EATING YOUR GRIEF: HOW TO UP THE ANTE ON COOKING FOR ONE
After Peter died, I lost my desire to be creative in the kitchen. I went out to eat a lot, but just didn’t have the chops (insert cringe at pun here) to cook dinner for myself. As a food writer, who concentrated on healthful cooking, it took quite a while for me to enjoy being creative in my kitchen. Before Peter died, I used to love to visit the Saturday Farmers’ Market in Santa Monica and make my meal plans based on what was seasonably available. I missed that impetus to get my creative culinary juices flowing. For about eight months, I coasted on dinners which consisted of soups and comfort foods, which I occasionally prepared or bought, and kept in small containers in my freezer. The truth be told, I also ate a lot of microwave popcorn, where I would crunch away by anger and sadness.
I started to enjoy cooking again when I started to entertain. I had to repay people for their kindnesses in treating me to wonderful restaurant dinners. I started with my old standbys, like butterflied roast chicken, mustard-coated rack of lamb, turkey chili, and coq au vin. I bought pieces of salmon and tried to roast them in new ways, especially with cilantro (Peter’s nemesis). I whipped up Thai chicken noodle soups using zucchini noodles prepared with my new vegetable spiralizer. I ordered truffle honey and mint jellies on Amazon and began to graduate to more sophisticated dishes.
One night, I was feeling like I needed comfort and remembered that Peter and I scarfed up the most amazing creamy scrambled eggs in a trip to Paris. That was a fond memory that I wanted to recreate. Fond and memory were two things that hadn’t meshed together for a long time in my journey of grief, so this was a good thing. I went to You Tube and found Gordon Ramsey preparing the most amazing eggs that were destined to be my dinner and my source of comfort. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKWsOLR4wOE I enjoyed every minute of the video and instantly decided to cook the eggs, served alongside a baguette toasted with melted butter. The results were so amazing that I do this dish every few weeks and enjoy the food and the memories I shared with Peter.
Cooking for one is an issue that is often problematic for people in the throes of grief, especially those mired in complicated grief. Complicated grief is a condition in which typical second-guessing kinds of thoughts, and avoidance of trigger-provoking activities, interfere with adapting to loss. People in complicated grief can’t accept the reality of their situation and struggle to adapt to a new life without their loved one. If you can’t adapt to your loss, your grief stays intense and therefore becomes complicated. Dr. Katherine Shear, director of the Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia University, developed this amazingly successful sixteen session program, which helps so many stuck in complicated grief. Dr. Shear sent me a paper by Heather Nickrand and Cara Brock who work with Alexian Brothers Hospice as bereavement coordinators. They presented an idea for culinary grief therapy which Dr. Shear knew would inspire me particularly, since I have written four cookbooks. It suddenly struck me that just the act of going to a grocery store is painful, since it was often a shared activity and triggered the memory of Peter trying to slip Krispy Kremes into the supermarket cart! Even going to restaurants can produce sad memories and surging bouts of tears. Food is love, but it is also shared love, and the loss is palpable each time you eat alone or cook alone. Nickrand and Brock started a workshop they call Cooking for One, focusing on culinary grief therapy. The series, facilitated with the College of DuPage Culinary and Hospitality Department in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, is an interactive form of grief therapy that offers comfort to those experiencing grief. It is a variant of group therapy and teaches people how to navigate the cooking process solo.
There is also a site called The Dinner Party, Life After Loss http://thedinnerparty.org/ geared to twenty to thirty-somethings who have experienced significant loss. You can “join at table” of bereaved people who meet over potluck dinners and talk about how grief impacts their lives. It is matchmaking for young people journeying through grief. I love the mottos on the website: “We believe in thriving, not just surviving.” “We’ll take damn good care of ourselves and of each other. We will eat well, be well, live well, love well.”
I realized that sometime over the past year, I decided to do my own culinary grief therapy by once again going to the Farmers’ Markets on a regular basis, and planning meals around seasonal foods. I organized pot luck dinners and found people wanted to contribute dishes and had a better time as a result. I doubled recipes and put small portions in the freezer. In my heart, I knew that Peter would hope that I be more compassionate with myself and would want me to improve my eating habits. He used to say “eat skeleton!” I decided to eat foods that made me content, and that made me focus on good memories of our dinner times together. I began to eat more pasta which he adored and fish and veggies, which I loved but he abhored. Below please find my version of the most amazing creamy soft scrambled eggs on the face of the planet that we both consumed with delight on weekends!
AMBROSIAL CREAMY SOFT SCRAMBLED EGGS WITHOUT CREAM
Serves 1 hungry person
For these amazing eggs, you will need a heavy-bottomed, nonstick saucepan and a silicone-heat-resistant spatula. Depending on the amount of eggs you are using, and the size of the pan, you must plan on at least fifteen minutes of cooking time, so make sure you have some music going to enjoy the experience.
3 fresh eggs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Garnish: freshly snipped chives
Accompaniment: toasted baguette
- In a small bowl, whisk your eggs thoroughly until they are evenly yellow.
- In a heavy-bottomed nonstick saucepan place the butter and allow it to melt over low heat. Pour in the eggs and make sure the heat is low.
- Start stirring with the spatula immediately. The more you stir, the creamier the eggs will be. After about 5 minutes, you will see the custardy curds forming in the pan. Keep stirring constantly.
- If too many curds begin to form, remove the pan from the heat to slow down the cooking process.
- When the eggs form wonderful creamy curds, after about 15 minutes, season them with salt and pepper, garnish with chives, and serve immediately accompanied by a toasted baguette.