It’s been 3,079 days since I lost my son and two years to the day, I bought a beach house because of a rock. Yes, you read it. A rock, but not just any rock. Seriously, grief makes one do crazy, impulsive things that you never thought you would or could. It’s true.
If you follow the blog, I suspect you already know the effect the rock had on me, but for the others, let me explain. I believe my son died before he was ready to go and with that keeps a presence here. There wasn’t a day that went by that he did not end a conversation with an “I love you” and thus he continues to show himself to me with an occasional heart sign. I call these moments “whoosh” and along with seeing a heart I feel a squeeze in my chest as if he is hugging me.
So, it was two years ago while on a vacation I happened upon a house just a few doors down from our rental that was for sale. Just for fun, my husband and I took a walk through the house never intending to buy it, but as we were leaving the property there was this rock nestled in the crushed shells of the driveway. I gravitated to it and my husband immediately said, “he wants us to buy this house.” The rest is history.
The beach house has been a large part of the grief journey not only for me, but for my husband. The property is a stunning, peaceful wildlife refuge on one side with gentle ocean waves on the other. Surrounded by nature it’s a birder’s paradise with nesting osprey, herons and eagles plus all the sea creatures one can imagine.
There is also an 8-point buck that hangs out. He is here.
Swayed by emotion? Trust your instincts. Find your refuge.
Not long ago my friend, Steven, told me he was impressed by how I chose to transform my pain rather than transmit it. Not being the deep thinker that he is I have been reflecting on his comment ever since. The blog has certainly been a sacred space to share pain. A room built on grief, but filled with joy, peace and quiet. We are never not broken, but true strength and courage is never about wholeness. It is the ability to face the darkness, adapt and shine a positive light that honors the dear departed. How else could one celebrate a son so loved?
Baking is a lot like grief. A process with good days and bad. A transformation through fire. A healthy annihilation of ingredients that are broken down and come back stronger. Love made edible…and that has made all the difference.
Today’s recipe celebrates a lovely mom named Linda. Her daughter, Lauren, took the time to privately correspond with me soon after finding the blog last month. Lauren’s letter certainly helps me understand what Steven was trying to tell me. Here is what she wrote:
I came across your blog as I have also turned to cooking/baking as a therapeutic way to deal with grief. I lost my mother in January unexpectedly and tragically. My son (her only grandchild) was 8 months old at the time. It has been heartbreaking. I wept when reading that you lost your son (any mother’s greatest fear) but I am so inspired by your journey through grief and finding a healing path that involves celebrating his life through baking!
I wanted to reach out and say thank you so much for sharing such a raw and vulnerable part of you. I know you have touched many lives through your work.
I wanted to know more about Lauren’s mom. In the words of her sweet daughter:
My mom shared joy and love through food, both cooking and baking. I will cherish memories of time spent in the kitchen together cooking up a feast for family and friends. I saved many of her cookbooks and kitchen items to remind me of her and to feel her presence with me when I cook/bake.
Yes, to feel her presence. Thank you, Lauren, for celebrating your mom on Good Grief Cook. It’s an honor to share one of her favorite recipes. Here is the precious recipe in Linda’s hand-writing. (If you follow the blog you know how much I treasure anything hand-written).
The cookie batter is very thin. I was worried, but the transformation works. These are perfectly crisp, slightly sweet and with lovely layers of flavor. Baking them to the darker golden brown is the way to a crispy cookie. Bake slightly less if you prefer to mold or transform them hot off the baking sheet. I used a level teaspoon for the small crisps and a level tablespoon for the dessert platter size.
Heat oven 325F. Coat baking sheets with cooking spray. In bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add eggs, oil, water, vanilla, almond extract, lemon rind and poppy seeds; blend well. Drop by level teaspoons (small cookies) or level tablespoons (large cookies) on prepared baking sheets, spacing cookies about 2-inches apart. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until a darker golden brown for crisp cookies. While cookies are warm, using a thin spatula, transfer them to a cooling rack. Makes about 5 to 6 dozen cookies.
A boatload of zucchini is never a problem around here as we enjoy it so many ways. You can find one of my favorite recipes here for funfetti zucchini bread, but today we are going with an Italian spin on the loaf. It was a challenge to get it right.
Inspired and intrigued by Deb Wise’s recipe for a Tuscan Pignoli Orange Zucchini Bread on my recipes.com I immediately went to work to change it. At first glance, I loved her use of almond and semolina flours in the mix, but then I noticed 2 teaspoons of baking soda plus 1 of baking powder and a red flag went up. I hate the metallic bitterness of unreacted baking soda in quick breads and muffins and I just did not think there was enough acidity in the recipe to balance out the baking soda and allow it to do its job. I also noted an overload of oil and sugar in the ingredient list which conjured up an overly sweet and greasy loaf image. I find most quick breads don’t ever suffer from a reduction in the oil and the sugar in the recipe and in my mind it feels so much healthier.
In my first attempt, I reduced the baking soda form 2 teaspoons to 1 1/2 teaspoons plus I added 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. I reduced the sugar by 1/4 cup and the oil by 1/3 cup. I did not use the nuts (too expensive an ingredient to experiment with), but kept everything else the same. The result is the loaf pictured above. It was greasy and tasted slightly metallic. It was sweet enough, so I opted out of the icing. Did you notice it is slightly sunken in? That is the result of too much leavening. I knew it needed further refinement.
The next loaf required a dramatic decrease in baking soda (from 2 teaspoons to 1), oil (from 1 cup to 1/2 cup) and sugar (1 1/4 cups to 3/4 cup) and the addition of 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and the results were deliciously amazing. First, the aroma is super nutty and the flavor is bright with citrus and just a touch of sweetness. The texture is perfectly light without any greasy feel. Bonus points for a perfect rise without sinking. My husband described it as “fresher tasting”.
Heat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9- x 5-inch loaf pan with baking spray. Whisk together flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl just until combined. Place eggs in a large bowl; lightly whisk. Add sugar, oil, vanilla, and lemon juice and zest; whisk until smooth. Stir in grated zucchini. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool bread in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of pan to loosen bread. Remove bread from pan, and cool completely on rack.
I am fresh out of grief lessons, but don’t want to give up on blogging. From time to time, I hope you enjoy the recipes shared here. You can see more of what I do on instagram @goodgriefcook