Chickpea and sweet potato tagine

sweet potato tagineI made this last night, inspired by my most recent meal at Lula Cafe. Lula, which has had some variation of this dish on the menu since it opened, has been my favorite restaurant in Chicago since pretty much then.  Yet, despite the many times I’ve considered skipping over the specials and ordering the tagine, this last visit was the first time I managed it. And, as you can probably guess by this post, it was wonderful. Like all of Lula’s food, it made me feel like I was eating in a way that made everything in my life just a little better. My version is not as good as theirs was. But it’s tasty. And good for you– studies have shown that both ginger and turmeric may decrease inflammation. Because avoiding gluten apparently doesn’t do it all. Life is good but it is not fair. But so it goes. Now. The recipe.

1 Tablespoon butter or ghee or coconut oil (I used butter)
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch fresh turmeric, minced (substitute 1 teaspoon or more dried if you can’t find fresh)
1 inch fresh ginger, minced
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
sea salt to taste
4 cups cooked chickpeas with their broth (you can substitute 2 small cans but rinse and use fresh water or broth)
1/4 – 1/2 cup golden raisins, to taste

Heat fat in a sturdy, medium-sized saucepan that has a lid over medium heat. Add onions. Saute for a few minutes, stirring a couple of times, then add everything but the chickpeas and broth. Stir to combine and cook for another few minutes. Add the chickpeas and raisins with enough liquid to just cover the ingredients. Partially cover and simmer for a half hour or so, until the sweet potato is soft and the flavors have melded into something greater than their individual components, sweet and smoky and with hints of something mysterious and far away that you’ve always known but never quite known how to find. Or something like that. Serve over mashed cauliflower, quinoa, or rice, topped with a handful of arugula or some other bitter greens. The greens aren’t essential but they provide a nice balance for the sweetness.

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Chickpea soup w/ garlic and bitter greens

Gosh. It’s been a long time since my last post. I would apologize. Except, as I started to do so, I realized that this might be my new norm. I enjoy blogging. But it’s no longer a priority. And I’m not sure I still want to write a cookbook about beans.

Not that I don’t still love beans. I do. I’ve just begun to recognize my limitations, especially when it comes to nutrition. There’s so much conflicting information that I don’t have time to sort through. Especially when it comes to beans.

Historically, at least in my world, it was well settled that beans are good for you, that they’re full of protein and fiber and all kinds of good things. But of course it can’t be that simple.

Before I dive into the great bean controversy, I want to give you the recipe, which I adapted from the Chickpea and Kale Soup in Franny’s: Simple Seasonal Italian Cookbook. Speaking of which, within a day of checking this book out from the library, which is what I do with cookbooks, I’d ordered a copy. Because it’s gorgeous and well written and wonderful enough to own. Plus the recipes are terrific. Here’s another review if you’re considering. Also, for what it’s worth, I made the original version of their soup a few weeks ago. And it’s delicious. But I changed things up to maximize the calcium content. See more on that below. Now, the recipe.

Chickpea soup w/ garlic and bitter greens

2 cups dried chickpeas
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 3 or 4 chunks
1 stalk of celery, cut into 3 or 4 chunks
1 small onion, unpeeled and halved
11 garlic cloves, peeled
5 strips of lemon peel, no white pith
1 rosemary sprig
1″ piece of kombu
large square of cheesecloth
2 tsp. coarse sea salt
3-1/2 quarts water
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tb olive or grapeseed oil
1/2 tsp chili flakes
2 bunches of bitter greens (I used turnip and dandelion–the original recipe calls for Lacinato kale)
freshly ground black pepper

1. Soak the chickpeas for several hours in warm water. There’s more information on that below as well as here. I started mine in the morning then cooked the soup overnight.

2. Rinse the beans and transfer them to the slow cooker insert, if using, or a dutch oven. Combine the carrot, celery, onion, 3 cloves of garlic, lemon peel, rosemary, and kombu in the cheesecloth. Tie up the corners to make a little packet like this one. cheesecloth bundleAdd the bundle to the beans and submerge into the water with a wooden spoon. Add the olive oil. If using the slow cooker, cook on low for 10 hours. If using a dutch oven, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the chickpeas are tender. The timing will depend upon the age of your chickpeas, but check after 45 minutes. Add the salt when the chickpeas are tender and remove from the heat.

bitter greens3. Wash and trim the greens, then steam for about three minutes. Chop the garlic. Heat a tablespoon of grapeseed oil (unless you aren’t concerned about heating olive oil) and saute the garlic and chili flakes for a minute or so, just until fragrant.

4. Transfer the greens and garlic mixture to the bowl of a food processer. Add two cups of cooked chickpeas and one cup of cooking liquid. Process until smooth, then return the puree to thechickpea soup with garlic and bitter greens soup. Stir, taste, and season to taste. Ladle the soup into bowls. If desired, finish with a squeeze of lemon and some Parmesan cheese. I skipped the Parmesan but enjoyed with a slice of cheese toast. Delicious!

Now. Nutrition.

I first learned about the great bean controversy from my friend Jessica, who commented on this post in which I considered whether to soak or not to soak dried beans. Basically, she explained that soaking is necessary to make the nutrients more available. Which is correct. But, because I am extremely stubborn, I couldn’t just take Jess’s word for it.

For most of the past couple of years I’ve accepted that there is a controversy and that I don’t know what’s what. However, I also figured that as long as I continued to feel well, my digestive system was able to handle any potential problems with the beans. But then I was diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Yup. That’s right. It’s a shocker, right? Because while I’m not exactly young, I’m hardly old enough to have osteoporosis. Except that I do.

The upside is that because I’m relatively young and basically healthy, the condition is expected to be totally reversible. I just have to change my eating habits and increase resistance exercise.

Regarding the latter, that’s been pretty easy: I signed up for a weight-lifting class at the hospital. The class is at the hospital instead of the gym because right now my spine is very fragile, so I have to be super careful. As an aside, this has also affected my yoga practice, which I’ve had to modify pretty significantly. Honestly, so far, that’s been the worst part of this whole thing. I’m not supposed to do forward folds, side bends, or twists. Apparently my spine is like a stack of thin fragile plates that could be very easily chipped. Ugh. It kinda sucks. But I’m trying to take it as a spiritual lesson. Which is sort’ve working. I recognize that the experience is good for surrendering ego. Yet it’s still really bad for the expansion of my physical practice. Sigh.

Regarding the former, it’s been a little more complicated. In fact, I’ve had to make a complete overhaul. Because unless you eat 4 cups of yogurt each day, it’s really hard to consume 1500 mg of calcium each day from food. Which is what I’m supposed to be doing. So. Starting with this information from my awesome MD, I began researching calcium-rich foods. And, among other things I’m supposed to avoid (like oxalates and sugar and salt) I found out that Jessica is right–in order for your body to access the calcium in beans, you gotta get rid of the phytic acid by soaking the beans. I’m not sure when my next bone density test will be, so don’t know how long it will be until I find out if my changed eating habits are working. But I’m hoping for the best.

Vegetable stock from ends and trimmings

Wow. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here. So long that I’m not sure what to say. Except — hello! And I’m sorry for the lengthy silence. I think all of my creative energy has been absorbed into researching and writing an opening brief for the crazy case I’ve been working on since July. Which still isn’t quite finished. But almost.

So. Here I am. Without anything nearly as elaborate as my last post. But perhaps something much more useful: Vegetable stock made almost entirely from the scraps leftover from making other food. Which is something I’ve thought about a million times. But I never seriously considered it until I read Peter Servold’s Paleo By Season. Which is not to say that I’ve suddenly signed onto the paleo diet. I have not. The paleo diet is, in fact, almost antithetical to my preferred way of eating because it prohibits beans and grains, both of which I very much enjoy. But even though I don’t subscribe to the plan, I like to read paleo cookbooks because everything is gluten-free. I always get great ideas.

Like this veggie stock, which, as Servold  notes, is a perfect way to make use of scraps instead of throwing them away. He gave me a blueprint and confidence that I can make something delicious out of scraps. So I finally decided to give it a try.  Because winter is coming. My garden is closed. I won’t be able to use the compost pile for a while. Plus, like I said, I’ve always wanted to try making stock out of ends and trimmings.

Servold’s version (which he includes not as a standalone entry but in a side-bar with a recipe for Marinara sauce), consists of peelings from 5 carrots, some yellow onion, parsley, and water. The version I made today used almost all of the leftoveer bits from the vegetables I used in my most recent variation of lentil stew with cabbage and root vegetables, which I put together one morning last week before work. In addition to 3 carrots and 2 parsnips, I added a couple of turnips and used a shallot instead of garlic. (Although this post isn’t supposed to be about the lentil stew, I feel compelled to note that my latest batch turned out really well, perhaps the best ever, with the turnips adding a slightly bitter note to cut the sweetness of the carrots and parsnips.)

Because I was thinking about making vegetable stock when I made the stew,  I put everything except the cabbage , which I didn’t think would be good for a stock, into a container in the fridge, thinking I would make stock later. Then of course I forgot. Because all week I’ve been completely absorbed in my work. Which has been good. I forgot how much I like that feeling of complete engagement with a big piece of writing. At times it is overwhelming. But then you get to the end. And there is this wonderful sense of emptiness combined with satisfaction. Ahhhhh. Mental space and a feeling of accomplishment. One day, if I ever manage to make meditation a regular part of my life, perhaps that sense of spaciousness will be commonplace. And perhaps I won’t need an external sense of accomplishment. For now, though, both are something to celebrate.

Especially now. It is Sunday and I have no big case to think about, no oral argument to prepare for, really nothing much going on . A day off.scrap stock Which of course I knew would include cooking. But what? After coffee, I looked in the fridge. Noticed the container of scraps from the lentil stew. Remembered my plan to make stock. Checked to make sure everything was still fresh, then threw it into a pot with half a small onion, a sprig of parsley, and 8 cups of fresh water. I brought it just to boil, then covered part way and simmered for about an veggie stockhour. Then I strained and let it cool. The end result is exactly one quart of fairly light, fragrant, not overly sweet veggie stock. Which is not only delicious but also environmentally responsible and practically free. If you decide to try it, I’d encourage you to use whatever you have with an eye to some balance between sweet and savory and probably steering clear of cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts. The ratio I used was about 4 cups of vegetables (3 cups ends and trimmings plus parsley and half an onion) to 8 cups of water. If you try it, please let me know how it turns out and what you do with it! I think I’m going to make some soup. First, though, I’m going to take a walk. Say hi to some trees. Breathe some air. Enjoy mental space. Have a great day!

Vegetable “ceviche” salad with fresh cranberry beans

ceviche saladI made this last night, both as dinner for a dear friend who is visiting for the weekend and as a test for the dinner party I’m hosting next weekend. Which I’m both excited and terribly nervous about. Because, as I realized yesterday, this will be my first solo dinner party since I was in my twenties. Which means there’s no one to help clean or entertain people while I’m cooking. For all his flaws, my ex-husband was a perfect dinner party co-host. And while I seemed to have no problem hosting large, elaborate dinner parties on my own before I hooked up with him, I’ve changed since then. I’m now keenly aware of stress and anxiety, working to feel my way through whatever comes up instead of hiding in drugs and alcohol, distracting myself from what’s actually happening in my body. Which is a lot. But I also have yoga now. I try to meditate. I have tools to deal with anxiety. So even though part of me is scared about this first dinner party on my own as this person I’ve become, I know everything is going to be okay. Maybe not perfect, but fun. And when I woke up this morning I felt a million times better knowing that after weeks of uncertainty about what I want to make I’ve started to finalize the menu. Which will most definitely include this salad. Because it’s SO GOOD!!! Also beautiful and summery and easy and can be made in the morning for eating at night. Plus it features one of my favorite parts of summer: fresh cranberry beans.

Admittedly, the original recipe (from Food & Wine) doesn’t call for cranberry beans. Instead it’s more of a riff on succotash, with fresh lima beans. But the cranberry beans were delicious. So, if you find yourself drawn to huge piles of these beauties at your local market, I definitely fresh cranberry beansrecommend this salad is a great way to use them up. (In case you wind up with more beans than the few needed for this salad, here are some other ideas for fresh cranberry beans.) That said, I think any shelling bean will work equally well. And the same is true for other ingredients. For example, I used plums instead of nectarines, because the plums were ripe and the nectarines weren’t. And instead of a jalapeno pepper, I used a pepper from my garden. Because I had a pepper in my garden. Finally, in my riskiest departure, I used Romanesco cauliflower instead of avocado. That one was because when I was at the Farmer’s Market on Thursday, the tiny head of green cauliflower was so gorgeous that I had to get it. Then, because it was so pretty, I had to add it to the salad. Which, happily, turned out to be a very good idea.

Here’s the recipe, which reputedly serves eight. I would say that depends on what else you’re serving. If this is a true side or starter, it’s probably enough for ten. But you could also add some greens (as my visiting friend suggested, it would be good over chopped kale) and make it the main course, in which case I think four people would be very happy with their servings. Now. Recipe. For real.

1 c. fresh cranberry beans (from about 1-1/2 pounds in their pods)
1 t finely grated lime zest
1/3 c. fresh lime juice
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 hot pepper, jalapeno or other
Sea salt
1-1/2 c. fresh corn kernels (from two ears)
1 plums or nectarines or other stone fruit, not too ripe, halved and thinly sliced into wedges
1 small head of Romanesco cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved (a mix of types and colors is nice)
1/2 c. coarsely chopped cilantro

Combine the lime zest, lime juice, olive oil, shallot, and pepper in a large bowl. Whisk to combine then season with salt. Bring two or three cups of water to a boil. Add about a teaspoon of salt and the beans. Cook for 17 minutes, then add the cauliflower. Cook for another three minutes then drain and rinse with cold water. Add to the dressing. Fold in all of the remaining ingredients except the cilantro. Cover and chill for at least two and up to eight hours. Just before serving, toss in the cilantro. Taste and add more salt if necessary. I used quite a bit.

Fresh Summer Cassoulet w/ Gluten-Free Bread

More than a year ago I wrote this post, in which I talked about a vegan cassoulet I had at 29 Palms, in Joshua Tree. The chef gave me directions, which I documented with every intention of giving it a shot. But then life intervened. First I had to move. Then the summer was insanely hot, so that the very last thing I wanted to do last summer was spend time in the kitchen. Finally, I was me eating cassouletalways rehearsing.

All of that seems like it happened far more than a year ago. Wow. So much has changed. For example, I cut off my hair. See, there I am, last night, just about to dip a piece of gluten-free bread into the cassoulet. With really short hair. And not yet knowing whether the food had turned out as planned or was going to bomb. Nervous. Hopeful. Happy to be with people I love. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Cassoulet. Bread.

Until a couple of weeks ago my plan of recreating that delicious vegan cassoulet had fallen completely out of my mind. But I remembered it I was trying to figure out what to make for a dinner party I was co-hosting with friends who live in Evanston. Since Evanston is a bit of a hike from my place, I wanted to make something with ingredients that would be easy to carry. Also, affordability is always a consideration these days. Plus I have this new gluten-free thing. And, we were having the dinner party in honor of a friend who was visiting from California and is someone who really appreciates delicious food. (If you like to cook as much as I do, that’s an important quality in friends.) So I was super excited when I remembered the cassoulet. The only trick was coming up with a decent gluten-free bread. Which has been much more difficult than anticipated.

Indeed, during my relative silence of the past few months, I’ve actually been cooking a lot. But in addition to my generalized lack of creative energy (apparently I’m one of those people whose creativity is fueled by angst. Now that I’m no longer so unhappy, I’m not feeling the need to create. It is sad. But I like being happy.), I also haven’t been writing about it because there have been a lot of failed attempts. Specifically, with gluten-free bread.

I know, I know. Gluten-free bread does not involve beans. But, as I’ve mentioned before, bread is an essential component of a bean-based diet. Not only is it good for dipping into delicious sauces, bread adds an important textural variation. Here, it is necessary for both reasons. So, breath held and fingers crossed, I tried out yet another recipe promising delicious gluten-free bread so good that even people who can eat gluten will love it. And lo and behold, this recipe delivered! gluten free breadMaybe not the most beautiful loaf ever, but definitely, recognizably, bread. (The weird shapes happened because my dough was a lot more runny than it was supposed to be, so as it settled into the parchment paper, it took on the crinkles in the paper instead of being strong enough to straighten them out.)

This bread is a bit more dense and moist than regular bread, but totally and completely delicious. Indeed, last night a friend who habitually reached for the baguette wound up deciding that she preferred the gluten-free bread. Finally!

This version, which I think is the fourth recipe I’ve tried, was adapted from Gluten-free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes, by Daniel and Shauna Ahern. I love this cookbook. I love them. And I love this bread. Here’s my version. The cassoulet recipe follows.

GLUTEN-FREE BREAD

  • 1-1/4 c. tapioca starch (The original recipe calls for potato starch. I subbed because I didn’t have any on hand and it was pouring out. Given what happened with my version, you should probably use potato starch.)
  • 1-1/4 c. almond flour
  • 2/3 c. oat flour (certified gluten-free)
  • 1/2 c. millet flour
  • 1 T. active dry yeast
  • 3 t. psyllium husks
  • 1-1/2 t. coarse sea salt
  • 1-1/3 c. warm water
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/6 c. olive oil
  • 1 T. honey
  • 1 T. olive oil for the bowl

Combine the flours in the bowl of a standing mixer, if you have one. If not, just combine them in a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Then add the yeast, psyllium husks, and salt. Whisk again. Pour the warm water, eggs, oil, and honey over the dry ingredients and mix with the paddle attachment (or a spoon) until the ingredients are thoroughly combined. At this point, the original recipe tells you that it will be soft and will slump off the paddle/spoon. But my mixture was a very runny, slightly grainy batter. Whatever you wind up with, oil a large bowl and scrape (or pour) in your dough/batter. Cover with a clean cloth and let it rise until doubled and bubbly. For me, that took about three hours. The original recipe says two.

sliced breadAt the end of your rising time, preheat the oven to 500 and put a covered cast-iron Dutch oven in to come to heat. (The original recipe suggests either a Dutch oven or a pizza stone. My dough would never have worked for a pizza stone, as it was far too runny. But maybe you will have better luck. I hope so!) After the Dutch oven has been heating for thirty minutes, remove it from the oven and place a large piece of parchment paper on top, using an oven mitt or kitchen towel to push it into the container. Drop in the dough. If you like, top with a swig of olive oil and some sea salt. Then fold the parchment paper over, put on the lid, and return the pot to the oven. Bake for thirty minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for at least thirty minutes.

 

 

FRESH SUMMER CASSOULET (serves 4)

The original directions for this cassoulet are as follows: Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over fairly high heat. Saute garlic and shallots. Add fresh greens, whatever is in season (the chef used Swiss chard), halved cherry tomatoes, basil, oregano, marjoram, and a healthy amount of salt. Saute, stirring, for a few minutes, until everything is carmelized. Then add cooked white beans and about two cups of white wine. Cook for about ten minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half. Serve with toasted bread.

As you can see, the only ingredient with a specified amount was the wine. So what I wound up with last night was complete guess work, which I did not measure or document except in this photograph.cassoulet, uncooked Also, I used two separate skillets in order to feed 8. Therefore, what follows is my best guesstimate for what I did in a single batch. Which I may do differently next time. And which, if you try this out, I hope you make your own. This recipe lends itself to that sort of cooking. I hope you try.

  • 1-1/2 T. chopped garlic
  • 3 T. halved, thinly sliced shallots
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1-1/2 c. halved cherry tomatoes
  • 2 c. sliced Swiss chard
  • 4 c. cooked cannellini beans
  • 2 c. white wine
  • 1/2 c. fresh basil, oregano, and marjoram, minced
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over fairly high heat. Add the garlic and shallots and saute for a couple of minutes, stirring, until richly fragrant. Add the tomatoes and salt. Cook for another minute or two of five. Then add the chard and herbs then cook, stirring a little, until carmelized. Add the beans and wine. Continue to cook for about ten minutes, until the liquid has reduced a bit and it smells so good you have to eat right now. Serve with toasted bread. Enjoy!

 

Roxanne’s Magic Bean Stew, courtesy of Michael Ruhlman

Hello! I feel like I’ve been away forever. And I’m not sure why. I think it’s because my food life has been taken over by trying to become gluten free. Which has been interesting, if difficult. Also, I had house guests for a few days. Plus there’s work. Yoga. My garden. Book clubs. Plays. Music. Friends.

Let’s face it: this effort I’ve been making over the past couple of years to rebuild my life after my marriage ended? It’s worked. My life is rich and full. The downside is that I find myself less and less interested in writing about what I’m doing. But, thankfully, this isn’t true for everyone. For example, Michael Ruhlman, who posted this inspiring entry about a conversation he had with Cleveland Clinic Preventative Medicine Physician Roxanne Sukol.  (I got my computer fixed and now the link feature works again!) They talked about food and nutrition and, at the end, he shared the following recipe. Which I’m planning to make for dinner tonight. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you try it, please do the same.

Roxanne’s Magic Bean Stew
(adapted for Michael Ruhlman’s kitchen and then again, for my style and the contents of my pantry)

1 cup of your favorite beans (I’m using Mother Stallard, from Rancho Gordo)
1 quart/liter water
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
1 Bay leaf
1″ piece of kombu
Pink Himalayan (or Kosher or any other) salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine everything except the salt and pepper in the insert of your slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low in a slow cooker for 7-8 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

blackeyed pea salad with celery, mango, and peppers

black eyed pea salad with mangoThis is my version of a salad someone brought to the Easter party I attended this year. Which is hard to believe was just last weekend. It’s been one of those world shifting weeks. Before I get into that, though, let me tell you about the salad. Because (a) I want to write it down before I forget what I did, and (b) I’m starting to realize that I should always put the recipe first. That way people who just want the recipe won’t have to wade through a bunch of words about whatever else I’m interested in. So. Here’s how I made the salad. And trust me. This is one of those dishes that tastes a whole lot better than the crappy photo makes it out to be. Really. It’s delicious.

1 cup blackeyed peas, picked over and rinsed
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. honey
salt to taste

Bring  four cups of water to a boil, add the peas, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes, adding about a teaspoon of salt in the last 15 minutes. (They may take a bit longer. Cook until tender but not so long they turn to mush.) Remove from heat and let the peas cool for a while in their cooking liquid while you prep the mango, celery, and pepper. Once everything is chopped, transfer to a large bowl. Then drain the peas, put them on top of the chopped produce,  and drizzle the olive oil, vinegar, and honey on top. Stir to combine. Taste and add salt, more vinegar, and honey as needed.

This is best at room temperature. But on a hot summer day I bet it will be pretty damn good right out of the fridge.

Now. On to the world-shifting week. Right now, as I write this, I’m in Tallahassee. I had to come down all of a sudden because my aunt died last Saturday night, in a car accident. I found out first thing Sunday morning. Which made for a weird, fragile, surreal Easter.

On the one hand, I was happy. A relatively new friend had invited me and another relatively new friend for Easter. I love spending time with both of these people. So I’d been looking forward to the party for weeks, feeling grateful for the direction my life has taken and thinking about what I could contribute. After I finally decided what to bring, I spent much of Saturday making pickled red beets and red onions, to complement the hostess’s lamb heart salad, something that sounded simultaneously brilliant and revolting. They turned out really well. Beautiful. Delicious. (I’ll write about them soon.) I was excited to share them with people. And ever since the class with Ana Forrest a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been working really hard to not fixate on how I think I should be feeling and instead just feel whatever is actually going on without judgment. So, on Sunday, I couldn’t just stop the happy feelings in their tracks.

On the other hand, I was in shock and, at times, overcome with sadness. My Aunt Alice, who married my mom’s brother, was a stay-at-home mom with two boys. Our two families grew up next door to each other. While I haven’t seen her much in recent years, she was a huge part of my life and someone whose presence I foolishly took for granted. She has always been there, a constant for my entire memory. And while I’m sure she sometimes wished I would not come over quite so often, I think m y aunt, who I adored, also loved having a niece who was almost like a part-time daughter.

All of this combined for a weird Easter Sunday. While I waited for it to be time to go to the party, I made a cake. This cake. honey ginger cakeIt’s a honey spice cake without gluten and refined sugar. Again, I’ll post sometime soon with the recipe. For now, it’s enough to say that I couldn’t have planned a more perfect way to spend that time. It was perfect because Aunt Alice was the one who taught me to bake, letting my cousin and I break eggs, showing us how to measure flour, separate the whites and yolks, and do all the things one does to transform individual ingredients into cooked food starting when we had to stand on stools in order to reach the counter.

Originally, that’s what I meant to write about. About the cake and about Aunt Alice teaching me to bake and about loss and life and grief and a million things. Hoping to articulate this as well as some of the ways in which my life has changed in the last year. But there wasn’t time to try. I had to go to the party. Then it was Monday. I had to work. Cope with the reality of my aunt’s death. Find an affordable plane ticket. Come to Tallahassee. Attend the funeral. See my cousin and the rest of my family. Grieve.

Now I’m here in my hometown, surrounded by my family and immersed in this nature that is so much a part of who I am. I’m breathing in the humid Florida air. Listening to the crazy loud insect symphony. Feeling the reality of all these feelings. Without analysis or cataloging. Just feeling. Somehow finding that there isn’t so much to write about. Instead I’m busy trying to live well. Spending time with people I love.  Doing my best to be grateful for every minute. And trusting that here will be time to write more later. For now, namaste.