I’ve had a bit of writer’s block lately. I sit and just stare at my screen waiting for the words to come, but it feels like they’re stuck. This is strange and very frustrating because I can always write. No matter what’s going on in my life, good or bad, I can always write. I’ve gone back and read old blog posts and I realized something; I used to share a lot more of my life, my family, my thoughts, my self with you all. Lately I’ve just been posting recipes, but nothing that really expresses my voice or my heart. That was one of the biggest compliments I ever received from my favorite professor at GMU. She told me that my voice really comes through in my writing and that I am a true “craftsperson” with words. I’ve never forgotten that. I’ve heard the same praise from my family, and from readers of my blog. It means so much to me every time I hear it or read it. As much as writing is therapy for me, like anything cathartic, it is also incredibly painful. You sometimes have to open doors to rooms that are just so full of emotion that maybe it’s just easier to keep them closed. My natural reaction to sadness, stress, or most conflict is to go into turtle-mode and shut myself away from the world, mostly emotionally, but sometimes physically too. I realize that’s the reason I’ve been sharing cheerful, sunny posts with delicious recipes. Flowers and berries. It’s all real, but it’s just the good stuff. It’s the stuff that means I don’t have to write about things that make me cry. Things that make my heart ache. As Ernest Hemingway once said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”
My dad is all over this blog. When I used to write about my childhood and about the recipes I learned from him, he was still here, somewhere. Whether he was in Afghanistan, Dubai, Turkey, Goa, China, or a few miles down the road, I knew he’d read my blog post and send me a sweet email back. I could text him or call him if I needed clarification on something, or ask him at what temperature he roasted my favorite chicken. Now, when I write about him and his influence over me and my children, I know he’s gone. His recipes now are his legacy. My memories of him, of ice cream dates to Carousel, of him sitting on the floor feeding ice cream to my daughter, old emails and texts from him that I can’t bear to read but I’m glad I have, grocery lists I found while going through his things, music that we listened to together. That’s what I have left.
Something else I haven’t shared with many of you is that when he died, his house, (our house as he always called it), became mine. 11 acres of beautiful land and an old 1889 farmhouse that has been in my family since I was a baby and is so full of memories. There is just something so special about that place. When I’m there, I feel like I’m supposed to be there. The way the breeze blows through the huge old trees. The way that even on the hottest summer day, it’s always nice in the shade. The history, the old barn foundations, the silo, the mulberry trees and berry bushes. My dad and I picked wine berries every year. He’d go deep into the brambles and come out all scratched to bits with a big bowl of shiny berries and an even bigger grin. The scent of honeysuckle this time of year just about knocks you over. It is truly one of my favorite smells. Wild milk thistles grow all over the property with their big, beautiful purple flowers. Before that house was my dad’s house, my grandparents lived there for a few years while he was overseas. One of the sweetest memories I have is of my grandpa walking up to the back door with a bouquet of thistles for my grandma. Thistles might not sound romantic to you, but I assure you, they are. Another thistle memory I have is when my dad convinced me (after a couple glasses of wine, I’m sure) that since thistles are related to artichokes, we should try cooking and eating one. So, we carefully peeled it, ending up with what actually did resemble an artichoke heart. We steamed it and ate it and what do you know? It tasted just like an artichoke.
When faced with the decision of what to do with the house, my husband and I decided to continue the renovations my dad had started and make it fit our family. Selling that house and that land would be like amputating a part of myself and after just losing a huge chunk of my heart, I couldn’t handle losing anything else. As with any old-home renovation, we discovered some issues that turned our quick renovation into a much larger project, but it’s all definitely necessary to ensure the stability and safety of the house. After a very long several months, things are really moving along now and we hope to be done in the next month or two, sell our current old farmhouse, and move in there. Doing these renovations, taking care of the house and the land, continuing to pick the berries, smell the honeysuckle, and gather up bouquets of wild thistles are all bittersweet, but they give me a feeling of taking care of my father and carrying on his memory.
Those 9 horrific days he was in the hospital, I was there, watching over him, taking care of him, listening to the doctors and nurses, and hanging onto the hope that he’d wake up. But he never did, and in the end there was nothing I or anyone else could do to save him. All I can do now is plant the garden he would’ve planted, start a small business on the land like we talked about so many times (maybe even a small brewery). We plan to have chickens and goats. Chickens for eggs, and goats because they’re adorable. We had both when I was little and I miss the luxury of fresh eggs. My dad used to make fresh goat’s milk ricotta, something I didn’t appreciate much as a kid, but something I’d like to revisit now that I’m older and wiser. There also used to be a row of fruit trees, two sour cherry, one apple, one peach, and one plum. They all got old and buggy and either fell down or were chopped down. We plan to plant more, especially the sour cherries as they are my favorite and I have the best memories of picking and eating them throughout my life. It’s no coincidence that cherry pie is my favorite and only birthday dessert.
So after all that rambling, my plan is to continue cooking, writing, and eating. My plan is to re-make and re-photograph some of my dad’s and my favorite dishes-the ones we always cooked together. I’ve been avoiding them because it just hurts so much. I can’t text him a picture anymore when I’m cooking. I can’t try to lure him over to my house by telling him about the delicious things I’m cooking or with a photo of a cool glass of pinot grigio. But I can make his food. Our food. For him, for myself, for my kids. A few of the recipes I have on my list are Dad’s Carbonara, Dad’s Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, The Best French Toast, and the recipe that made my dad cry when I posted it, Shepherd’s Pie. These are all recipes that I learned from him. All recipes I learned by watching him and by cooking by his side as his sous chef so many times. In a way, all of my recipes are his. He instilled in me a love and curiosity for food and cooking. I will cherish my memories of him, the smells of his food wafting through the house: Onions, garlic, and celery cooking in butter for his signature rice. Soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger to marinate chicken thighs for the grill (always Weber and always charcoal). Flour toasting in oil to make the roux for his gumbo. Even the simplest chicken stock with just chicken, onion, and celery simmering. All smells that will tug at my heart strings and will always make me think of him. Using up the last of his onions after he died gave me a whole new reason to cry while chopping onions.
It’s my job now to carry the torch. To make good food just for the pure pleasure of it like he always did. To make his salmon for every Parris family gathering, to teach my husband how to make the meal that was always the answer when my dad asked, “what do you want me to make?”: Chicken, rice, peas, and gravy. I need to share that recipe. To stand in the kitchen with my kids late at night, eating ice cream out of the container and drinking milk, giggling and trying to make the other one laugh so hard milk shoots out of their nose (yes, I made my dad do this.)
So that’s where I am right now. I’ll keep you posted on the renovations. If you follow along on Instagram @cookonawhim I think I’ll start sharing some of the process on my stories. If you made it this far, thanks for reading my rambling words.