Food to help you grieve
On the day our best friend Cheryl died at her home after a heroic bout with breast cancer, my wife and I drove to her home to comfort her husband and family. We needed our own closure, to process what had happened and question why it happened, especially to someone so special as her. It was only a five-minute drive and her husband met us on the porch.
We hugged and cried, letting emotions carry us, leaving words behind, a release for an ending we all knew was going to happen long before it did.
Soon more family and friends arrived at the house. I didnʼt know what to do, what words to say, how to apply the comfort everyone needed, not really thinking that we needed it ourselves – So I cooked.
It seemed right that I prepare a recipe from Cheryl, and that recipe was taco soup. It wasnʼt a conscious decision that it be from her. She had emailed it to us in 2004. Now the recipe is printed on a grease-spattered piece of paper stuffed into my recipe binder.
The soup calls for an unholy number of canned beans and hominy, ranch dressing and taco seasoning, but it is simple, hearty and delicious. You take off your snooty foodie apron and put on your comfort food apron. Which is a lot like Cheryl, comfort food and family, thinking more about others than herself.
After an inventory of their pantry I took a trip to the grocery store to gather what I needed. I needed a moment to breath. We were going to struggle to figure out how to deal with her out of her lives at least in this physical world.
Once I was stationed in the kitchen, I was on familiar ground. People asked if they could help, but I turned them down, intent on my own distraction. I kept busy, moving my hands, dicing onions, opening cans, rinsing beans, browning the hamburger, trying to makes sense and trying to make the soup.
For a while it felt like a copout hiding out in the kitchen, that I wasnʼt facing what was real and going on all around me. But then someone took me aside and said thank you. They said that people have to eat and the soup was delicious. I felt more purposeful, that preparing the food was part of a mourning ritual thatʼs been going on for millennia, a weight off my shoulders and by believing that Cheryl was watching over me, knowing that cooking was what I love, doing what I must do.
1 pound lean ground beef (or ground turkey)
1 onion, chopped
1 envelope ranch dressing mix
1 envelope taco seasoning mix
1 4 oz can chopped green chilies
2 16 oz cans hominy (one white, one yellow)
2 16 oz cans pinto beans
2 16 oz cans diced tomatoes (fire roasted tomatoes would be good here)
Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
Brown beef/turkey. Drain grease. Stir in onions, dressing mix and taco seasoning. Simmer 10 minutes. Add chilies, beans, hominy and tomatoes. Heat through and simmer for 15 minutes. Add shredded cheddar cheese for garnish.
Variations on this recipe call for corn, kidney beans, black beans, chili beans, chopped black and/or green olives, a little bacon with the ground beef, or chopped red, yellow, green peppers. Try pepper jack cheese or even a dollop of sour cream instead of cheddar cheese. You can buy roasted tomatoes that have the green chilies in them, but I donʼt think thereʼs enough chilies for my taste. You could crumble tortilla chips on top for garnish.