Posts filed under Recipes + Rituals

RITUAL: MAKING MUSIC -- For The Living And The Dead

For the Yoruba in Nigeria, funerals are week-long affairs, intended as a celebratory send- off as the deceased transition from one form of existence to another. The fourth day is a “day of play” called Irenoku, meaning literally “playing on the deceased’s behalf,” and is preceded and followed by various other forms of celebration, from feasting to dancing. That tradition is one of several influences behind the “jazz funerals” of New Orleans, a city made famous in part by its inhabitants’ unparalleled ability to throw a good party. A typical jazz funeral begins with a march by family, friends, and a brass band, and typically starts with a somber tone. Once the burial is complete and final goodbyes are said, however, the music hits a different note. Hymns are replaced with upbeat tunes and popular hits, and participants are invited to dance their hearts out, in an act that’s part-cathartic and part-chance to celebrate the life of the deceased.

When was the last time you lost yourself to music?

Kevin's Story

I’ve been playing music since I was a little kid. I started singing into a turkey baster when I could barely walk, and then moved to the piano at around seven years old. Music has been with me ever since, and has culminated in the completion of my first EP. Every song, guitar string, and saxophone blow has been as result of my mom’s dedication.

My mom wasn’t exactly a musical connoisseur, and I barely remember her ever introducing me to good music, but that didn’t stop her from encouraging me to pursue my passion. She bought
me my first piano and saxophone, and made sure I stuck with my practice. At every recital, audition, and performance, she was right in front doing what moms do— embarrassing me mostly, but cheering me on nonetheless.

When my mom met my stepdad, he jumped on the Kevin music wagon just as intensely as my mother did. So many great nights were spent at home, me strumming on my guitar and my stepdad clogging away. He was Irish after all, and I guess the music spoke to him, even if I was playing rock music and not an Irish jingle.

When I lost my mom and stepdad in a plane crash, I immediately flew back to North Carolina. I brought a quickly packed bag, and a slowly packed guitar case. I knew all I needed were the clothes on my back and my six-string. I wrote a song the day before their memorial service, played it before a huge crowd of friends and family, and recorded it for my EP. It’s called “Denny’s Song,” and you can listen to it on my website, kevindanielmiller.com. When I need to remind myself how proud my parents were of me, or just feel that connection to their spirit, I pick up my guitar, and start singing.

RECIPE: Eggplant Creole 

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Posted on April 1, 2015 and filed under Rituals, Recipes + Rituals, Recipes.

RITUAL: NOURISHING — Because We Are What We Eat

We are what we eat, so the saying goes. It’s no secret that how we feel often determines what we eat. What’s less known is that what we eat determines what we feel — and we’re not just talking about stomach aches and hangovers. When experiencing loss, our brains often produce more CRH, a hormone that produces anxiety-like symptoms. Increased stress stimulates the central nervous system, which can affect everything from our breathing to our sleep patterns. Our digestion, metabolism, circulation and respiration change. Our ability to concentrate and pay attention decreases. We’re left awash in casseroles and baked goods, yet lack the appetite and energy required to pick up a fork.

Fortunately, there are certain foods that feed both mind and body, and can help to combat feelings of anxiety, fatigue, irritability, and even depression. With the help of our friends at Peace Meals, we’ve pulled together a few tips on finding foods that are chock-full of the kind of vitamins you need to add a spring to your step.

And don’t forget: nourishing ourselves is not just about what you eat, but whom you eat it with, and the care that went into making it. 

So just as you’d pair the right fish with the right wine (see Wine Pairings), try pairing foods according to your mood. Go ahead: Eat, drink, and make thyself merry.

Anxious?
Have a glass of milk, or a fistful of kale. Calcium, the common ingredient in both, acts as a natural tranquilizer. Indeed, calcium deficiencies are common among people who are highly stressed. Supplement that with B vitamins, which help to maintain a healthy nervous system. Pay particular
heed to B1 (Thiamine), found in asparagus, spinach, green peas, and brussels sprouts, B5 (Pantothenic acid, known as the most potent anti- stress vitamin), found in mushrooms, cauliflower, sunflower seeds, and broccoli, and B6, found in leafy greens, tuna, bananas, poultry, and liver.

Fatigued?
Constant tiredness can come with poor memory, difficulty concentrating, muscle aches, and loss of appetite, to name but a few symptoms. Try adding more iron to your diet, which combats anemia. You can find it in animal proteins, like red meats, oysters, clams, and poultry, as well as quinoa, dried figs, prunes, chard, spinach, thyme, and turmeric. Also recommended: lean proteins, found in lentils, nuts, red meats, fish, and beans, & Vitamin C, which is necessary for iron absorption, and may increase energy as well. Swig a glass of OJ, and take a bite (or several) of broccoli, bell peppers, kale, strawberries and raspberries, citrus fruits, mustard and turnip greens, fennel, or parsley. And there’s more: choline, an amino acid which increases acetylcholine in the body—which in turn strengthens brain cells—can be found in egg yolks, soybeans, peanuts, potatoes, cauliflower, flax seeds, lentils, and oats. Lecithin, found in liver, kidneys, egg yolks, and soy, is known to promote energy and enhance immunity, and malic acid, found in pineapples, apples, cherries, lemons, and raspberries, can aid energy production in cells, including muscle cells. It’s also key for sugar metabolism. Last but not least, Vitamin B12 (found in red meats, sardines, snapper, and almonds) is a natural energy booster: pair it with B6, which helps its absorption.

Depressed?
While eating the right foods alone won’t cure clinical depression, they can help to lift one’s mood. Essential fatty acids—including the Omega-3s found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and nuts, and the alpha- linolenic acid found in dark green leafy vegetables, walnuts, soybean oil, canola oil, and flaxseeds—affect the transmission of nerve impulses needed for normal brain function. Tryptophan is an amino acid which helps synthesize serotonin, a “feel- good” neurochemical shown to reduce anxiety and depression. You’ll find it in turkey, red meat, dairy products, nuts, seeds, bananas, soy products, tuna, and shellfish. Proteins found in beans, fish, beef, poultry, dairy and soy products contain tyrosine, another amino acid, which stimulates dopamine and norepinephrine. Both may boost energy and mental clarity. Folate
and folic acid aid in red blood cell development and circulation, as well as normal neurological function, and may help to prevent depression and irritability. Score it via egg yolks, legumes, lentils, dark green veggies, asparagus, parsley, cauliflower, and beets. Finally, take yourself out for
a stroll: the Vitamin D in sunlight helps in the absorption of calcium and stimulates the production
of cortisol, which can increase energy levels. And there are those B Vitamins again. (Things to avoid: gluten, which has been linked to depressive disorders in those who don’t tolerate the protein, aspartame, which may block the formation of serotonin, refined sugars, alcohol, and caffeine.)

Irritable?
Chances are you could use more calcium and magnesium, which helps with calcium absorption. Magnesium can be found in leafy greens (especially swiss chard, spinach, mustard, kale, dandelion, arugula, & collards), summer squash, broccoli, black-eyed peas, kidney & lima beans, avocado, bananas, peanuts, and almonds. Potassium is a good one, as it’s essential for proper functioning of adrenal glands and muscles: find it in fennel, kale, mustard greens, brussels sprouts, broccoli, winter squash, eggplant, cantaloupe, and tomatoes. And as with depression, tryptophan and folate/folic acid, aren’t a bad idea.

How are you feeding yourself?

RITUAL: WHEN GRIEF GETS PHYSICAL: Eat for the Mood You Want (Jill's Story)

RECIPE: Magic Mineral Broth & Carrot Ginger Soup 

 

Posted on April 1, 2015 and filed under Recipes, Recipes + Rituals, Rituals.

RECIPE: French Toast

My most memorable recipe is my dad’s French Toast. Simply eggs, milk, and a little cinnamon all mixed up and then whatever bread is around. The ratios are variable, and the most important thing is maple syrup at the end.

- Peter, New York 

Ingredients: 

  • Eggs
  • Milk 
  • Cinnamon 
  • Bread 
  • Maple syrup

Instructions: 

  1. Whisk together the eggs, milk, and cinnamon. 
  2. Dip each slice of bread into the mixture, and give it a few seconds to really soak it in. 
  3. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium high heat, and fry until nice and brown. Flip it, and do the same on the other side. 
  4. Serve hot with (ample) maple syrup.

RITUAL: PLANTING NEW SEEDS -- Before We Can Bloom Again

Posted on April 1, 2015 and filed under Recipes, Recipes + Rituals, Rituals.

RECIPE: Cá kho tộ (Vietnamese Braised Catfish)

There were no cookbooks in our house growing up, and my mom never consulted a recipe to make her meals of Chinese, Vietnamese, and American-inspired dishes. My mom passed before I became interested in cooking, so I never got to apprentice alongside her in the kitchen. 

What she did pass along was the ritual of home-cooked family dinners every single weeknight.
Watercress soup, braised pork belly with egg, kai-lan with oyster sauce...all served family-style with a big pot full of steamed rice. There was nothing better than the slurry of cooked egg yolk and salty-sweet caramel sauce from the braised pork belly.

When I’m homesick, I make this catfish version to satiate the craving. It’s traditionally made in a claypot but works just as well without.

- Christina, San Francisco

Ingredients: 

Coat and marinate 6–8 one-inch catfish steaks in the following for a half hour or more:

  • 1 tbsp chopped green onion (white part only) 
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp chopped ginger
  • 3–4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 1⁄2 tbsp of sugar
  • 1 tsp chili peppers, chopped (optional) 
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions: 

  1. Make a caramel sauce by reducing about 2 tbsp of sugar or brown sugar in 1⁄4 cup of water at a rolling simmer, stirring until dark brown. Set aside.
  2. Heat a few glugs of cooking oil on high heat in a large thick-bottomed pan. Add the fish in one layer and brown on both sides (the centers will still be uncooked). 
  3. Add in the rest of the marinade liquid and the caramel sauce. Once that boils, reduce heat to low, cover with a lid, and simmer for 30–40 minutes. The dish is done when the sauce is thickened, and the fish steaks are a rich brown color.
  4. Toss in some more chopped green onions and whole red chili peppers toward the end of cooking for garnish. 
  5. Serve family-style with steamed jasmine rice, a seasonal vegetable stir-fried with garlic, and a brothy soup of your choice.

RITUAL: READING ALONG -- When Their Story Is Your Story

This piece appears in Finding What Feeds Us: Rituals & Recipes for Living Well After Loss

RITUAL: READING ALONG -- When Their Story Is Your Story

"We tell ourselves stories in order to live." — Joan Didion

The Greeks were definitely on to something. The idea of catharsis — of releasing feelings by watching someone else going through the motions of our emotions — is a powerful force, and can be your best friend in the periods following a major loss. Our culture is one where grief is “dealt with” in private (if at all), and saying we’re “hanging in there” is more accepted than really letting ourselves go. By experiencing the stories of others, whether watching a film in a sold out movie theater or curling up with an old paperback in bed, we have the chance to try out different ways of moving through loss. We have a chance to feel similar and seen, not alone in the deep worry, relief, fear, hope and pain that can come with loss. We can be a character’s companion to the depths of despair, and together find our way through the darkness. We witness what seemed to work for our heroes and heroines, and what didn’t—and can take those lessons back to our own life path.

Thankfully, “grief memoirs” are being penned by today’s most celebrated authors, and films with powerful stories of loss and triumph are waiting to be streamed online. And remember, only one half of the iconic drama mask is crying. Straight-up laughter is powerful medicine, too. So maybe the greatest catharsis will come not from reliving the difficult moments of loss, but from a snack-stocked marathon of your favorite comedies. Happy reading, watching and moving forward.

Here’s our recommended reading list—crowdsourced from Dinner Partiers across the country:

  1. Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed
  2. The Long Goodbye, Meghan O’Rourke
  3. The Rules of Inheritance, Claire Bidwell Smith 
  4. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
  5. A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis
  6. Grieving Mindfully, Sumeet Kumar
  7. Broken Open, Elizabeth Lesser
  8. Motherless Daughters, Hope Edelman
  9. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers 
  10. I Wasn't Ready To Say Goodbye, Pamela Blair
  11. We Bed Down Into Water, John Rybicki
  12. Your Illustrated Guide to Being One With the Universe, Yumi Sakugawa
  13. Collected works of Flannery O'Connor
  14. Let This Darkness Be a Belltower, R.M. Rilke
  15. Lucia Series, E.F. Benson
  16. Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling
  17. The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
  18. Daring Greatly, Brené Brown
  19. When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chödrön
  20. Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach

Which stories are finding you?

Christina's Story

Books have been my drug of choice since the summer after second grade when I got my first library card and my first pair of glasses. Reading is entertainment and escape, adventure and anesthesia, research and reflection.

Cheryl Strayed, Rebecca Solnit, Alison Bechdel, Elizabeth McCracken—these were my guides through grief precisely because they weren’t trying to be guides. These weren’t self-help or how-to books; instead they were personal explorations of loss. Here I found memoirs that captured the gamut of emotions from cold shock to numbing sadness to unwieldy rage to unbounded joy. In these books, tears lived alongside laughter... and in each story I found something that mirrored my own experience.

These women’s honesty gave me the courage to pick up my own pen again. For me, the only way to get past the surreal nature of losing both my parents was to transform it into a story...my story. Writing is my way of reclaiming control of the messy process that is grief. Through crafting stories out of words and pictures, I’m able to process my emotions and understand them just little bit better. I’m able to remember and honor the memory of my parents. And I’m able to fuel my own healing process by shining a light onto all of it.

RECIPE: Cá Kho Tộ (Vietnamese Braised Catfish)

Posted on December 18, 2014 and filed under Rituals, Recipes + Rituals, Recipes.

RECIPE: Marian's Apple Pie

My mother made this apple pie for every birthday and other special occasions, because we loved it so much. It became a tradition that everyone in the family always looked forward to. The secret ingredient that makes this pie so delicious is the custard layer between the crust and the apples. It creates the perfect texture. After she passed away, my father continued to make this apple pie for special occasions. But in his cookbook, it’s listed as Marian’s apple pie.

- Jan, San Francisco

mariansapplepie

Ingredients: 

  • 4 1/2 pounds Jonagold apples
  • 3 3/4 cup self-rising flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 sticks salted butter (250g) (at room temperature)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup unsalted bread crumbs
  • 1 tbsp custard powder
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  • 3 tbsp cinnamon sugar (cinnamon mixed with sugar)

Instructions: 

  1. Warm the oven to 350 degrees F. 
  2. Peel and cut the apples into small pieces and mix with the raisins and cinnamon sugar. Let them sit in a strainer to let any juice drip out the bottom. 
  3. Mix the flour, butter , sugar, vanilla, salt, and eggs to make a dough for the crust. Grease your 11-in pie pan, and spread the dough into the pan. Leave some dough for making strips on top. 
  4. Mix the bread crumbs and custard powder, and spread this onto the crust. Then add the apple mixture on top, and place strips of dough top of that. Put the apple pie in the oven uncovered fro 45 minutes. Cover with aluminum foil and cook for another 60 minutes.
  5. Serve with whipped cream and enjoy!
Posted on July 22, 2014 and filed under Recipes, Recipes + Rituals.

RITUAL: When Great Trees Fall

When Great Trees Fall 

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.

-- Maya Angelou 

Posted on May 28, 2014 and filed under Rituals, Recipes + Rituals.

RECIPE: Cambodian Curry

Each Cambodian cook has his/her own favorite kroeung, or curry paste, recipe. Some prefer more lemongrass, others a bit more turmeric. Some like their kroeung on the spicy side, while others forego the runny nose and sweat inducing chiles. Regardless of the variation of ingredients, the kroeung is always prepared in the same way, by throwing everything into a mortar and pestle and pounding away until sweat droplets begin to form along your brow in the Cambodian heat. This was the first Khmer dish I learned to prepare while living in Cambodia and quickly became one of my favorites. I treasured my morning adventures to the markets to purchase the fragrant roots and herbs needed and watched with eager anticipation as they came together into a colorful paste after being thoroughly smashed with the wooden pestle. 

This kroeung can be used in a simple vegetable or chicken curry, as shown below, or in the more elaborate fish amok. Regardless of the way in which the kroeung is used, the final dish must always be served with plenty of rice.

-- Katie, Chapel Hill 

  An instant hit at our most recent Dinner Party in Chapel Hill. 

An instant hit at our most recent Dinner Party in Chapel Hill. 

Ingredients: 

  • 400 mL can of coconut milk (none of that light junk!)
  • 300 mL of chicken broth
  • 1 Tbs fish sauce (again, weird smell but completely necessary)
  • 1 Tbs brown sugar (bonus points if you use palm sugar!)
  • 3 Tbs kroeung
  • Extra chiles if you want em 
  • Lots of veggies (Japanese eggplant, bell pepper, green beans, sweet potatoes, whatever your heart desires!)
  • Some meat, fish or tofu cut into bite-sized chunks, if ya like
  • Olive or coconut oil

Instructions:

  1. Heat oil in wok or big skillet. Add the kroeung, fish sauce and sugar, and cook for a few minutes until it starts to darken. 
  2. Add the coconut milk and broth, then throw in the harder veggies that will take longer to cook (sweet potatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, onions, etc) and meat/fish/tofu. Simmer for about 15 minutes or so. When it's about 5 minutes from being done, throw in the quicker veggies (green beans, etc). Simmer til everything is cooked through and the green beans are tender but crunchy. 
  3. Taste the sauce and check the seasoning - you might want more sugar, chili or fish sauce. 
  4. Serve over your favorite rice and munch away :) 
Posted on April 17, 2014 and filed under Recipes, Recipes + Rituals.

RECIPE: Creamy Corn & Red Pepper Chowder

For my birthday a few years ago, my brother gave me a bound book of all of my mom's old recipes, pulled from old index cards and newspaper cut-outs. I remember very few of them, and we're pretty sure she never made the vast majority. But the present ranks high on my list of all-time greatest gifts received, and I'm only too happy to carry on her experiments. This recipe is one she got from my stepdad's brother and sister-in-law, and it works well served warm or cold, depending on the season. -- Lennon 

Ingredients: 

  • 3 tbsp butter or oil
  • 2 red peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin 
  • 4 cups corn kernels (fresh or frozen and thawed)
  • 2 cups milk 
  • 2.5 cups chicken broth
  • 6 small red potatoes, diced
  • 1 cup grated cheddar 
  • 1/2 cup cilantro and/or chives for garnish 
  • Salt & pepper

Instructions: 

  1. Heat butter in large pot. Cook peppers and scallions until soft. Stir in cumin. 
  2. In blender, process corn with milk until fairly smooth. Add pepper mixture and pulse brief. 
  3. Transfer to pot and mix in broth. Bring to a boil. Add potatoes and simmer about 10 minutes until tender. 
  4. Stir in cheese, and simmer for about 3 minutes more. 
  5. Add salt and pepper and garnish, if desired. Voila! 

 

Posted on March 18, 2014 and filed under Recipes, Recipes + Rituals.