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Grief

Tortilla Soup: A true comfort food

Posted by | cooking, food stories, Recipes | 2 Comments

I started making this Tortilla Soup more than a dozen years ago. The original recipe was from my friend and former roomie Diana. We loved to host dinner parties, especially in Fall when the evening temperature in Fresno dips low enough to make it bearable to eat outside. This pureed version of Tortilla Soup with chicken was a favorite for our patio parties. The distinct cumin and chili powder flavors make it memorable.

It took a few tries to really master the soup. I recall making a few batches in a hand-me-down blender that exploded hot tomato-based soup to the white ceiling of our Tower District rental. We were covered in hot soup and drowning in laughter after that episode and a few more like it.

I finally invested in a fancy immersion blender for a less messier version of this recipe. (This is as close to power tools as I’ll ever get. Think blender blades attached to a power stick.)

After I got married and my cohort of friends started having babies, Tortilla Soup became the mainstay I would deliver after mama friends gave birth. I’d make up a batch of Tortilla Soup and a salad with all the garnishes packed into little baggies and containers. The soup was hearty and comforting – just what a new mama needs after the beautiful-traumatic experience of bringing a new life into the world.

I served up that soup for more dinner parties, baby showers, holidays, women’s luncheons and play dates than I could count. After a while I stopped making the soup because so many of my friends were making the recipe. I could enjoy the flavors and let them put in the work.

This past Tuesday I knew it was time to dig out the old favorite recipe for an important occasion. My dear friend, Yasmin, texted me the night before that her sweet mother-in-law had gone on to Heaven. She died suddenly – too quickly for the whole family. Some kind of heart complication. Verity and her husband already had booked tickets to Fresno from India to meet their newest grandchild, Yasmin’s baby girl born a few months ago. They had planned to stay six months to cuzzle sweet Sofia during the day while mama returned to work, to fix authentic Indian food for our crew, and to just generally love on their son and daughter-in-law and kids.

Life slips away so quickly sometimes; it’s hard to digest.

I told Yasmin she needed to come to dinner before she flew out for the funeral. I needed to just hug her tight and look into her eyes and say, “I’m sorry” in person. When she arrived there as a vice presidential debate playing in the background and kids doing gymnastics off the big red couch. It was hardly a solemn occasion but it was just what we needed – to sit across the table and just be together.

I dipped the ladle into the pot and served up bowls of Tortilla Soup. We added our own garnishes – a handful of sharp cheddar cheese, a dollop of sour cream, chopped green onions, crushed blue corn tortilla chips, sprigs of cilantro. These add the color to the soup and make each bowl unique for the eater. We munched on chips and guacamole, and filled our glasses with sparkling cider.

On Tuesday night, Tortilla Soup was a true comfort food. We listened in as my dear friend unpacked memories of her beloved mother-in-law, as she processed her death and celebrated her life. We laughed and tears pooled in our eyes as we thought of the sacrifices “Momsy” had made so her three children could come to the U.S. for school. We dreamed about her Indian butter chicken and other famous eats made with love for all of us. We remembered the way she would sing for her grandchildren even on Skype. Tears are always welcome at my table. Tuesday night they seasoned our Tortilla Soup with love.

 

Dorina’s Tortilla Soup

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 organic boneless chicken breasts,
1/2 jalapeno, minced (1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)
6 organic corn tortillas (7″)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups fresh sweet corn (or 2 – 16 oz. cans of organic white corn or 1 bag frozen organic sweet corn)
5 Roma tomatoes, chopped (or 1 – 28 oz. can chopped organic tomatoes)
1/3 cup organic tomato paste
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 quart organic chicken stock

Garnishes:
Sour cream
5 corn tortillas cut in strips and fried in olive oil (or substitute organic tortilla chips crumbled into pieces)
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
Green onions, chopped

Directions:

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large Dutch oven-type pot. Cut chicken breasts into small bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle with minced jalapeno or crushed red pepper. Sauté in pot.
  2. Chop onion. Add to pot and sauté until onions are translucent.
  3. Meanwhile, add three tablespoons oil to a large frying pan. Cut tortillas into one-inch strips. Add half the tortilla strips to the soup pot with the chicken. (This gives the soup a thicker base when it’s pureed.) Brown the other half of the tortilla strips in the frying pan for garnish. Fry until crispy and dry on paper towels. (For a short cut, skip browning the tortilla strips for garnish and use blue corn tortilla chips from Trader Joe’s broken up into smaller pieces.)
  4.  Add garlic and jalapenos/red pepper (depending on how spicy you like it) to soup pot. Add two cups corn and tomatoes to pot. Mix.
  5. Add spices: cumin, salt, black pepper and chili pepper. Add tomato paste.
  6. Finally, add 1 quart chicken stock. Stir ingredients together well.
  7. Bring soup to a boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender (or transferring to regular blender) and puree the soup. (You can skip this step if you prefer a chunky soup.)
  8. Allow soup to continue cooking at a low heat for 10 minutes. Continue to puree until large chunks of chicken and tomatoes are blended into the soup.
  9. At this point, you can decide about the consistency. If you like a thicker soup, leave as is and allow to cook longer. If you want to thin out the soup add 1/2 cup water until you are satisfied with the consistency.
  10. Add two remaining cups of sweet corn to pot, stir and serve.
  11. Put garnishes in separate bowls. Allow your guest or family to add garnishes their soup themselves for fun or you can do it and wow them with the presentation.

What’s your favorite comfort food? If you’ve had this Tortilla Soup before, share a story of serving it to your family or your people that provided comfort…

This is a story I never would have written for myself – ever

Posted by | compassion, death, grief, marriage, Stories, struggle | No Comments

His breathing tightened. Each breath now was a labor. After almost 12 years of listening to the cadence of his breath as we ran marathons together, as he slept by my side, this sound was foreign, painful. I tried to hook up the oxygen tank brought by hospice.

Twice I connected the tubes to his nostrils. Twice he ripped them out. He was still fighting for life even as the cancer coursed through his body. His mother told me with her eyes that we were near the end. My heart knew it, too.

One by one, I ushered my young daughters – ages 2, 5 and 8 – into the room and urged them to kiss Daddy one more time. I cradled his hand in mine, fingering that wedding band – an unending circle of love between us. At dawn, light streamed wildly through the blinds of our bedroom window.

His hazel eyes moved toward the light. He clapped his hands together in his signature way and left his broken body behind….

When I spoke my wedding vows to Ericlee Gilmore, I never dreamed those words – “in sickness and health until death do us part” – would mean burying him 11 years later. I imagined having babies and chasing careers. I imagined traveling to distant shores and fulfilling dreams together.

I never imagined the word cancer would one day separate us.

I never dreamed I would kneel by his grave when our three girls were still so young, and we would all have to whisper our goodbyes. This is a story I never would have written for myself. Never.

Two years ago, my beloved husband made that giant leap into heaven at age 40. He was an amazing husband, dedicated father, trusted mentor, coach and friend to countless people in this community and beyond.

Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t stop me in the grocery store or at the gym or at church to tell me a story about how their life was changed by him. I draw comfort from the ways I see his legacy lives on.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned these past two years is that I need to give myself permission to grieve. Too often in our culture we obsess over getting over it. We are afraid to pause and give ourselves space to lament. We stuff down our emotions. We are too eager to avoid the memories and move on. We criticize others who are open about their pain and grief.

If you or someone you love is grieving, know this: Every journey is unique. Cover yourself or that person with a blanket of grace. Be patient. Grief is like a tangled ball of yarn. We must unravel it in our own time. No step-by-step plan or stages of grief diagram can make it all better. Sometimes what we really need is permission.

Maybe you haven’t lost a spouse but you have experienced loss in another way. Maybe you have lost a child or buried a brother. Maybe you have left a neighborhood, a job or a church. Maybe you have experienced a miscarriage or faced infertility.

Maybe you have been hurt by a family member or a friend. Maybe your marriage is broken or you have endured some other medical trauma. Maybe your heart is bleeding for the injustice in our world, for the violence against your people. This is for you.

Give yourself permission to grieve. Give yourself time to lean into the memories. Give yourself space to tend to your raw soul. I have needed permission from my circle to grieve my way – not at all the way my mama or mother-in-law or best friend or that other widow grieved. My grief is personal and different. Yours will be, too.

This past January, through a wild weaving together of threads in my life, I married a man who was one of my husband’s best friends. He has walked through the grief with my daughters and me. He has joined us in the daily dance of joy and pain. He has provided comfort, companionship and confidence where we needed it most.

What I appreciate about Shawn is he gives us freedom to cry, to remember, and to celebrate Ericlee’s life. He never shames me for talking about my late husband and lamenting his absence.

I may be happily married now, but I will always be a widow. My heart aches especially in September when the days are still hot in Fresno, but the evenings bring that first cool relief and those breathtaking sunsets. Two years later, his suffering in those final days is still vivid, but the sunset somehow brings me perspective.

No matter where I am, I always pause to watch that fiery-orange sun ball slip into the coin slot of the horizon. I love the ribbons of color dancing across the sky – deep merlot, pumpkin orange, dusky lavender and deep indigo swirling. And I am always surprised at the way the colors burn even more brilliantly after the sun is gone.

 

 

Need local help?

 

The Central San Joaquin Valley has many resources for individuals and families dealing with grief and loss. These are a few that were especially helpful for our family:

▪ Hinds Hospice, Center for Grief and Healing – a local organization dedicated to providing resources and programs for families navigating grief (www.hindshospice.org, 559-226-5683).

▪ Circle of Friends – grief group for children hosted at Hinds Hospice (559-226-5683).

▪ Grief counseling – Patty Behrens, licensed marriage and family therapist (www.counselingfresno.org, 559-577-3994).

▪ G.I.G. (Gals in Growth) – a group for young widows with children led by Behrens.

▪ Grief Share, a 14-week program for individuals who have lost a loved one. Sessions available at various churches, including The Bridge in Fresno (559-226-4100).

 

**The original version of this article was published in the Valley Voices section of The Fresno Bee. Click here for the rest of the article that ended up running in more than 20 newspapers across the country.

http://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/readers-opinion/article102119772.html

Do you have a friend who needs permission to grieve? Please share!

A Road Trip Called Grief

Posted by | grief, hope, Personal Stories, Stories, struggle | 8 Comments

As humans, our nature is to avoid pain. But sometimes grief is about returning to the places where you laid your most precious memories and remembering…and then finding the grace and strength to forge new memories. It’s about wading through instead of marching around.

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