The summer of 2014 has come to an end. Michael and I will be closing up our Fire Island house soon, another glorious, perfect, family-filled, food-filled season behind us.
This ending is different, though, different than all the other years. My older daughter Ruby's 70-year-old mother-in-law Alice, a woman I consider a dear friend, was diagnosed with metastasized lung cancer a few short months ago. Time is not on her side. My former brother-in-law, a man I've known since I'm 19 (holy crap, that's 47 years ago!), is in the fight of his life against Mesothelioma. I can't picture my life without them in it. I don't feel old enough to handle it. I don't want to be old enough to handle it. I want to snap my fingers, call a do-over like I did when I was 10, and make it all disappear.
I can't wrap my mind around all that Alice will miss, all that her family will miss when she's gone. Her grandchildren, Luca, Harper, Zoey, Seamus, Oona, their whole lives ahead of them. She will not get to see them as anything more than the goofy elementary school kids that they are. Who they become as adults, what they make of their lives, will happen without her. They will not be able to share with her the high points of their day, nor the disappointments. She will not be able to comfort them when life knocks them down, nor will she be there to applaud their triumphs. And so I cry, for her, for her four children, her five grandchildren, for how damned unfair life is. I cry for the friend I'm losing, my Machatonim, my comrade in arms. Over the years, when we've gotten together for birthday parties, Thanksgivings, barbecues, dinners, we often commiserated, both of us complaining (and laughing) about our respective children... what slobs they were, how disorganized they were... but also rejoicing together in how blessed we were to have two such amazing children, two such amazing children who found one another. I won't have that anymore and it breaks my heart. And it breaks my heart a million times more for my son-in-law James and his family. Although I can't fathom how they will go on, I know from experience that they will. I know, though, that the holes in their hearts will never heal. Mother love, after all, is the purest love, it is irreplaceable, undefinable, mystical, magical, it begins and ends there.
And so I do the only thing I know how to do when times get rough, I cook, I bake. I know it's not a solution, doesn't lessen anyone's pain. I know it's nothing more than putting a bandaid on a gunshot wound, but I can't stop. I guess when it comes down to it, when my words fail, when there really are no words, food, for me, is symbolic of love.
So when my son-in-law James comes out to the beach tomorrow to reunite with his wife (my daughter) and children (my grandchildren, Seamus and Oona) after spending a few harrowing days with his Mom... transfusions, pneumonia, hospital stays, chemotherapy, I will feed him butternut squash risotto, cornmeal crusted fried shrimp, baby arugula with cilantro dressing and the ultimate all-American comfort food, chocolate chunk cookies (one of the chocolate chunk cookies I used to sell at my bakery Ruby et Violette). And when my husband Michael and I go to visit Alice and Doug the day after tomorrow, instead of bringing flowers or candy, I will bring meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and by doing so, I will be giving them my heart. Of course I know it's not enough, but besides my heart and soul, it's all I have to give.
Perfect Chocolate Chunk Cookies:
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp.
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups flour missed with 3/4 tsp. salt. & 1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chunks or chips
Preheat oven to 350 deg.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper
Cream butter with hand mixer or standing mixer
Add sugars and mix well, scraping down sides
Add eggs and mix well, scraping down sides
Add flour mixture and mix well, scraping down sides
Add vanilla extract
Add chocolate chunks or chips
Using tablespoon measure, drop batter on prepared baking trays a few inches apart
Bake for 12-15 min. turning trays half way through cooking
Cookies will be crisp around edges but somewhat soft in middle
Let cool on wire rack
Yields: approx. 36 cookies
Note: Alice Dawson died Tuesday, October 21st surrounded by her adoring family -- her husband Doug and her four children, Doug Jr., Heather, Kara and James. Alice was the youngest of seven children, her husband one of nine. She will be mourned by many, forgotten by no one, loved by everyone, as it should be.