Life has felt surreal lately. Dreamlike.
For one, everything feels so ahead of itself – the blackberries already hanging heavy off the brambles in the backyard, the goldenrod brushing the meadows with its signature hue and the delicate heads of Queen Anne’s lace looking every which way. It took me a minute to pin down why it all felt so bizarre, why there was something that just didn’t quite fit about it all. Then I realized what it was. These things usually don’t happen until early September – late August at the earliest. I am living in a world that is a month and a half before its time. Muggy July heat and deep summer sunshine paired with the atmosphere of early autumn. A dream world.
And then there is my own story. I haven’t mentioned anything about my Dad since he passed nearly two months ago now. I didn’t know what to say. The thing is – I didn’t really have anything to say. Those days and weeks just after he was gone – I felt empty, numb. He is gone – a fact that I could state to myself as though it were a stranger’s father I was talking about, as though it wasn’t really him that was gone at all. I tried not to think about it, to carry on. People would ask me how I was - I’m fine, no really I am – and they would cock an eyebrow, as if to say – impossible. But I felt fine. In fact I didn’t really feel anything. I suppose it is just like when you really injure yourself – and at first, you don’t feel the pain at all. This very rational and sane part of your psyche takes charge, navigating you through the immediacy of your situation. You don’t feel the pain at first.
And then one night, as I began drifting off into sleep – those first almost conscious stages when your thoughts start to morph into something more magical and profound – I suddenly shot straight up. He’s gone. For the first time, I felt the impact of those words. They crashed into my consciousness like a stone plunging through the surface of still pond. They shattered through layers and layers of realizations, until I felt them, raw and jagged, rippling through my entire being.
And since then, I have been feeling all the emotions from the previous 2 months that I wasn’t quite ready to feel before. That I couldn’t feel before. Playing over the last few weeks in my head. Wondering what he thought about in those last days. Was he afraid? Thinking of that withered shell of a man and trying to connect it to the person he was before. Trying to understand how one day a person can call you on the phone and tell you that the doctor found some swollen lymph nodes and then three months later you are watching them take their very last breath.
And so, while the landscape is a month and half ahead of its time, my psyche is nearly two months behind. Surreal is the best word I can use to describe this.
The funny thing is – that during that time, those last few weeks of his life – I was so rational and accepting of reality. I knew he wouldn’t make it. I never went through denial in the way my siblings did. I never went through the sense of injustice and anger that this should happen to us, to our family. Never experienced the feelings of guilt. I was like a person on auto-pilot.
I remember one night eating dinner with my Mom, Sister and Brother after we left the hospital and my brother saying “How can we just sit here and eat and enjoy ourselves like this, when he is laying there suffering, not able to keep one single bite down? It doesn’t feel right.” And I looked up from my plate and said, “that is precisely why we must eat and enjoy ourselves. I bet he’d give anything to be able to sit here like this again - and to think we should waste the opportunity while it is still in our grasp.” I have no idea where those words came from – they were a gift from my auto-pilot self I think. And now when I am being flooded with my own grief, I am trying to take my own advice.
We MUST enjoy ourselves while we can, because life is short. Too short. We won’t always have the power to do so.
So in this surreal summer-fall landscape, and this surreal emotional landscape, I am slowly trying to do just that. Savor the small things. Laugh. Take risks. Indulge. Nourish. Enjoy myself.
In the past week, that enjoyment has included picking peaches and plums with sticky fingers and sweet sticky juice on our lips. Candlewax on the picnic table. Ice cold gazpacho in the shade on a very hot day. Salads full of summer’s berries. Tarts and crumbles with sweet juices bubbling up the sides. Here are a few recipes from my week, for you to enjoy too.
Adapted from Cannelle et Vanille.
- 2 large very ripe heirloom tomatoes, cut into large chunks
- 2 tablespoons almond meal
- 1/2 cucumber, cut into chunks
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 spring onions, diced
- 1 small bunch oregano
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 2 teaspoons organic sugar
- 1 garlic clove
- salt and pepper to taste
- radishes, sliced thinly
- feta cheese, crumbled
- tiny oregano leaves and flowers
- Place all the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Chill for one hour before serving, and garnish with the radishes, oregano leaves and feta.
- 2 large or 4 small plums, cut in half and pitted
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 1 pinch sugar
- salt and pepper
- 8 ounces wild salmon fillet
- 1/2 cup toasted almonds
- 1 cup raspberries and/or blackberries
- 1/2 cup red currants
- 4 radishes, sliced thinly
- 2 large handfuls of mixed greens
- Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- To make the dressing, heat the plums in a saucepan with 3/4 cup of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15-20 minutes, mashing occasionally with the back of a spoon, until the plums are completely broken down. Strain the mixture through a sieve to remove the skin, pressing with your spoon to extract as much of the puree as possible. Leave to cool to room temperature and then mix with the remaining ingredients. Taste for sweetness and salt, adjusting as necessary.
- Heat a little oil in a saute pan until you can visibly see the waves of heat rising off the surface. Salt and pepper your salmon fillet and place, skin side down, into the hot pan. Let the fish cook for about 3-4 minutes, then place in the hot oven for a further 5-10 minutes, depending on how well done you like your fish.
- Place the almonds on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 10 minutes, until fragrant and crunchy.
- To assemble - place the greens into a large wide bowl. Flake the salmon with a fork or your fingers and scatter it over the top. Scatter the berries, toasted nuts and radishes throughout the greens and then top with the dressing. Toss gently using your fingertips and then serve.