I've been with my Mom this entire month -- cooking, cleaning, taking her to her doctor for the last time, starting hospice care, creating time for her friends and family to say goodbye, making a sacred space of her home, spending time in the gardens and fields she loves, sharing early mornings and late nights with my Dad in the quiet of her exhaustion and heavy sleep. My 3 Things reflects the work of living and the work of dying I am doing right now -- with and for my Mom and my family.
1. MAKING: Ice cream
I've been wanting to make ice cream since my days in Cambridge. Back then, any afternoon or evening I wanted, I could take a leisurely stroll and end up at a fantastic, inventive spot like Toscanini's or Christina's, or ranging farther afield, Emack & Bolio's or JP Licks.
This summer it was finally time for me to get in the game. My Mom loves ice cream, too. Carpe Ice-em.
I'm unfussy about most things. I'm the guitar player who only owns two guitars, one of each kind -- an acoustic and an electric. In late June, I went to William Sonoma and bought their cheapest, lowest tech ice cream maker.
Since then I have made 11 batches of ice cream: fresh peach x 3, lobster (true), fresh mint chocolate chip x 2, banana's foster x 2, real vanilla, real vanilla chocolate chip, and fresh mint.
Ice cream is "all about that base." It's your gessoed canvas, your blank page. I've made almost every kind of ice cream base there is to make -- custard, raw egg yolk, milk and cream, buttermilk, etc. My go-to is Melissa Clark's from her comprehensive article The Master Ice Cream Recipe. Start there or stop there (if you're the kind that likes a blank page). The rest is up to you.
2. COOKING: Cheese soufflé
I'd had it. My Mom and her sisters were once again waxing rhapsodic about the cheese souffé they used to have for lunch. Why were we not having cheese soufflé NOW? Today? This summer? With a side of corn on the cob and sliced tomatoes? No one but me had an answer.
Done. Took two tries. The first was hockey puck-ish. I nailed it on the second try with the recipe from my grandmother's masking-taped, dog-eared copy of The Joy of Cooking (aka "The Joy" in our family's lexicon). The Joy's description of a soufflé is worth reading even if you never intend to make one: "The soufflé is considered the prima donna of the culinary world ..."
People hear the word soufflé and immediately think "no way." Yes way. It isn't THAT hard. Two tries is nothing. Ice cream is way harder. I dare you to use Gruyeré instead of cheddar. If you got it, flaunt it.
3. BAKING: Challah
A friend of mine bakes a loaf of challah every Friday. Her "recipe" is actually pure improvisation; she's a master. Her loaf is virtuosic. Heady and ripe, it gets stuck in your brain. I don't experience synesthesia usually, but her challah does it: when I think of it, I smell it. I swear. And when we've finished a meal and she seals the challah up in a double zip ziploc, I can still smell it from across the room. She laughs but it's true. It's the smell of a big handful of peat: wonderful, rich, and wild.
My Mom loves challah. My Mom's in hospice with a month or two left to live. Homemade ice cream in the freezer. A soufflé on the table every week. Why not a loaf of challah?
I asked for my friend's recipe and she gave me it to me. Or something like it. You can use this one; it'll do. Substitute honey for the sugar and add a little more salt than you think is wise. I go for a honey that's edgy and weird (surprise, surprise) like this heather honey with whisky.
My Mom loved my challah. She ate it that evening; she ate it the next morning. I joined her with butter and a little of the homemade concord grape jam we made last week. By noon, all that was left was the honeyed, salty-sweet memories of two nourishing meals filled with moments of awe, laughter, and love.