Consolation in the kitchen

My husband likes to say that when his wife gets upset, she starts cooking, so he can’t lose. He exaggerates, of course; but when things go topsy-turvy, I admit I do find some solace in kitchen duty.

So when I recently received sad news of a friend’s passing, I found myself consulting cookbooks, looking for something to bring to the family.

In a cookbook from my early days as a bride, I found a recipe for Rhubarb Nut Bread. This friend was originally from the Midwest, so a Midwestern pie and dessert staple like rhubarb seemed somehow fitting. And I had rhubarb in the freezer — not quite enough for the recipe, but I’d eke it out with some compatible and equally homey chopped apple.

The measuring, sifting, pouring, stirring was consoling, as was the thought that perhaps the end product would give some small comfort.

As my hands get busy with cups and spoons, flour and sugar, I think. Probably not the deepest thoughts; probably very ordinary ones about life and death. I think of the grieving spouse — one moment a wife, the next, a widow. I think of what is going on today in that other house, that other kitchen. My life and those of millions of others are continuing, while others have ended.

And I think that some of the most hopeful words in life can also be counted as the saddest: Life goes on.

Our time here is short. Religion promises believers a happy reunion beyond. But here and now, let us stop sometimes and think: On balance, have we said more “yes” than “no” to life and living? I don’t mean are we hang-gliding and nightclubbing and “doing things” 24/7. But simply — are we aware and enjoying what is spread before us daily? A gathering with friends, a quiet evening with the cat, a walk in the park. All small opportunities to pause and say to the universe, “I’m here and glad of it.”

Our friend lived a full life, with wife, children, work, travel, hobbies. I would say he lived a “Yes” life, and for that I am glad. I know people who seem to live a “No” life. Maybe they think that constant “no” gives them control. Perhaps, but of what? A steadily diminishing world.

I hope at the end that my life will be counted in the “Yes” circle. That I managed, despite fear or fatigue or orneriness, to look up and say “Yes” more than I said “No.”

The breads are mixed and in the oven now; in an hour they will be done. I wash the bowls and spoons, dry things off and put them away. I give silent thanks that I’m able to do these small things for myself and for others. Even so small an offering as a loaf of bread can be a “yes.”

This recipe is from “The Best of Taste,” a cookbook put out by the Illinois chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa, the International Honorary Society for Women Educators. It’s by Lucretia Crawford of the Mu Chapter.

RHUBARB NUT BREAD

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk (see notes)

2/3 cup oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon (baking) soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1 1/2 cups finely chopped rhubarb (see notes)

Mix ingredients together and pour into two greased and floured loaf pans. Add the following (optional) topping.

TOPPING:

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup white sugar

1 tablespoon butter

Mix together (cut in butter). Sprinkle on top of loaf. Bake 40 minutes at 325 degrees.

Notes: Instead of buttermilk, I put a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar in a cup measure and then add milk to make a cup. Let stand for 5 minutes, then use in recipe.

If you don’t have enough rhubarb, add chopped apple to make up the difference. I suspect this recipe would work well with all apple, too.

(c) Copyright Laura Groch 2014

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