One of the questions that arises most often when I tell people about the Kale & Caramel cookbook’s blend of food and storytelling—and, in particular, its stories of death and grieving—is why? Why write about death and food? Why talk about grief and cooking? For me, the two are inextricably related, a seamless cord of survival tying them together. In the wake of my mom’s death, I found myself drawn to things I loved that were certain. True. Reliable. Which meant, in the first days, the steadfast surety of water boiling over high heat, kneaded dough rising to become bread, fruit caramelizing into jam. The chemical reactions of cooking were certain when nothing else was, when I couldn’t even count on my own heart.
Today, though I’ve emerged from the roughness of immediate grief (nota bene: it felt highly “immediate” for the first five years), I still seek refuge in the kitchen. This week, as one of my dearest friends lost her youngest brother, I found myself once again asking food to be a salve, a bridge between the weight of the dead and the hunger of the living. I sliced shallots and cooked down onions. I tore kale and cracked eggs. I folded batter and pitted nectarines. I asked my heart to go gentle, even for a moment.
It’s moments like these that force me close up to the reasons why I love what I do, why I spend time in the kitchen at all. Physical nourishment will always go hand-in-hand with heart nourishment. And it’s when I find kindred spirits who recognize both of these forces that I’m most inspired. When I first saw Sasha Swerdloff’s work and food on Tending the Table, I knew I’d found a true sister in food and feeling.
As we prepared to make this cantaloupe granita together a few weeks ago, we found ourselves amidst a flurry of vibrating thoughts and questions we wanted to discuss: our relationships to religion, spiritual practice, yoga (and my breakup with it after a decade of study and teaching), prescribed truths, the wellness industry, grief, and, yes, food. One thing we were in gleeful agreement upon: This cardamom, lime, and vanilla bean-laced cantaloupe granita.
I was a bit intimidated to make a granita—this was my first!—but it was truly the most simple frozen treat imaginable. No fear necessary, just hungry anticipation.
We made the granita one sweltering afternoon during Sasha and her husband Anders’ visit to LA, our conversation weaving in and out of personal histories, geographies, and the clear through-line desire for joy and truth. We worked, yes, but we also had a lot of fun. I loved shooting with Sasha because I have such profound respect for her artistic eye—I found myself as curious to see how she’d style something as I was eager to jump in and style it myself. I think this made for a kind of seamless magic that’s visible in the resulting photos: a little bit of Kale & Caramel, a little bit of Tending the Table.
Isn’t that the true alchemy of any art, including the kind made from food? Because photography is a newer art for me, I’m always excited to step back and learn, to take in new angles and approaches. I want to surprise myself. And watching someone else work always helps. To that end, we talked about the necessity of stepping away from constant visual bombardment in order to discover our own distinct aesthetics.
All of this—the magnetic pull of the kitchen in times of distress, the calm that simple kitchen tasks offer, the possibility of seeing new worlds, a sparkling granita where before there was only fruit—is what brings me to food, from death, from endings, from sorrow. It’s what lets me be ok in the not knowing of loss, and the joy of renewal.
And I’m so glad Sasha joined me in that tender spot, with a granita to boot. The ingredients for this cardamom lime cantaloupe granita are below; find the instructions for its preparation on Tending the Table.
CARDAMOM LIME CANTALOUPE GRANITA.
- 1/2 cantaloupe, seeds and peel removed, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 3 cups)
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cane sugar
- juice from 2 medium-large limes, plus more for serving
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or seeds from 1 vanilla bean
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- pinch of sea salt
Visit http://tendingthetable.com/2017/07/03/cantaloupe-and-cardamom-granita for the preparation method.