Words to Grieve: a recipe collection, by Chris Alton & Emily Simpson

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Words to Grieve a recipe collection

Chris Alton & Emily Simpson



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Introduction Phil’s Nasi Goreng, made by Emily Reflections #1 Holme’s Cannelloni, made by Ellie Jake’s Curry, made by Neil Reflections #2 Grief Must be Love With Nowhere to Go, poster Jane’s Pumpkin Pie, made by Cathie Reflections #3 Kathy’s Apple Cake, made by Chris Margaret’s Cheese & Onion Pie, made by Cathie Reflections #4 Bittersweet Potatoes, by Emily Simpson Credits


Introduction Words to Grieve is an ongoing project about grief and language. Having each been through a significant loss in our mid-20s, we found the English vocabulary for communicating grief and loss to be inadequate. We’ve been speaking with others about their experiences of loss with the hope of finding common ground. As part of Words to Grieve we hosted a shared dinner. People were invited to bring a dish, which was cooked by or connected to the person they’d lost. This publication contains recipes for the dishes people shared that evening, alongside reflections from our conversations. ... Emily: When me and Chris met, I wasn’t really telling anyone that my Dad had just died. I didn’t have the courage or the words for it. People who knew rarely asked how I was coping with the bereavement for fear of upsetting me. There was no real representation I could see of living with loss, and not many words to describe what I’d been through. This all made me feel that my experience was something to hide. Grief was a heavy shame I lugged around with me. For some reason, the words came out to Chris and we discovered we’d both been through a very similar thing; loss and shame. The relief we both felt at having found some words, even if inadequate, was transformative. It’s a moment I’ll never forget. Chris: I’d been similarly tight lipped about my Mum dying. Only a handful of people outside of my family and closest friends were aware of what had happened. Everyone else was in the dark. It’s odd to think that Emily and I were able to open up to each other; perhaps there were some cues we


picked up on? Subtle body language, tone of voice, careful skirting of topics and warping words to hide what had happened. When asked what my Mum does, I might say: “Oh, she was a teacher…” implying she’s retired rather than dead. I still do it occasionally. E: Yeah, using the past tense is still something I really struggle with. It feels cruel to say ‘I loved my Dad’ (I still love him. Immensely). But saying ‘I love my Dad’ misleads people; they think he’s still alive, meaning I have to do some awkward conversational reversing when they ask questions about him in the present tense. It makes me squirm. I hate it. This is what Words to Grieve is trying to tackle; to come up with language to accommodate loss more adequately into the lives of the living. What if there was a word to represent that someone wasn’t physically present, but were still significant in your life? A tense to say that they’re gone but here. So many conversations would be easier for me. The way language is now, a lot of discomfort is put onto me, as someone who’s grieving, in terms of what I am able to articulate or what I have to ‘apologise for’ when words mislead people. It becomes my ‘job’ to smooth things over. It’s a lot of emotional labour, asked of someone who’s energy is lacking. My desire to find more language for grief also comes from my experience of being non-binary. Learning the words and pronouns to describe my identity to others was an amazing feeling. It changed my relationship with myself for the better. But when it comes to grief, there aren’t any words for who I am. A woman who's lost her husband is a widow (which is patriarchal), you become an orphan as a child, but who are you when you lose one parent as an adult? Or what if you lose a friend, sibling, ex-partner, aunt, still-born child? The fact that some identities have the approval of a noun and others don’t implies a hierarchy of grief that doesn’t exist! But is felt all the same. And it would be kinder too, instead of


saying the words that make me sad all the time ‘my Dad is dead’, wouldn’t it be freeing to be able to say ‘I’m a ….?’ and people would just know I’d lost a parent. C: Having words to anchor oneself can be so affirming and comforting. During this process - of sitting around a table and sharing food with people who’ve also experienced grief there have been so many moments of recognition: “You felt that way too? I’m so relieved to hear you say that. I thought I was the only one.” Whilst our feelings aren’t represented in the English language, we’ve begun to outline and define them with others. As well as thinking about creating language; literal words to express feelings and experiences; this project is also about looking for those holes. Gaps in the English language limit our ability to express ourselves. In some cases that might mean coming up with new words or tenses, but more-and-more we’ve been speaking about modes of expression that go beyond what is spoken. It’s a difficult topic; we’ve already spoken about how hard we’ve each found it to voice that someone we love(d) has died. Food became a bridge into these conversations. For me, remaking my Mum’s apple cake was about celebrating her life, connecting with her, and sharing a part of her with others. It was no longer entirely about loss. E: One thing that surprised me was how taste connected me to memories I had otherwise forgotten. My Dad used to make his own version of a nasi goreng when he came home from work late, using quick-cook noodles and tons of spice. The spice brought me back to our living room, cosying up next to him and sharing mouthfuls off his fork. It’s wild how vivid that taste-memory is. Making the food, for all of us, was a way of spending time


with that person. In grief so much energy often goes into avoiding things that remind you of that person, in fear of bubbling over into ‘not coping’ anymore. Spending time thinking about my Dad whilst cooking his dish was something I really needed. I was nervous about how the evening would go to be honest, as I think we all were. I was nervous that the dinner would be intense, and we’d all leave it feeling sad. (Even as someone who’s actively trying to talk more about grief, death is a subject a part of me shies away from). But it was the opposite. We all left feeling comforted, connected, and invigorated. It was magic. C: It’s difficult to capture the experience on these pages, but perhaps this publication might encourage others to cook one of these recipes or make a dish by someone they’ve loved and lost; and to speak more openly about their experiences of loss or with those they know who are grieving. ... Afterthoughts Pulling this publication together has been so meaningful, but it’s also been a massive task. Whilst this project is motivated by hope, led by living with loss - emphasis on living - it’s been exhausting at times. Some days we’ve just not had the energy. The cooking and conversational parts of this project flowed with ease, but the edit did not. Imagine a lot of time spent looking at a screen filled with your most difficult emotions, then adding deadlines into that mix. It’s been a lot. Conversations about grief need to come with a large helping of care. This is a reminder to ourselves (and others) to be gentle; to take lots of breaks, have lots of snacks in the cupboard, and to recognise that today doesn’t always have to be the day. Some work is tender.



Phil’s Nasi Goreng made by Emily Ingredients 1 onion 4 or 5 cloves garlic 1 tbsp butter/oil Selection of whatever veg is in the fridge, chopped 2 portions quick cook noodles 2 tbsp water 1 tsp garam masala* 1 tsp curry powder ¾ tsp chili powder Squeeze of lemon Big glug soy sauce Chopped coriander (optional) 2 eggs *be generous with spices and add more to taste, it should be just on the edge of being too spicy, so your tongue tingles in a good way. Method 1. Fry onion and garlic in butter/oil until softened, then add the chopped veg and cook till soft. 2. Add spices to veg and let them cook for a minute or so, adding water so the spices don't burn. 3. Cook noodles as it says on the packaging. 4. Whisk the eggs, then fry them in a separate pan to make an omelet. 5. Add the noodles to the veg mix, then add soy sauce and lemon. Stir round till everything is coated. 6. Cut the omelet into strips and put it on top of the noodle mix. Eat hot on a comfy chair. Preferably in front of the TV.


“We are taught to move on without grief, not move on with it.”


“...pain takes the place of the person you love after you lose them. Letting go of that sadness feels like letting go of part of them. I found myself not wanting to be happy, not wanting to let go.”


Holmes’s Cannelloni made by Ellie Ingredients Tomato sauce 3 tbsp olive oil 8 garlic cloves, crushed 3 tbsp caster sugar 2 tbsp red wine vinegar 4 x 400g tinned chopped tomatoes Small bunch basil leaves Zest of a lemon Cheesy sauce 500g mascarpone 3 tbsp milk 85g parmesan grated 250g mozzarella Filling 1kg spinach 100g parmesan grated 750g ricotta Large pinch of grated nutmeg 400g dried cannelloni Method 1. Preheat the oven to 200C. 2. To make the tomato sauce, heat the oil and fry the garlic for 1 minute. Add the sugar, vinegar, lemon zest, tomatoes and seasoning and simmer for 20 minutes. Add basil and divide the sauce between 2 oven dishes. Set them aside. 3. Make the cheesy sauce by beating the mascarpone with the milk until smooth. Season to taste.


Method continued... 4. Pour boiling water over the spinach, then squeeze out the extra water. Roughly chop the spinach and mix with 100g parmesan and ricotta. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. 5. Squeeze or spoon the filling into the cannelloni tubes (try using a plastic bag with the corner cut off if you’re struggling). Lay the tubes on top of the tomato sauce and spoon over the mascarpone sauce. Top with Parmesan and mozzarella. 6. Bake for 30-35 mins until golden and lovely.


“If grief was normalised, we wouldn’t have to deal with it invisibly and invent our own unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with it. Grief could be managed, when we needed it, by our community through having conversations and sharing experiences. Rather than waiting ages for therapy to untangle the unhealthy habits we’ve built out of trauma.”


“Because I’d lost him long before he died, I felt like I wasn't allowed to grieve once he’d passed.”



Jake’ s Curry made by Neil Ingredients 1 onion, chopped 2 garlic cloves, chopped 3cm piece ginger, grated 6 ripe tomatoes ½ tbsp oil 1 tsp ground cumin 2 tsp ground coriander 1 tsp turmeric A pinch of chilli flakes 1 tsp marmite 4 tbsp red lentils 6 tbsp coconut cream 1 head of broccoli, chopped 400g tin of chickpeas, drained 100g of baby spinach leaves 1 big squeeze of lemon juice 1 tbsp chopped cashews Method 1. Put the onion, garlic, ginger and tomatoes in a food processor or blender and turn into a tomato purée. 2. Heat the oil. Add the spices, fry for a few seconds then add the purée from step 1 and a teaspoon of marmite. Cook for 2 minutes. 3. Add lentils and coconut cream. Cook until the lentils are tender, then add the broccoli and cook for 4 minutes. 4. Add chickpeas and spinach, a squeeze of lemon and sprinkle over the cashew nuts. 5. Serve with rice or naan bread.


Grief Mus With Now


st be Love where to Go



Jane’s Pumpkin Pie made by Rosie

Ingredients 9 inch pastry flan case (short crust) ½ 1b cooked pumpkin puree* 8 tbsp double cream 4oz soft brown sugar ½ tsp salt 1 tsp cinnamon ½ tsp ground ginger ½ tsp mace/nutmeg Good pinch of powdered cloves 3 eggs, lightly beaten 2 tbsp brandy/calvados Whipped cream (only for serving) *Puree the pumpkin without using any water if it is ‘shaved’ in thin slices from the inside of the pumpkin (which is easiest anyway). It is very quick to cook - about 15 mins at most - on a VERY low heat, with the pan lid on + preferably a non-stick pan. Method 1. Preheat oven to gas mark 4 2. Blend cream, milk, sugar, salt and spices and stir well. 3. Add eggs and brandy, stir in puree 4. Put in flan shell and bake for 40-45 mins or until filling barely quivers


“I felt like I had an expiry date on how long I was allowed to feel sad for, how long people would put up with me. But years later it's still an everyday thing.”


“We think of time and loss as being linear, but they’re not. Time squishes together in some moments and it's as if they're present. For me it's in certain actions; cooking, gardening, making things, growing things. That magical act becomes a way of having a conversation with the person I’ve lost.”


Kathy’s Apple Cake made by Chris

Ingredients 115g unsalted butter, diced and chilled, plus extra for the tin 225g self-raising flour 2 tsp ground cinnamon 100g light brown sugar 1 large egg, lightly beaten 5-6 tbsp milk 225g Cooking apples peeled, cored and sliced Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan. Prepare a deep 20cm cake tin; I butter the tin then sprinkle some flour on. 2. Mix the flour and cinnamon together in a large bowl. Add the butter and rub it into the flour using your fingers, until it’s fully combined and resembles flakey breadcrumbs. 3. Stir in the sugar. Stir in the beaten egg followed by 5-6 tbsp of milk. Add the milk gradually until you have a smooth, thick batter. 4. Mix in the apples. 5. Scrape the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 30-40 minutes; or until golden and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. 6. Leave to cool in the tin for 15 mins before turning the cake out onto a cooling rack. 7. Best served whilst still warm. I like it with vanilla ice cream; my Mum would buy Carte D’or as a treat.



“Time is a healer is a slap in the face.”


“We’re not taught to be very kind to ourselves in this country.”


Margaret’s Cheese & Onion Pie made by Cathie

Ingredients 500g plain flour 250g cold butter, diced 2 large onions, finely chopped 500g grated mature cheddar 2 apples ¼ tsp mustard powder 2 large eggs A splash of milk Method 1. To make the pastry, mix the flour, butter and a pinch of salt until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add 5-6 tablespoons of cold water until pastry clumps into a ball. cover, and chill for 30 minutes. 2. Fry the onion in butter until tender and leave to cool slightly. 3. Preheat the oven to 200C or Gas 6. 4. Mix together the onions, cheese and sliced apple. Season with salt and pepper and mustard powder. 5. Lightly beat 2 eggs and add them to the cheese mix. 6. Roll out ⅔ of the chilled pastry onto a floured surface. 7. Line a shallow pie dish, about 25cm x 6cm. Trim the edges. You can patch the pastry together if needed. 8. Add the cheese mix. 9. Roll out the remaining pastry. Brush a little milk onto the lip of the dish, then lay the pastry on top, sealing the edges. Trim off the edges and press down with a fork to crimp it. make a steam hole using a knife. 10. Brush top of pie with splash of milk and bake for 40 minutes until golden brown.



Bittersweet Potatoes by Emily Simpson Extract from when the clouds came in: essays on love, lols and loss. The following section is about Emily’s return to ‘life’ after the sudden death of their Dad, Phil, during the Christmas period. ... It was early February, one of those crisp evenings when the winter night rolls in early and hangs coldly, comforting in the air. The last smudges of a marmalade sunset glowed through the clouds and warmed the trees. I nuzzled into my coat, enjoying the taste of the winter air as I climbed up the hill from uni after a late lecture. My mind wandered over my day - of cheap coffee, vegan pastries, lecture halls and drafty studios. Glancing down my road, I decided to keep on walking and visit the shops to pick up some bits and bobs for my tea. My flat was smaller than it had been in the pictures and the walls were paper thin. It had a sad, 'freshers' vibe which felt inappropriate at the age of 24. I was pretending not to be disappointed by it because I was paying a lot of rent. The price you pay for moving to a city you don't yet know. My new housemates seemed kind, so it was something I could politely ignore, for now. As I walked, my mind continued to drift over the day. It’d been long and I was tired. I’d woken up early to work in the studios, trying to come up with some new ideas and settle into my surroundings. I liked this stage, when art was all potential, the possibility of great works in the future without going to the actual effort of making them happen. I’d taken a few breaks to get up to date with all the course gossip, and see if anyone was going to get boozy at any of the exhibition openings later that week. I was making a conscious effort to


catch up with my life after returning from the Christmas holidays several weeks late. It felt unsettling and a little bit rude that uni had just carried on without me. One of my course mates had tentatively told me how surprised she was to see me there chatting and laughing, because I seemed ‘just like myself'. I took this compliment with enthusiasm. I so desperately wanted nothing to have changed. If life wasn't the same, I could be. I continued walking, passing the arboretum and its skeletal sketches of trees, which reached towards me and pulled me back to the present moment. I could glimpse the duck pond poking through the bare branches as they bent in the wind. I’d spent a gorgeous sunny afternoon in the same park the summer just gone with my whole family; mum, dad and sister. I skipped over the painfulness of this past tense. It felt comforting to know that my dad had found peace sitting on that bench, gazing at these same ducks, head leaning in softly as he spoke to my sister who sat serenely beside him. It felt incomprehensible that the ducks would outlive him, swimming around doing their duck business, unaware of the sad significance they held in my family life. I forced my head back into my coat, telling myself it was the cold that stung it. Thoughts began to rattle and jangle about as they clambered to take a place at the front of my brain. They made so much drama getting there, I couldn’t think or focus on anything else. The pavement drifted out of focus and I felt like I was moving in stops and starts, feet fumbling forwards when I remembered they were there. Suddenly, I felt a deep affinity to my crappy laptop, which froze for a few moments of blue-wheel frustration everytime you clicked the


mouse; making every email a task I couldn't be bothered doing. I was just hungry, I told myself. With a small amount of relief, I focused on food, planning out the ingredients I wanted to buy in my head. I needed something quick and comforting; baked sweet potatoes and hummus. I strode through Sainsbury’s sliding doors hoping to get out as quickly as possible, as my tummy began to grumble. The veg aisle was on the right near the door. I saw courgettes and peppers wrapped in plastic (why so much plastic??). The light was nicotine yellow, the type that makes your head hurt and I felt sorry for the shop assistants who had to see it all day. I smiled at the security guard and he gave me a graceful smile back, as always. My eyes searched the shelves and my heart rate began to rise. I felt a burst of panic in my tummy that flared out into my chest and I felt like I’d been thumped with a fever. I desperately scanned the shelves from left to right, up and down, potatoes, rows of garlic, butternut squash, big purple aubergines, tender-stem broccoli, sad looking avocados… But sweet potatoes????? D: Hot, heavy tears flooded down my face, and I started to howl my eyes out. I was crying because there were no sweet potatoes, so what was I meant to eat when I got home, normal potatoes?? I was crying because I didn’t know what I was meant to do when I got home now, or how I was meant to make it through the rest of the evening? I was howling because I didn't know how I was going to make it through the rest of anything, without sweet potatoes? It's not about the sweet potatoes, okay??? Girls in leggings and Abercrombie & Fitch hoodies side-eyed me as they stepped round me to get a bag of onions. And I felt mortified, cos what if I saw someone I knew and I had been so proud of myself all day for not crying??!??!


I wish someone had told me how different self-care can look when you’re grieving. Sometimes it's eating chocolate alone in the bath, or a bottle of wine and some bad decisions with people you barely know. Sometimes it's a conversation about trash tv with someone you trust when just knowing they know what you’re going through is enough. Sometimes it’s a long walk on your own with your phone on airplane mode, or a night in a cosy pub. Sometimes it’s doing the things you’re ‘supposed’ to do like yoga and journaling, and sometimes it's staying in bed all day looking at memes on your phone whilst you ignore all your messages. Often it's buying sharing bags of crisps knowing full well there’s no one to share them with. And sometimes self-care can be throwing a tantrum over sweet potatoes in the Sainsburys fruit and veg aisle for the whole world to see. It's ok. It's also ok to cry about losing my Dad. He wasn't that mad on sweet potatoes anyway.


Chris Alton www.chrisalton.com IG: @chrisalton Emily Simpson www.emilysimpsonxoxx.cargo.site IG: @emilysurnamexox_x

Project by Chris Alton & Emily Simspon With thanks to Phil, Holmes, Ellie, Jake, Neil, Jane, Rosie, Kathy, Margaret, Cathie, and those we met with and spoke to who were unable to attend the meal Publication designed by Chris Alton & Emily Simpson Illustrations by Chris Alton Commissioned by A Modest Show Funded by Arts Council England Greater Manchester Combined Authority