It has been a very down and up week.
My brother-in-law, Jeremy, lost his dad, Terence Griffen, to cancer last Friday after a pretty lengthy battle. Before going over to the funeral home for calling hours, I had some explaining to do with my kids because they had never been to a wake, let alone an open casket wake, before.
I pulled my eldest, Liam, aside to tell him about what he would find at the funeral home and gauge his reaction before telling his younger brothers. "OK, Liam. You know Uncle Jeremy's dad passed away on Friday," I said. "Well, when people die, often their families hold get-togethers to celebrate the life of the person who passed. We call those wakes. Sometimes at wakes, they have the body lying in an open casket in the room so that people can see them one last time and say goodbye. This is going to be an open casket wake."
At this point I paused and could see his wheels turning. I asked what he thought about the idea. He replied, "It's the dead body, right? But the soul isn't there any more is it?" I nodded. He continued, "So the body is just like a shell, right?"
Again I nodded. Liam didn't say anything for a few seconds. He stroked his smooth chin and looked me right in the eyes. In a moment where I simultaneously saw the child he is and man he will be, he blew me away when he said, "OK. I understand. When the soul gets too big for the body it molts. The shell is left behind and the soul goes to be with God. That's all right then. His soul was just too big to stay. I'll go to the wake."
And life continues on ...
By the time this column is printed, I'll be reading it online from my new home in Amish country. We are getting ready to move, and it is one huge project. We are looking forward to being resettled so much, but we've been here for more 10 years. It is astonishing how much stuff we have crammed into this little house and barn over time.
What is more astonishing is how many boxes I'm filling with foodstuffs. So now I'm playing a game. I call it the "How-much-of-this-stuff-can-I-use-up" game. Last night was an extremely successful round. I made cold soba noodles with peanut sauce and chicken and a sour cherry clafoutis.
Cold Soba Salad with Peanut Sauce and Chicken
1 lb. soba noodles, prepared according to package instructions, drained and rinsed with cold water
3/4 c. peanut butter, smooth or chunky
3/4 c. hot water
1/4 c. soy sauce
2-3 t. dark toasted sesame oil
1/4-1 t. crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
2 c. shredded or chopped leftover chicken (can substitute cooked beef or pork if you have it!)
1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
1/4 c. sliced green onions
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into thin 2-inch strips
In a large mixing bowl, combine peanut butter, hot water, soy sauce, sesame oil and pepper flakes. Whisk until smooth. Add noodles and chicken and toss to coat. Sprinkle the green onions, then the red bell pepper strips and cilantro over the top. Cover and chill until serving, at least 10 minutes.
When I was an exchange student in France, my host mother made clafoutis twice weekly. It is still one of my all-time favorite desserts. It's simple, elegant and inexpensive to make. If you don't have jarred cherries, you can substitute canned or fresh blueberries or peaches.
Sour Cherry Clafoutis
1 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. flour
11/2 c. milk
1 jar sour cherries plus 1 T. of the liquid in which they're packed.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan or a large tart pan. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar. (Note: If using fresh berries or fruits, toss the fruits with 1/2 c. of the sugar and whisk the remaining sugar in with the eggs. Add 1 T. of brandy or rum to the batter in place of the fruit liquid.) Proceed with rest of recipe as instructed. Add the vanilla extract and cherry liquid to the egg mixture. Stir in flour. Whisk in the milk to form a smooth batter. Evenly spread the cherries in the ovenproof dish. Pour the batter over the cherries and place on a large baking sheet. Place in the oven. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the cake is sponge like. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before serving. Sprinkle generously with confectioner's sugar and serve the clafoutis warm.
It has been a very down and up week.
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