Monday, March 8, 2010

Daily Kos' "The Grieving Room"

I'm so excited, tonight I am being featured on Daily Kos' "The Grieving Room." Go to to see the post live and make a comment.
If you cannot make it on tonight, here is what a copy of the blog:

As a kid, I used to love to watch my mom cook. I would bring my homework into the kitchen and work on my multiplication tables while watching her effortlessly chop vegetables, beat eggs, and scribble notes on scratch paper. Occasionally she’d ask for my help in a small task (adding a teaspoon of salt, or stirring in a cup of cream) and I would burst with excitement, thrilled to contribute to our family dinner. As I grew up, I became my mother’s sous chef, helping to create the menu, shop for groceries and assemble the dishes, all under the watchful eye of my mother. At an early age I discovered the joy of cooking, and learned to delight in feeding friends and family. Truthfully, I can credit my mother with every last bit of my cooking and hospitality knowledge.

While I helped my mom prepare dinner almost every night of the week, Sundays were my favorite. Every Sunday night she would cook dinner for up to 50 of our friends and family, who would gather around our large dining room table, filling our home with love and laughter. With the help of these beloved family and friends, my mother, Renée Israel, created two cookbooks, both entitled Whip Me, Beat Me, Eat Me, which were collections of favorite recipes, including many of her Sunday night staples.

In addition to her culinary skills, my mother was many other things: a loving mom, a devoted wife, a friend to everyone she met and a joy to be around. In short, she was my best friend, my hero.

Then in 2001, when I was a freshman in college, my mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer.

I left school, moving home to help my mother and quickly becoming her right hand. I slept in the hospital during visits, drove her to complete her errands. As the disease progressed, our roles flipped: I bathed my mother, dressed her, and stepped in to the kitchen to helm not only nightly family meals, but Sunday dinners as well. As I worked in the kitchen, churning out spinach pie and lasagna, my mom sat in her bed, instructing me and answering questions through the phone. Even at the end of her life, when she couldn’t leave her room to join the meal, just knowing that our home was full of love filled her with peace.

In January 2006, my mother lost her long hard fought battle with breast cancer.

While the day of her death was the single hardest day of my life, I’ve found that my grief has been a constantly evolving journey. Even now, four years later, in addition to missing her so much I can hardly breathe at times, I’m confronted with her absence on a daily basis. What does it mean not to have a mother in your life? Who helps plan your wedding? Who answers questions about raising kids? Who do you call for a cooking question, or when you’re having a dilemma, or when you just need to hear the right words? All of those questions continue to stump me.

There’s no emotion that rivals the intensity of grieving a loved one. It’s unfathomably depressing, and ebbs and flows from getting easier to being harder to handle, depending on the day. After losing my mother, I had to find a purpose, and a healthy way to handle my overwhelming grief. One day, craving her spaghetti, I pulled out her recipe box and began to cook. Instantly, I found the comforting smells, the familiar tastes and the almost routine movements intensely comforting, and I felt powerfully connected to her, as memories flooded my mind. I began to turn to cooking as a way to connect to my mother—and it’s not just me. Her recipes bring our family together, too. My sisters and I love to sit around the kitchen, eating our favorite foods and sharing our favorite memories—complete with tears of laughter, joy and sadness. My mother would have loved that.

In honor of my mother, and everyone who has lost someone near and dear to their heart, I am working on a cookbook of my own. Entitled A Blending of Bittersweet Memories, the book will focus on recipes that go hand in hand with a memory of a lost loved one. As grief is an emotion that unites us all, I’m asking people around the globe to send in their favorite recipes along with their “bittersweet memories.” My goal is a cookbook that preserves not only family recipes but remembers our departed loved ones indefinitely.

Please go to to share your favorite memories and recipes!

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