Tear Soup

My mother’s Yahrzeit begins tomorrow evening.

I’ve never observed a Yahrzeit.

Until this year, I also never participated in the Yizkor service. Yizkor is a memorial service with many different customs. Growing up, in my synagogue, it was customary for all those with living parents to leave the sanctuary during the service. There are many different schools of thought as to why. Some also say that you should not attend a Yizkor service within the first year of mourning because it’s too emotional when everything is so recent.

I can confirm that part is indeed true. It is extemely emotional to sit in a service dedicated to remembering your loved ones when you have just lost one of the people you loved most in the world. I bawled (and I’m talking uncontrolled sobbing, tears streaming down my face sobbing) during the Rabbi’s Yizkor sermon. Never before have I cried so much during a service. Never before have I felt like the Rabbi was speaking to me, like he could read my mind, until I listened to his sermon during Yizkor.

I was so moved by the sermon, that I emailed to tell him and to ask if he would be willing to share a copy with me.

I’d like to share the sermon with you here. The following is the sermon as read by Rabbi Scott Rosenberg at Har Zion Temple, Yom Kippur 5778.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah! I hope everyone is finding meaning in this most sacred day.

In a few moments we are going recite Yizkor, the memorial prayer. We will take our Yizkor books in hand, turn the pages, recite the words and review many of the names that this sacred community recalls this holiest day of the year. This hour is dedicated to memory, it is a time filled with emotions and it is a time filled with questions.

The Yizkor service opens with a powerful question: Adonai Ma adam vataydaehu, Adonai, what are human beings that you take account of them, mortals that you care for them? Humans are like a breath, their days like a passing shadow. We know our time on this earth is limited and we know the feelings of sadness and grief that are associated with loss. Today, we come together as a community of understanding, surrounding ourselves with others who have walked the path of loss. We are here to support each other. We are here to ponder life and its meaning. So today, as we prepare to recite Yizkor, I want to ask us a very real and difficult question, it’s a painful question: “How many times in your life have you really grieved?”

I know that relatives and friends have died and you have felt sad, or angry, or confused. But for many, if not most, it didn’t take long, a few days, or at most a week, and you were back to almost normal, absorbed in living your life. You might not have admitted it to anyone, even yourself, but you coped, you went on, you were ok.

Over the years, I have talked with a lot of people about the difference between sadness and real grief.

Here is what I call real grief: even years later, you find yourself staring at the wall or out the window and you don’t even know where you are or what you’re doing. This is deep, wrenching grief. You’re crying and you don’t even know it. You look at photographs with a lump in your throat. Years after their deaths, you look at everyone sitting at the Pesach Seder and all you want in the world is for that loved one to be there, just for one night, even if it means they’d criticize the brisket.

Maybe you’ve never had that kind of mourning, and if not, you’ve been lucky.

But if even one time in your life you were destroyed by a person’s death, I want to share a story with you. It’s not my story. It’s a story that was recommended to me by a friend who had suffered real grief.

It’s actually a children’s book called Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen. Here is the story.

Once, there was an old, wise woman named Grandy. Grandy, had just suffered a big loss in her life so she decided to make tear soup from scratch. For many years, the custom of making tear soup had been forgotten. People found that it was easier to just take a can from the shelf and heat it up.

Grandy decided that this approach was not for her so she went home and pulled out a big pot, big enough for all of the memories, all the misgivings, all the feelings and all the tears she needed to stew in the pot over time. You see, grief takes longer to cook than anyone thinks it will.

She put on her apron because she knew it would get messy. Grief is never clean. People feel misunderstood, feelings get hurt and wrong assumptions are made all the time.

And then Grandy started to cry. She sobbed. She wept quietly, and sometimes, when she was alone in her car or in a place where no one else could hear her, she wailed. She needed to make the tear soup by herself. People have a hard time seeing tears.

But when she tasted a sip of the broth, all she could taste was salt from her teardrops. It tasted bitter. Some of the memories she stirred in were bad and sad, but some of them were good or even silly.

Over time, she stirred in many different memories. But then she ran out of things to add. And in a way this was worse. She felt cold and empty; the pain she was feeling was indescribable.

What was strange to her was that when she looked out the window, she was surprised to see how the rest of the world was going on as usual while her world had stopped.

Grandy had friends who meant well, they filled the air with words, but none of their words took the smell of tear soup away. Grandy was gracious because she knew how her friends felt. They wanted to help, but they couldn’t.

Sometimes she would ask people, “Care to join me in a bowl of tear soup?” But most would reply “ I don’t have time for tear soup today.” Even some of her good friends who passed her house and smelled the aroma of tear soup, just kept going hurriedly past her door.

A few people could have a cup of tear soup, and even fewer of her friends could join her in a whole bowl.

There was one friend name Midge who admitted that she didn’t know what to say but seemed to understand why Grandy had made such a big pot of soup. Grandy said to her:

“I feel like I’m unraveling. I’m mad. I’m confused, so I can’t make any decisions. Nobody can make me feel good. I’m a mess. I just didn’t realize that it would be this hard.”

Midge said they should go for a walk. Grandy knew that exercise was good but she felt like she had concrete blocks strapped to her legs.

Grandy kept praying even though she was mad at G-d. She realized that while some people think that faith can spare you from sorrow and loneliness, she was grateful for all the emotions that G-d had given her.

People would ask her: “Is it soup yet?”

Or they would say: “It’s time to get out of the kitchen.” She knew they meant well, but they just didn’t get it.

One of the hardest moments is when you decide that it’s okay not to eat tear soup all the time.

But she also realized that you’re never really finished eating it.

That’s the story of Tear Soup.

As Jews, we cry a lot. We cry from grief, like in this book, and we cry from joy. At Yizkor, a lot of us taste tear soup.

To those of you who have been there, who can relate to the idea of tear soup, I want to offer you a two word blessing: Yasher Koach.

It is the same blessing we offer to one who has received an honor as part of our service. It means “May your strength be firm!” It carries with it the hope that this act, this part of life will give you the strength to move on to future mitzvoth, to continue to live with meaning and purpose.

Yasher koach, because somehow, despite the dreams and nightmares you had during the night, or despite the fact that you didn’t sleep all night, you get up in the morning.

Somehow, despite a grief that never goes away, you go to work or go out to lunch with friends and smile, even when they’re talking about nonsense.

Somehow, despite a pain that always, always hurts, you go on with your life.

Yasher Koach, May you be strengthened. May G-d help you to keep going.

But there is a second reason I want to say Yasher Koach and that is because you loved someone so much, so intensely, so deeply, that the person’s death wrecked you. It was real and if you are still in grief, years later, it means that you are a real human being, a human being with depth and levels and a real heart.

So here we are at Yizkor and we remember a lot of people who have passed away. But mostly, we think about the few people who we miss all the time, who we eat tear soup for, even on a fast day.

May their memories continue to inspire.

I often think about this sermon.

I give myself a little “Yasher Koach” whenever I have to find the strength to get through something. When there are times that I just have to go on with my life. To go on despite being absolutely wrecked inside.

I think about the entire story of Tear Soup. That’s me. I am the story of Tear Soup. 

It’s not a recipe I ever expected or wanted to make, but it’s one I’m sure I’ll be adjusting the flavors of for the rest of my life.

 

 

 

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Bake Sale Brownies

Buckle up, friends. This might be a long post.

It’s been a while since I’ve written here. In fact, it had been so long that my Aunt called to make sure she wasn’t missing posts on my blog. #bloggingfail.

It’s not that I didn’t want to write. I almost felt like I was running out of ways to explain how I miss my mother with every single fiber of my being. I also needed to take a tiny step back from cooking. In some ways, I find cooking extremely therapeutic. In others, it just stirs up my grief and brings it to a boiling point until it bubbles over and pours out in a steady stream of tears.

Grief isn’t linear. Sure, there are stages of grief…but just because you go through one stage, it doesn’t mean you won’t return to it later. There’s no end to this process and you don’t go through the stages and then poof, you’re done grieving.

Also, summer gets crazy. The kiddo was at camp and we had a busy schedule. We also went on a family vacation and I didn’t feel the need to blog the recipes I made (they weren’t that exciting.) Is blog a verb? It is now.

We’re in more of a routine now. Kiddo is in school. First grade. How. Did. That. Happen? This week is the first school-wide activity. Because I’m a good mom sucker, I signed up to bake two batches of brownies for the bake sale. I could have signed up for cookies or Rice Krispie treats, but I chose brownies.

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Why? Because brownies make me think about baking with my Mom.

Some of my earliest childhood cooking memories involve brownies. It’s kind of amusing because Mom wasn’t really into baking. But, I distinctly remember making multiple batches of brownies with her. She’d let me help measure the ingredients, pour them into the bowl, stir it up, pour it into the pan…and then the best part, lick the spoon.

After the brownies cooled, we always tasted a piece for “quality control” as she called it. I watched as she carefully cut them into squares.  What I was really watching for is where those prized corner pieces would end up on the platter. Those pieces were Mom’s favorite and quickly became mine too. When she realized that I loved them as much as she did, she made sure she got one, but often set aside the other three for me.

On a somewhat recent trip to a thrift store with Mom, I spotted a Baker’s Edge pan. I immediately squealed with delight because I had always been intrigued by these. A pan that promises crispy edges on ALL of the brownies? I remember telling her that I was going to use it whenever I made brownies and that we’d have to try it out, to make sure it really worked, you know, for “quality control” purposes. I never did get the chance to make brownies for her using the pan.

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I used it for the first time tonight. She would have loved it. Crispy edges on EVERY piece. Also, easy clean up. I love this pan! I wanted to call Mom and tell her how amazing this pan really is.

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When my brother and I sorted through everything in Mom’s house, we each found items – often simple items – that had special meaning for us. One of those for me was a basic brownie pan. I used that tonight too.

The kiddo helped me make the brownies just like I did with Mom (except he had no interest in licking the spoon). It was impossible not to think of Mom as we made them. The smell of brownies baking in the oven immediately makes me feel like a kid again. It’s as if I’m back in the kitchen with Mom.

That, my friends, is why I will always make the time to cook brownies for my kiddo’s bake sale at school. Would it be easier to just buy some brownies at the store or even easier…sign up to drop off juice boxes? Yes. But, if I did that, I wouldn’t have the time in the kitchen with my son. I wouldn’t be making more memories with him. I wouldn’t be remembering my own memories with Mom.

Besides, crispy edges are the best.

 

 

Lobster Dinner

Mom would have turned 64 on June 30. I’m a little delayed in writing this post, but I wrote much of this on my Facebook page on Mom’s birthday.

I was struggling to figure out a way to “celebrate” her birthday. I don’t especially feel like celebrating. I decided to spend part of my day getting a manicure and pedicure at a local salon we used to go to together when she came to visit. I actually avoided going to this salon for the first few months after she died because being there was just too painful for me. On her birthday, I chose to remember how much she liked it there. As I left the salon, I noticed how hot it was outside. Mom used to joke that her birthday was always the hottest day of June – no matter what. This year was no exception, with the heat index well above 90.  

Every year, Mom treated herself to a lobster on her birthday. Mom absolutely LOVED lobster. I decided to have a lobster dinner to celebrate. In a strange, and slightly twisted way, it seemed like the only appropriate thing to do. My brother said that he had decided to do the same. We had not discussed our plans, so the fact that he decided on a similar celebration made me feel better about my choice. 

The lobster was delicious, but every bite was bittersweet.

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I don’t remember exactly when I bought her birthday card, but I bought it very early this year. Perhaps in December when I bought my husband’s birthday card. I’ve never done that before and, of course, now I can’t give it to her. I bought it because it was so perfect. Every word is true.

 

I miss her so much.

Chicken & Watercress – Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll remember that I wrote about feeling like I was Drowning in Recipes. The truth is, not only do I have my mother’s scraps of papers to sort through, I also have my own.

Perhaps the almost compulsive need to skim through cookbooks and magazines comes from a lifetime of watching my mother do it. I remember stacks of cooking magazines around the house growing up. I remember piles of cookbooks that my mother had borrowed from the library. More recently, I remember the mountains of cookbooks in my mother’s bedroom.

Whenever I came into town to visit, I looked forward to crawling into my mom’s bed to lie down next to her. In some ways, it made me feel like I was a kid again. Except now, Mom wasn’t reading me stories…we were reading recipes together. I’d always grab a cookbook from the collection in her room and bring it into bed with me. Sometimes, if I really liked a recipe, I’d write it down on a scrap piece of paper to take home. There were a couple of times when I think Mom realized that I really liked the cookbook I was reading…those times, she told me to take the book home and keep it.

I have my own collection of cookbooks here. I also have stacks of magazine pages I’ve saved, filled with recipes that have piqued my interest in some way. As I’ve been sorting through Mom’s recipe collection, I have come to the sobering realization that she never made many of the recipes she saved. Am I destined to do the same thing? Not if I can help it.

This weekend, I decided to go through a stack of magazine pages I had squirreled away on a bookshelf. Using those as inspiration, I created a meal plan for this week.

Tonight’s dinner was adapted from a recipe I saved from the September 2012 issue of Rachael Ray Magazine.

For my version, I used ground chicken instead of ground beef (hubby is watching is cholesterol and it was on sale!). I used grated Parmesan cheese instead of the pecorino-romano because we already had some. I also substituted thinly sliced provolone for the shredded provolone because my grocery store didn’t have it.

These. Were. Delicious.

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I couldn’t get all of the filling to stay on top of the mushrooms, maybe that had something to do with me swapping out the pecorino-romano? Or, maybe I needed deeper wells in the mushrooms. What this dish might lack in presentation – it more than makes up for in flavor.

I will happily make this again.

 

 

Chicken & Watercress – Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 4 large portobello mushroom caps, gills scraped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pound ground chicken, at room temperature
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic, chopped *I used 3 -4 large cloves
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano *I used oregano
  • 1 cup packed watercress, chopped
  • 1/2- 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino-romano *I used Parmesan 
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded provolone *I used thin slices

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, brush the mushrooms with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper; situate them rounded side up. Roast until softened, 8 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan, over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken dry and add to the skillet; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, Worcestershire and oregano. Cook until the onion and garlic are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the watercress to wilt. Stir in the panko. Remove the pan from the heat; stir in the Parmesan.

Flip the mushroom caps over so they’re rounded side down and fill with the meat mixture, mounding a quarter of the chicken into each cap. Top with the provolone and return to the oven to melt the cheese, 7 to 8 minutes.

Easy Garlic Parmesan Knots

I spent most of this past weekend on my front porch. This is rare for me as I tend to avoid spending lots of time outside. Mom used to call me “bubble girl.” I sunburn easily, bugs love me, and I generally don’t like being hot.  Usually, if I told mom about a sunburn or a bug bite, she’d reply by saying, “You know you’re a bubble girl and can’t go outside!”

She would have been shocked to learn that I spent about 6 hours outside each day this weekend. I had a brief moment when I was thinking of calling to tell her what I was doing because I knew she wouldn’t believe it. When will I stop reaching for the phone to call Mom? 

The weather was practically perfect (except for some brief rain showers on Saturday morning), so I decided to have a weekend yard sale.

Mom had a huge collection of ceramics. I was with her when she purchased most of them. When I look at a mug, I don’t see the mug. I remember the day we spent walking around Collingswood. I remember standing in line at Starbucks and ordering two, Trenta black iced teas, unsweetened. I remember looking at jewelry, stained glass, artwork, tie dye shirts, and ceramics. I remember helping mom pick out the mug after we compared how the handles felt and how the glazes differed. When I look at a bowl, I remember browsing the Potters Guild shows together. That vase is from the open house at “ruffle bowl lady’s” house.

As my brother and I went through mom’s house, I told him that I’d like to try to sell the ceramics. It wasn’t really about the money. It was about finding them good homes and knowing where these prized possessions were going. He agreed to let me pack them up and bring them back home with me. I’ve been selling some over the winter – having people come browse the collection on my dining room table. Now that it’s finally nice outside, I set up outside.

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Ceramics set up for sale on the porch.

After I finished setting up, I sat on the porch and waited. It didn’t take long to notice that there was a hummingbird in the yard in front of me. I had not seen a hummingbird yet this year. If mom was up visiting, I used to show her when they’d visit my feeder. I’d also send her pictures when she was in Maryland. This one was just fluttering around the tree in front of me. Coincidence? Maybe, but it did make me smile.

At first, I didn’t get as much traffic as I had hoped. Perhaps the weather was too nice and people were out and about doing other things to enjoy it. I was a little disappointed, but then a few more people stopped by, and a few after that. It was slow, but steady both days.

While I was outside, I had my trusty assistant with me. He enjoyed playing with some toys, drawing with chalk, and just sitting next to me eating his breakfast.

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Dining al fresco.

I took some time to read through some cookbooks. I bookmarked a lot of recipes to try, but one in particular seemed so easy that I knew I just had to make it.

Garlic Parmesan Knots. Using refrigerated biscuit dough! Genius!

I made these last night and they were absolutely delicious. Again, wanted to call mom to tell her and I couldn’t. Ugg. 

It took a tremendous amount of willpower not to eat these in one sitting.

Hubby took one bite and then said “You should sell these things on the street corner!”

Enjoy!

 

Easy Garlic Parmesan Knots

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (16-ounce) tube refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (I used Flaky Layers because that’s all the store had)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking sheet or coat with nonstick spray.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together butter, Parmesan, garlic powder, oregano, parsley and salt; set aside.
  3. Halve each of the 8 biscuits, making 16 pieces. Roll each piece into a 5-inch rope, about 1/2-inch thick, and tie into a knot, tucking the ends.
  4. Place knots onto the prepared baking sheet and brush each knot with half of the butter mixture. Place into oven and bake until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes.
  5. Serve immediately, brushed with remaining butter mixture.
Adapted from the Damn Delicious Cookbook, by Chungah On.