moving forward.

It’s been a little more than two months since I last wrote here, and for most of that time, food–and especially making it–has been so low on my priority list. When last I wrote, Hal and I were heading into the homestretch of wedding planning and my mother was very ill, though we fervently hoped she had turned a corner. Not quite two weeks later, my mother, as impossible as it still seems, passed away. This is a loss and heartbreak like I’ve never known, and it is still sinking in. And just over three weeks after that, Hal and I, with the support and encouragement of our family and friends, got married as planned on November 8th. Our wedding was such a joyful and love-filled day, and I felt my mother with me through every step. It feels unbelievable sometimes that the lowest lows and highest highs I’ve ever experienced should be so closely tied together by circumstance and timing, but here I am. A starry-eyed newlywed and a grieving daughter, working toward my new normal.

one of my all time favorite mom+me pics, taken on our front porch.

Food, as I’ve written about over and over, was such a huge part of my relationship with my mom. She taught me the lion’s share of what I know about cooking, her recipes are the ones I turn to most often, and so many of my favorite growing up memories are centered around shared meals. I keep returning in my mind to a doctors visit I joined my mom for several years ago. She was going in for a GI scan, and had to drink a lot of icky liquid beforehand. When we got there she was told that things hadn’t quite moved along as they should, and that to solve this she needed to walk and think about foods she liked to speed the process up. Silly as we felt, we dutifully headed off to walk circles through the hospital. And we had SO much fun. We talked about favorite sweets, our traditional holiday foods, the best meals from family vacations, restaurant highlights, anything and everything tasty we could think of. We walked and walked and talked and talked, and then she went back in and had a successful scan. There is so much of what I love most about my mother in this memory. That she wasn’t fussed by a longer than expected appointment, that she was game to try even the silliest sounding things, that we could find such joy in just being together in that moment.

brunching in Austin TX, april 2012.

I find myself now in such a strange place with my relationship to food. On the one hand, I’ve been so uninspired when it comes to cooking, so often uninterested in eating, and increasingly aware of the little landmines waiting for me in the kitchen. Just this weekend I opened my treasured Jenny and Jeff’s Happily Ever After Cookbook to make my mom’s pumpkin bread recipe, and had to walk away when I realized I had never asked her “which size can of pumpkin pie filling do you mean?” But. I have also had some of the best possible food moments ever lately. Hal and I threw a rehearsal dinner in our apartment with barbecue from Mighty Quinn’s, our wedding food was Crif Dogs and Butter & Scotch cupcakes, we ate our weight in guacamole daily on our Mexican honeymoon, and right after we got back to NYC we celebrated Hal’s birthday with dinner at Eleven Madison Park. And, thanks to our amazingly generous friends and family, I suddenly find myself with a kitchen full of fantastic toys (a KitchenAid! an immersion circulator! every possible baking pan!), just waiting for tasty taste experiments.

judging our hometown 4th of july parade, just this summer.

Holding these very different feelings, I am trying to find a new balance and my new normal, with space for both my heartbreaking loss and for my huge newlywed joy. So this weekend, when I realized that I was just not ready for pumpkin bread, I took some time to feel that unasked can size question, and then I scrapped the whole thing and made a surprise pumpkin pie with Oreo crust for Hal, who was thrilled. And later in the weekend I made Betty Philips chili, one of a very few dinners I’ve made in the last three difficult months, and felt comforted. Slowly but surely, I am getting back into the kitchen, and back to myself. And I am so very grateful to have this venue to help me along the way.

26 thoughts on “moving forward.

  1. Big, big plate needed for all you have to see your way through…or cook your way through. Comfort food is always a good idea. And best wishes!

  2. When Kathleen showed me the picture of you & your mom, my first reaction was why are you posing with some kid ? I always thought Julie looked like your older sister.
    Keep cookin” it’s more than therapy, and incidentally my favorite recipe is the chicken stew with pumpkin & black beans (it probably has a name).

  3. This is a beautiful article, Jess. Seconded on the resemblance between you and your mom–I had to do a quadruple take when I read that the woman in the picture wasn’t you. Thinking of you.

  4. Oh Jessica-I love you! This was a tough read~ raw and heartbreaking and hopeful. You are a powerful and brave writer. The photos you selected here are so beautiful- I never saw the Austin pic of you two- it’s wonderful! Scrolling back up it to now in hopes it’ll stem my tears~ thinking of you all every day. xoxo

  5. Now stained and dogeared, the cookbook is easily the greatest wedding gift we received. Your mom’s note explaining why the numbers are off on the table of contents always makes me smile : )

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  7. Your mother’s powerful light glows on through you. You radiate her legacy – you are loving, beautiful, sizzingly smart, witty, and full of life. We wholeheartedly support and cheer you on as you move forward. Fueled by your mother’s everlasting love and pure example, we encourage you to relish the joy of your new marriage and live on, love on, laugh on, give on, and cook on!

  8. Jess, I have been thinking and thinking about this beautiful post for weeks now. Your sweet family oozes so much warmth and brilliance to me, even though I’ve only experienced them though you. I can’t imagine how much you miss your beautiful mom, in the kitchen and well beyond. XOXOXO

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