in 2 lifetimes, food that tells us they care even if we have no appetite whatsoever.

There are calls and texts and questions “How are you?”. The real answer is “Terrible” and that’s just my grief. How do you watch your sister realize, over and over that their person is gone and never coming back? The realities are agonizing, too much to bear. The rest of your life is too long to love someone and lose them and face it alone.

All the things that are left, no longer needed where he is. Phone, car keys, shoes. Reminders of what he left behind. A world of 5 is now 4, wondering how they will ever do without him, looking at the the things that are left and wishing for just one more moment of their use.

So we do what we can. We thank the folks who brought food, we tidy up, we offer support, we field the calls. The world has wrapped us all up in a loving embrace to grieve with us. We hug, and we cry, and for the moment decide that worrying about Covid-19 has to move to the background.

We cry some more. The crying passes, but then another wave, and more arrive.

We prepare for the inevitable – a funeral, a final goodbye, the return to daily life that will be emptier, one less. The world is not a better place without him. It is far worse.

Sometimes life goes along as it does. And then every now and again, the sky ruptures and falls down upon us and the waves wash over us and the pain is too much to bear but bear it we must.

Goodbye, my brother. I miss you. Too soon.

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