It hit 60 degrees in Connecticut yesterday which made me feel hopeful that we may be emerging from the winter of our discontent. Of course now, it is snowing.
This winter so far has been a blur of snow days and pandemic avoidance. I was thinking it has mostly been unremarkable, but then I thought about the few human connections I have had outside of my home, and they rang as pretty significant.
I am at the age now where friends are separating from partners and losing parents. Major life shifts are happening all around us of course, but we are often so busy with our busyness that we neglect to see them.
I reconnected with a friend I have long admired, but as you do when you move to different cities and have children, you lose touch. She is going through a particularly tough time, and I was so glad I made the effort to board an Amtrak train in her direction. Sometimes you just need to show up.
When I think about the times that really have mattered in a friendship, it’s often the days you turn up when someone’s world is falling apart. I am the friend you call when your father suddenly, and shockingly dies. I will show up no matter how far away you are. But I am realizing now that the little moments in between are the days we need to be there for each other. The days you are actually making significance of your friendship. When your friend feels like she wants to scream because her toddler refuses to put on his shoes, or when she just needs to vent about a mean boss. Or just what to make for supper.
There is one friend in particular who showed up for me in my darkest days, and it still makes my eyes sting with tears of disbelief and gratitude. My parents died when I was in the throes of middle school, and I moved to Dallas within days of this event. My best friend at the time, Anne Dyer, wrote me a letter, complete with colorful illustrations, every day for one year. Every single day.
I kept all of the magic marker stained pages for ages, and after several moves and various apartments in various cities, I lost them. I wish I still had at least one to mark this cherished gift and moment in time.
Those letters were a tether to my previous life, and often contained juicy teenage girl gossip, but mostly they were illustrations of friendship. It was her way of saying she had my back and that my grief was recognized, and she cared for me.
In the Mississippi Delta, where I grew up, the minute tragedy struck you showed up by bringing casseroles. Funeral food has been well chronicled by our own, Julia Reed, and even the subject of Being Dead is No Excuse by another Deltan, Gayden Metcalfe. While chafing dishes of layered cream sauces and tomato aspic may not conjure thoughts of consolation, these foil covered trays were brought as a sign of solidarity and a calling card of comfort.
Those recipes feel pretty foreign to me now, especially since we are pretty healthy-ish at our house. When I want to comfort a friend these days, I make a big pot of soup that they can heat up for days.
My current favorite is an adapted recipe by Alison Roman.
Sausage Soup with Broccoli Rabe and Fennel
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound Italian pork sausage
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
6 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
6-8 ounces short pasta (radiatori is perfect here)
1 bunch broccoli rabe, chopped
Pecorino or parmesan, grated
1 lemon, halved for squeezing (optional)
Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Remove sausage from casing and add to pot. Cook, resisting the urge to break it up too fine right away. As it browns, break it up into smaller pieces, allowing bits to get brown and crispy. Once the pork is almost browned, about 8 minutes, add the garlic and cook about 2 minutes more.
Add the fennel seed and crushed red pepper flakes. Give it a stir to toast the spices, about one more minute. Add the chicken or vegetable stock, season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a separate pot of salted water until just before al dente. The pasta will continue to cook in the soup later.
Once the soup has simmered a few minutes, add the broccoli rabe, and simmer about 5 minutes. Add the al dente pasta, and cook about 2 more minutes until the broccoli rabe and pasta are tender. Squeeze in lemon juice if you are using; it adds a little brightness.
To serve, ladle into bowls and top with copious amounts of grated cheese and sprinkle of more red pepper flakes if you like.
I’m down to the wire here, but if you are like me, I show my valentine a little love with chocolate. Not cheesy red boxes of Godiva, but rather a homemade chocolate cake with luscious ganache icing.
This cake is super easy, and loved by every friend I have ever shared it with. Valentine, or no, sometimes you just need chocolate cake.
Chocolate Olive Oil Cake
cake recipe by the Smitten Kitchen, I made my own simple/ foolproof ganache for the icing
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, (I use Dutch process), sift if lumpy
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups brewed coffee
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9″ cake pan with parchment paper and spray bottom and sides of the pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add brown sugar and olive oil, and mix to combine. Add coffee and vinegar and whisk until smooth.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes or until the top is springy and an inserted tester comes out with just a few sticky crumbs. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then turn the cake out on the wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, transfer to your cake plate, and ice with the following chocolate ganache.
Simple Chocolate Ganache
8 ounces, or 1 1/3 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 Tablespoon corn syrup (such as Karo), optional
Place the chocolate chips in a medium, heat proof bowl. Heat cream on the stove until just simmering. Pour over the chocolate chips and let stand for 2 minutes. Then whisk, starting in the middle and working out to the sides of the bowl until the ganache is smooth and comes together. Whisk in corn syrup, if using, for shine.
If the ganache is still a little runny, let it sit for 15 minutes, whisk again, and then pour over the cake and smooth with a spatula. Voilá.
My dear friend, Anne Dyer, went on to become a full fledged author and award winning poet. She has a new collection of poems out called What Girls Learn published by Finishing Line Press.
These poems so poignantly capture the struggles and hilarity of life through the eyes of a teenage girl that they made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I hope you will order a copy!
Lastly, if you are looking for even more reading, I enjoyed this article by Jennifer Senior about making, keeping, and sometimes losing friendships as we get a little older. You can always count on The Atlantic for a little heartbreak, even on Valentine’s Day.
Spring is on the way friends, hang tight.
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