Sorry I haven’t written in awhile. I’ve been preoccupied with the illness and subsequent death of a dear friend. Bill was the father of my boyfriend, Bill Jr. but he was also one of my favourite people on Earth. One might expect a certain amount of gruffness from a World War II Navy veteran and former Olympian soccer player who raised racehorses but whether in word or in deed Bill always found a way to say ‘I love you.’.
He teased constantly and creatively but always with the utmost gentleness. He used to slip me tiny chocolate bars from his secret stash before breakfast. His one good eye would look left and right, furtively, like an actor in a spy movie, his hand barely making contact with mine as he handed off the contraband foil-wrapped square. That gesture spoke to the measure of his generosity; Bill loved chocolate and when he loved a food he really loved it. That was part of what made him such a joy to feed. His three favourite foods, in order if I’m not mistaken, were:
3) Lobster Bisque
I cooked his favourites as often as I could. He was the only person I’ve ever cooked for who I feel really understood and accepted how much love I’m trying to express when I prepare food. I don’t know why I felt that way. Maybe it’s because when I made something especially for him I could tell he was enjoying more than just the taste.
The last thing I made for him was creme caramel. I called my mother in Edmonton and made her read the recipe down the phone to me. It’s from her 1950-something New York Times cookbook and it’s what she always serves to ailing seniors. It’s a bland, slightly sweet egg and milk custard with a little caramel sauce at the bottom. It tastes like the past. Bill was having trouble swallowing then and not eating much at all but we all hoped that if he ate just a few more bites of anything he might get strong enough to come home. I thought he might eat a little more of something homemade or maybe if I flatter myself, because I had made it for him. Probably I just needed to feel like I was doing something for him. He managed a few heroic bites. It’s funny the things you regret when the bell rings and the time’s up for do-overs but I keep thinking if I had another chance I would make him chocolate mousse.
Bill died on a beautiful sunny Ohio day at the end of August. I held his hand while he watched his last sunrise. In an instant, the smile on his face when he opened his eye and saw the first rays taught me everything I will ever need to know about sunrises or maybe anything.
After the sun came up, Bill used his last bit of strength to form the names of his other son, daughter and wife to Bill Jr. and me. Once he knew they were on the way he totally relaxed. It’s seems so trite to underscore that that is what really matters at the end of the day but it’s so damn true: the people you love. I think that’s what they mean when they say live every day as if it was your last. They don’t mean spend all your savings and tell off your boss. They mean: Smile at the sunrise. Make sure the people you love are around you, then relax. I wonder if I can let it be that simple.
When an elderly person dies, Bill was 86, people want to say things like ‘Well, so and so lived a long, full life.’ as though just because something is in the natural order that means it isn’t sad. I’ve said that myself. Boy, is it ever a different story when it’s your elderly person. We’re not so keen on the ol’ natural order then because we aren’t sad for him we’re sad for ourselves. We’re sad for the unrepeatable shape of the hole in our lives and because suddenly 86 years isn’t very long after all.
The funeral is over. Taps sounded on a bugle and a heavy, folded flag was presented to Bill’s wife Catherine from a grateful nation. When a life ends, the jagged edges are not tied up with loving words and ceremony. The grieving has only begun. The sadness lays a damp hand on my shoulder at surprising times: walking down the street, waiting in line at customs. I’m not really even aware I’m thinking of Bill until I feel the tears start to fall. I can only imagine the tumbling ocean of sad that stretches in front of his family before they wash up on the other shore. It’s a necessary journey; still, I wish them swift passage.
It would take a greater segueway than I am capable of at this hour to tote this mess of a post around to a recipe so I’m not even going to try. I haven’t really felt like cooking, or writing for that matter because I knew I needed to write about Bill’s passing and I just didn’t want to face it. Yesterday morning though, I did feel like eating this sweet but wholesome raw cashew-date pudding I make from time to time. It’s raw vegan comfort food. At the last moment I got the idea to add some cacao powder and topped it with some Jim Beam Cherries. It was delicious. As it turns out my buddy was onto something: eating chocolate at breakfast is a really good idea.
I miss you today
Cashew Cacao Breakfast Pudding
Serves 2 for breakfast, 4 for dessert
1 1/2 cups raw cashews, soaked at least two hours and then rinsed
4 dates, soaked at least two hours, pits removed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup water or nut milk Use the date soak water to make up some of this.
3 tablespoons raw cacao powder(optional)
Blend all ingredients in a food processor until very smooth. If it’s too thick add nut milk or date soak water one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reach. Top with fruit and serve. Keeps up to five days in the refrigerator.