The Courage To Cook


Widows often say that they’ve stopped cooking. They don’t have the heart, they say. They no longer care what they eat, they say. They can’t bear to eat alone, can’t bring themselves to shop and cook just for one.

I admit that I don’t cook the way I used to, but I have kind of prided myself on the fact that I do cook for myself, do make an effort to eat well, go to the farmer’s market, frequent the good butcher shop, take care of myself as best I can.

And I’ve made sure that I always have something to read when I sit at the table alone, and I’ve mostly tried to taste the food and not just lose myself in a novel, as you might in a good conversation. Eating alone is one of the hardest things, it seems like an act against nature. But for two years and three months I have sat alone with a plate of something or other, and I have managed, as my grandmother used to say, to keep body and soul together.

Then tonight, don’t ask me why, I decided to roast a chicken. I’ve cooked and eaten a lot of chicken over those twenty seven months, but for some reason I’ve never actually roasted a whole chicken. I’ve just made pieces and parts for myself, as if I didn’t merit a whole bird. And as I was stuffing that chicken with garlic cloves and lemon slices, and showering it with salt, I found myself wondering whether I should make gravy with the drippings.

One minute I was contemplating stirring some good cream into the fragrant juices and reducing them, and the next minute I was doubled over the sink, wailing, tears slicking down, out of nowhere. Because, of course, a roast chicken with lemon and garlic and cream gravy was Shel’s favorite dish, and I’d forgotten all about that. If I’d remembered, in the butcher shop, I would have bought more bits and pieces and fed them to myself, never thinking about missing the whole. But now, it’s too late. The chicken is in the oven, roasting away as if he were here to eat it. I’ve avoided this pain so far -since his death I haven’t baked chocolate chip cookies or pound cake or biscuits, the things that remind me unbearably of my former life in the kitchen. But the chicken sneaked up on me, ambushed me after a hard afternoon of muddling through winery math problems. Cooking was meant to be a respite from that work, but instead tumbled me headlong into a sinkhole of grief.

I can smell it now as it roasts, the lemon note floating above the garlic, the golden skin crisping. It’s the thought of the gravy that undoes me. Yes, I know I can sauté those tiny eggplants with my friend’s zucchini, I know I can pour wine, because I can always pour wine. But do I have the courage to make that gravy, and serve it to only me, myself, and I? There’s still twenty-five minutes on the timer. Twenty-five minutes to face the fact that he will never again carve the chicken, serving himself the breast and me, the leg and wing. Twenty-five minutes to stare into the face of loss. What would you do?


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11 Comments on “The Courage To Cook”

  1. Mike Irwin Says:

    27 months. It’s a long time to hold in the grief. Let it come out and then celebrate all the good things you had with Shel – the chicken, the cookies, and everything. He’s not really gone while you still remember him, so enjoy all your good memories. Bonne chance!

  2. Nancy Says:

    Oh, Abra, this breaks my heart as it has yours. I hope you made that gravy and celebrated the love and life that you and Shel shared.

  3. cigalechanta Says:

    wow, you have just painted me.

  4. LuAnne Wiles Says:

    I would have a good hard cry as you have- express my gratitude for what I had (so many never know that depth of love) which you have… and choke down some chicken. ❤

  5. Silvia Says:

    You found happiness once and it’s more than many folks can get. While Shel is not physically present, the memories of the happy years you are yours forever. Celebrate that. Let the pain of the loss go and hang on to the memory of the good times.

  6. Mark Says:

    Good gravy, go for it!. This meal is good for the soul, and so is honoring those you love, even when they are lo longer there to celebrate with you (in person, at least). Being able to cook is a wonderful gift, and a tasteful tribute. Enjoy the memories, and invite Shel to enjoy it with you! ❤

  7. Marcy Buchan (friend of Barbara Jacquin) Says:

    I second the motion of enjoying the chicken cooked with garlic and lemon! I had a friend when I lived in Ivory Coast who baked chicken with 100 garlic cloves inserted outside and inside. Best chicken I ever ate. I would like your recipe as the addition of lemon sounds super,

  8. DianeKirkland Says:

    There are some good things about grief — one is that it highlights the bond that still exists between the two of you; and if you can stand to examine it, you will find within it a nugget of the feelings, still there, that you’re missing and can now revisit. And the other thing is that grief comes in those waves and they subside.

    I would wait 25 minutes and see if I wanted to make the gravy. And this reminds me of an Erma Bombeck quote: “In our family, gravy was considered a beverage.” ;>

    You’re doing great!

  9. Catanea Says:

    & now we are all weeping.
    I’d ring somebody and invite them over. A whole chicken should be shared, and will even feed three, not just two.
    But weeping is good. We have a lot of grief that is not only private grief, grief for Nice, for Orlando, for Black Lives we didn’t know personally. Weeping is necessary. I can let your grief for Shel help me with those unencompassable things that need weeping for.

  10. Canada Barb Says:

    Abra, I have followed you and your love of food and life from back in the egullet days when you did the most amazing blogs. I feel like I know you as a friend, thanks to your sharing of food, love of France, and newfound love of wine. But I have to say this post moved me so incredibly. I lost the love of my life six months ago, and he was my cooking partner, my music guy, my explore the world guy. The loss of cooking for, or with the one you love is profound. Talking about food, planning the next food-centric gathering, the next cooking school, enjoying good wine together. So lost. We celebrated our 43 anniversary in Paris last October, where despite many trips to France we had never ventured, thinking it needed a good amount of time. I am so glad we got to enjoy it. We preferred the little towns and off the the beaten path places where as you know, the experiences are always amazing. Maybe I have shared too much on a blog, but just want you to know that your words have made what I am feeling about cooking and food make sense. It’s such a different game. I guess there will be lots of crying moments in the future, but you are doing amazing in moving forward. I hope to do as well as you.

  11. Abra Bennett Says:

    Thank you for sharing that, Barb. It touched me deeply, and I wish you well on this path that no one wants to be on.

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