Monday, November 1, 2010

Food to Comfort the Grieving

When I was 20, my oldest brother died in a car accident. It rocked our family to the core, and my sisters, younger brother and I together watched our grieving parents and wondered how we could possibly help them in their sorrow. We couldn’t begin to focus on our own loss as we helped to plan the funeral mass, and began the sad task of letting our extended family and friends know what had happened.

My forever friend Mary, who I have known since first grade, came over to console me. She brought me a bag of salted cashews, one of our favorite foods. I was so touched that she would come over to offer her sympathy and dry shoulder to me, and I remember how heartwarming those first salty cashews tasted once I was reminded by my friend to eat.

Mary was the first of many friends and neighbors to start arriving with food gifts--comforting, sustaining foods to feed our family and help us through our grief. It was such a lovely gift of community, sympathy and sustenance as we made it through the sad and painful rituals that follow death. Warm, bubbling casseroles, frosty delicious cakes and plates of hearty, comforting food, both savory and sweet, graced our tables and helped to feed the family and friends who passed through our home that week. These gifts of kindness and sympathy were a wonderful comfort to all of us, and I promised myself then that when I knew people close to me were grieving, I would start bringing out comfort food recipes of my own.

Two weeks ago, a dear friend from childhood was in town from L.A., and he was coming to dinner at our house with a group of friends. I haven’t seen my friend Terry in a few years, and was excitedly planning the menu for our evening together. On the morning of our dinner, he got a call that is father was very ill, and he needed to go back to our hometown of Grove City, Ohio. His father passed away that day, and Terry began his grieving rituals. I was happy to know that so many friends from our childhood were sending Terry their thoughts and prayers, and I started thinking about what I could do to offer support.

It got me thinking about the comfort foods I have had in times of grief, and the dishes that I make for friends and family as they go through the grieving process. From shepherd’s pie and boeuf bourgignon to pound cake and brownies, there are a host of foods that sustain and comfort in tough times. I am offering a couple of mine below—and sending Terry the chocolatey brownies for when he needs to finally sit down and have that big cry that he’s been holding in while keeping everyone else together.


4 squares unsweetened chocolate

3/4 cup butter or margarine

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup flour

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans (optional)

Heat oven to 350°F. Line 13x9-inch pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides. Spray foil with cooking spray.

Microwave chocolate and butter in large microwaveable bowl on high 2 min. or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sugar. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add flour and nuts; mix well. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake 25-30 min. or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudgy crumbs. (Do not overbake.) Cool completely. Use foil handles to remove brownies from pan before cutting to serve.

Shepherd’s Pie

1 lb ground beef and 1 lb ground veal

1 onion chopped

1 cup chopped carrots, I cup (frozen) peas

1 1/2 - 2 lbs potatoes 5-6 medium/large potatoes

8 tablespoons butter (1 stick)

1/2 cup beef broth

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Salt, pepper, other seasonings of choice

Peel and quarter potatoes, boil in salted water until tender (about 20 minutes). While the potatoes are cooking, melt 4 Tablespoons butter (1/2 a stick) in large frying pan.

Sauté onions in butter until tender over medium heat (10 mins). If you are adding vegetables, add them according to cooking time. Put any carrots in with the onions. Add peas either at the end of the cooking of the onions, or after the meat has initially cooked.

Add ground beef and sauté until no longer pink. Add salt and pepper. Add worcesterchire sauce. Add half a cup of beef broth and cook, uncovered, over low heat for 10 minutes, adding more beef broth as necessary to keep moist.

Mash potatoes in bowl with remainder of butter, season to taste.

Place beef and onions in baking dish. Distribute mashed potatoes on top. Rough up with a fork so that there are peaks that will brown nicely.

Bake at 400 degrees until bubbling and brown (about 30 minutes). Broil for last few minutes if necessary to brown the top of the potatoes.

1 comment:

  1. The ultimate comfort foods - chocolate and mashed potatoes. Can you guess how much of both I have eaten over the last 3 months? You are an amazingly articulate and soulful person and it is no surprise that your compassion comes through in your cooking. Blessings,