What to Eat at a Funeral

As much as food is a part of life it is also a part of death. A patient passed away here in the hospital earlier this week. I went to the room where the motionless body was lying with a crisp white sheet up to her neck, eyes closed, toothless mouth open. My intention was to simply pop in and offer the daughter my condolences on the passing of her mother as they were waiting for a priest to arrive. The daughter wanted me to sit down and talk. So there we were sitting, next to the dead body, chatting. Believe me this is not an everyday occurrence for me. Out of the corner of my eye I kept expecting the sheet to rise and fall with breathing but that didn't happen. It's hard to focus when there is a dead body next to you.

I asked if the family would have a wake, the daughter replied that she didn't know if it was a wake or not but that people would drop by and bring food to share. I have never been to something like that but all night I thought about the importance of food in life and around death. How comforting it is to people, how it feels caring and gives us a space to eat and talk about an important person who has passed. I also painstakingly wondered what I would bring to such an event. Would I cook up a lasagna? Potato salad? Cheese plate? Surely, I could be more creative than that. Fellow cooks, have you ever shared in this after death ritual? What would you bring and why? Does time of day play into what you would bring?

Nigella Lawson has a cookbook called Feast: Food to Celebrate Life. In it there is a chapter called Funeral Feast. The recipes include Sweet Lamb Tagine, Lentil Soup-easy to transport and reheat as well as sustaining, Meatloaf-a comfort food which can also be used later for sandwiches, Heavenly Potatoes, a Mormon specialty also called Funeral Potatoes made with sourcream and using cornflakes for a crusty topping, Rosemary Remembrance Cake and Hamine Eggs-boiled eggs are a traditional Jewish food for mourning and are died dark using teabags-quite lovely really. I like the soup idea, you could bring it in a crockpot. I am also thinking about a pie, this time of year an apple pie.


Jamaican Banana Bread w/Spiced Rum

...if you like pina coladas and gettin caught in the rain...I'm not much into health food, I am into champagne...

Ah the Caribbean, makes me feeling like swaying and singing corny songs. This recipe will make you want to sing too. ...put the lime in the coconut, da da da...

2 Tbsp butter, softened
2 Tbsp cream cheese, softened
1 Cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 3 bananas)
1/2 cup milk (your choice 2%, whole, half and half with water...)
4 Tbsp Spiced Rum
1 tsp lime zest
2 tsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp fresh orange or tangerine juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour (I use King Arthur white whole wheat)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1/4 cup flaked sweetened coconut (don't have coconut, don't worry tastes great without it too)

Preheat oven to 375°. Oil and flour your loaf pans (8 x 4, 9 x 5, or mini loaf pans). Recipe makes one large loaf.

You will need 3 bowls-1 large and 2 small.

1. In small bowl, cream together the butter and cream cheese. Beat in brown sugar and then the egg.

2. In the other small bowl, combine the mashed banana, milk, rum, lime zest, lime juice, orange juice and vanilla; mix well.

3. In large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Now pour half the creamed mixture into the flour and give it a good stir. Then pour in half of the banana mixture and mix that it. Repeat and you should have a nice looking batter.

Fold in your pecans and coconut.
Poor batter into pan and bake for 50 - 60 minutes. Do not overcook as it will be dry - remember it finishes cooking a little even after you take it out of the oven. The old toothpick test works well, when a toothpick comes out clean it's done. Remove from over and let it sit and cool for a bit before taking it out of the pan. Enjoy what goes into your mouth!

Dear readers, please tell me you have a micro-zester. This is one of my favorite tools as it makes zesting super easy.


Hearty Lentil Stew

This recipe was first inspired by a dish in last Febuary's Sunset magazine called Lentil Stew with Winter Vegetables. However, since I don't like (some) root vegetables I had to recreate this dish with things I do like. I don't know what it is about turnips and beets but they just taste like dirt to me. Onward with the version I have been enjoying for a year now:

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 cup French green lentils
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 sprigs fresh thyme
3 cups broth/1 cup water - or any combination there of to equal 4 cups
4 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters (if they are too small they will cook too quickly and turn to mush)
1 cup butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes
4 cups stemmed chopped kale
4 medium sized carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
Small handful of green beans, trimmed
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped fine
3 oz. aged goat cheese (such as Chevrot or Bucheron or Humbolt Fog - something sort of firm)

Heat the olive oil in good sized pot over med-high heat. Add onion and cook until translucent (maybe 3 mins). Add garlic, lentils, salt, pepper, thyme, and 4 cups water/broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to med-low.

Add potatoes and squash and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 20 mins.

After your 20 minutes are up add the kale, carrots and green beans. Cover and cook over med-low heat for 10 minutes. Remove lid and pierce carrots to check for doneness. They should not be mushy, firm but easy to bite into. You want some juice in the pot but it should not be soupy. If it is too soupy let it cook for a few minutes without the lid. Now, you can stop and eat it as it is -- very delicious. Do not burn your tongue like I just did though.


Since we are talking about French Lentils here, you may just say in your best French accent, "Chef Drake" (I'm practicing for when I'm a 'real' chef) "Chef Drake, my life is so boring these days. I feel I need more complexity. Can you help me achieve this?" Why certainly! At this point you may remove the pot from the heat and stir in the parsley and the goat cheese. Plate it up immediately with a crusty bread. Enjoy!

Orzo with Spinach, Feta and Lemon

Today cool, overcast and Orzo Salad. This is my version of a Rebecca Katz recipe that can be found in one of my fave cookbooks, One Bite at a Time. I love how bright the lemon makes this dish and I think it will perk up your day too.

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp finely chopped garlic
3 cups fresh spinach-clean it spin it and give it a rough chop
1/3 cup crumbled organic feta cheese
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
1 cup orzo
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts-more if you love them like I do

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and saute until just starting to brown. Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add the spinach and a pinch of salt and cook until wilted (a couple of minutes will do it). Now, add the feta cheese, the lemon juice and half the zest. Taste. If you feel it is lemony enough, don't use the rest of the zest. However, if you like the adventure go ahead and put it all in.

Meanwhile, on the stove...Bring yourself a couple quarts of water with a 1/2 tsp of salt to a boil. Add the orzo and cook about 10-12 minutes-firm but not hard in the middle. Drain. Put the orzo in a beautiful dish and stir in the spinach mixture and the pine nuts. Enjoy!

Serves 4


Dishing Up Healing Foods

My friend Tamara has a close friend who was recently going through chemo. Tamara had looked up some cancer fighting recipes and took these meals to her friend. After the treatments were over her friend told her that everyone's support had been appreciated but as she looked back the most significant thing she received were the homemade meals Tamara had made.

Last week I was working with a patient and her family in the hospital. The patient was diagnosed with something called Pyoderma Gangrenosum which basically means she has some wounds on her legs that are not healing well (it's a lot grosser than that but I swear do not google it unless you want to see some really stomach turning pics). In addition, her albumin was very low indicating malnourishment. After discussing various topics with them I finally turned the conversation to nutrition. What was our patient eating? Now, I'm not a nutritionist or dietitian but I do know that wounds need protein and nutrients to heal. Our patient's son lives with her and bless his heart he works and it turns out that picking up a pizza or McDonald's is what he can do. Obviously that is not going to cure anyone of anything. Our new plan was for the family to talk with the patient and make a list of things she likes to eat concentrating on fruits and vegetables. And who in this family can pitch in and cook? Well, as it turns out the patient's niece who looked to be about 15 is a great cook! She was sitting on the floor beside the patient's bed and grinned as the family doted on her abilities. Now our little cook has a mission and would be part of this patient's healing.

I have also discussed nutrition with my cancer patients. I remember recently working with two different newly diagnosed cancer patients, both of them were in their early thirties. If there is a single diagnosis that can knock the wind out of you and make you feel completely powerless, it's cancer. As we talked chemotherapy and radiation treatments eating and appetite came up. When I mentioned that there are actually cookbooks out there to help them find immune supportive recipes they were surprised. Here was something the family could actually DO. One of the books I use and have cooked many of the recipes from is One Bite at a Time by Rebecca Katz.

Many of us are touched by cancer, either our own bodies or someone we know. I encourage you to bring them a meal or two. The healing power of food and the thoughtfulness of your gift will be appreciated more than you can imagine.


Old Cook Books

There is a store in Oakland called The Center for Creative Reuse. It's a sort of second hand store for things that people might use to make crafts, art or various projects. You never know what you will find there on any given week. There are often egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, fabrics. A few months ago there was a box of bones - yes real dried out bones, animal I presume - have no idea where they might have gotten those from but people were scrounging through them.

In addition, they have a small selection of random books and on a recent trip there I discovered a book called The Spice Cook Book. It has a very plain cover, is quite thick and reminds me of the old Collegiate Dictionary my dad used to have. It was published in 1964. As I flipped through the pages it was not the recipes that drew me in but the sketches that decorate so many of the pages. I got to wondering about those sketches and after doing some research I found that the illustrations are by Jo Spier, a popular Dutch artist who after making a satirical depiction of Hitler was sent to a concentration camp. I could hardly believe it. How exciting to find such a cook book with such a history behind it.

The book also contains some great writings about the Spice Trade which I haven't finished reading yet. And here is a sampling of some recipe titles: Macaroni and Cheese Mousse, Ham and Cheese Pudding, and Favorite Liver Loaf...yum.

Enjoy these pics from The Spice CookBook by Avanelle Day & Lillie Stuckey, Illustrated by Jo Spier; David White Co., NY 1964

Introduction: Into My Mouth - A Food Blog

WooHoo, it's the New Year and I'm getting my blog started. The impetus is to have a place to digest Culinary School which starts in April.
When I was a kid I would sit home and watch a cooking show called "The Galloping Gourmet." Anyone remember him? I would pretend to be the chef, cooking and talking to the camera while I worked. Since those early days I've had many careers, most recently medical social work which I have a Masters degree in. Working with people who are afflicted with various diseases really helps me think about the importance of not having pesticides in my food and cooking in ways that increase the immune system.
One of the cookbooks I read, oh gads, must be 15 or 20 years ago was Laurel's Kitchen. This totally changed the way I cooked and ate. I just quit buying prepared food - no more Hamburger Helper or Frozen Pot Pies (ah, but the nostalgia lives on) and no more margarine. And what do you know, I found out that I could cook after all!
I eat a mostly vegetarian diet but don't peg me as someone who makes a lentil loaf tofurkey for Thanksgiving - I would have no friends! I love having a glass of wine and puttering away in the kitchen (will they let me have a glass of wine while in culinary school, it really does help one cook you know?).
My partner Dylan has been a BIG influence on my cooking as well. She is an amazing cook in her own right and has taught me many wonderful recipes. She has opened my palette to things like cooked cauliflower (which I claimed to hate until she snuck it into some Indian dish and I exclaimed "this is great! what's in it?" She doesn't believe me anymore when I say I don't like something.
Lastly, I love reading all the food blogs! I hope I can contribute to the community!
May what goes into your mouth this year be profoundly yummy!