A Recipe for Loss

"Is it just me, or is it difficult to write about celebs and food considering the shoooting?" wrote my fellow washingtonpost.com blogger Liz Kelly, in an e-mail early this morning.

She of course was referring to the mass shooting that left 33 people dead (including the gunman) on the campus of Virginia Tech yesterday.

When just one person dies at the hand of another, it is undoubtedly tragic and senseless, an unbearable loss for those who survive the departed, but nonetheless contained. With our information superhighway, we hear about someone getting killed every hour, every day, everywhere, and so we've become conditioned, almost numb to the news of a garden-variety homicide.

But something happens when we learn of multiple casualties -- be it an accident or an act of terror, war or God. Death in numbers is horrific and unfathomable, and the mourning and sense of loss goes beyond the obvious front line of survivors; it affects us all. We feel sad because what happened yesterday is an act against humanity, an act that could befall any one of us.

And so I return to Liz's initial question: Is it difficult to write about light fare when all that's on the menu is collective sorrow and grief? Yes, it is difficult. But that doesn't mean it's irrelevant or less important.

In times of great sorrow, we not only need levity to get us through , but we need a reason to believe in the beauty and sanctity of life. We will need a break from the headlines, and we will need to eat and rest, and nourish ourselves, in body and soul.

That means I ain't going nowhere. We all gotta eat -- and we really should be checking in on those who may need an extra hand and shoulder or supper.

For a moment, close your eyes and think of the last time you ate at home with people you loved, not counting holidays. If it's been too long, make a few calls and start drafting a menu of your favorite comfort foods. Invite some folks over tonight or this weekend. Call a neighbor and drop off a tray of mac and cheese or a container of soup.

I promise you that no one will say, "I'm too busy for a plate of love and kindness." And your outreach undoubtedly will have a ripple effect.

Food, when shared, is an anchor and a bridge. It connects little-known acquaintances that become a family of friends, a world of villages. A shared meal allows us to forget about the tears and to allow our broken hearts to heal, even if temporarily. The physical act of sustenance grounds us and keeps the engine running, and the spiritual sustenance can inspire us to do good unto others.

So, if you've been helplessly wringing your hands like so many I know, get thee into the kitchen. Crank up the oven, and pull out the mixing bowls. There's cooking to be done; the world is counting on you.

Talk to me at noon, for this week's edition of What's Cooking.

By Kim ODonnel |  April 17, 2007; 10:51 AM ET Kitchen Musings
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The other day, one of my friends mentioned the time I brought a loaf of home made cinnamon bread to her husband the day he had outpatient surgery. She said it was one of the nicest gestures because it was the perfect thing to eat when he finally got his appetite back.

That made me think of a time many years ago an old friend stopped by unexpectedly. Her long-term relationship had just ended, and even though we hadn't seen each other in over a year she didn't know where else to go. I invited her in and made her a cup of tea and some cinnamon toast. By the time we'd had the tea and toast, she'd managed to pull herself together and come up with a plan for the next few weeks.

Maybe this would be a good time for us, as a country, to sit down with a cup of tea and cinnamon toast and think about all those affected by the Viginia Tech massacre.

Posted by: seattle | April 17, 2007 2:22 PM

I have beef stew in the crock pot, and fired up my bread machine to make dough for homemade sandwich rolls for my kids' school lunches, as well as a loaf of chocolate bread. I have to believe a toasted slice of that semisweet bread, slathered in butter, is going to help a wee bit to ease the pain of watching the CNN coverage of Va Tech all day. Which, I finally turned off, and guess what's on now? The Food Network! There's a pattern here, I think...

Posted by: Meg in PA | April 17, 2007 4:30 PM

As an alumna of UVa and an ardent supporter (in saner times) of the rivalry between the two schools, I can only shake my head at the senselessness of Monday's horror, and embrace and empathize with the VTech family. Indeed, cooking is such a wonderful shortcut in times of need.

Posted by: SwissMiss | April 17, 2007 7:49 PM

My father died at the end of last summer, and I can't tell you how impressed I was with the kindness of friends, family, and members of my parents' church who brought us food almost every day for more than two weeks. Other friends sent gift baskets and cakes and brought us so much fruit--mostly peaches--that we had to figure out something to do with it all before it went bad. In addition to peach desserts, I tackled making and canning orange-peach marmalade for the first time. My mother--always a bit territorial in her kitchen--balked when she found out what I wanted to do, but as always, she appreciated the result. Plus I was able to give a little something back (a jar of homemade marmalade) to so many who had shown us extraordinary kindness. For me there's just something so enjoyable and comforting in the cooking process. It nourishes my soul as I nourish my family and friends.

Posted by: Sean | April 18, 2007 1:19 PM

Wow...Such exquisite hope, sensitivity and courage...so beautifully expressed!
How fortunate we are to have Kim connecting us as friends!
How fortunate that we can all continue this journey together - with even deeper faith - because of one another.

Posted by: Joe | April 18, 2007 1:39 PM

I heard a brief piece on NPR yesterday about churches in the VTech area getting together to support the kids -- and they specifically mentioned making home cooked meals for the students. A woman from one of the churches said several students had said they really wanted the comfort of a home made meal instead of cafeteria food. I thought immediately of this blog.

Kim, you have a gift not just for cooking, but for writing in a way that touches on the human element of a shared meal (and a shared time in the kitchen preparing food). In this and in your tender reports during Tim's illness, it was evident that you understand the spirit of cooking that transcends generations, cultures and styles of food. Thank you for sharing that gift with all of us so generously.

Posted by: M | April 18, 2007 5:04 PM

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