I wasn’t planning on doing an Easter post. After the past doozy of a final exam week, I intended only to lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling for quite some time. But then my brother emailed me from Maine to say that he and his family would be making the drive up to our hometown to attend church as he had promised our Mom shortly before she died, then heading out to our childhood home on what I will always believe is the world’s most beautiful lake. I can’t be with them, but it made me feel like writing about Easter after all.
Mom loved Easter. I think it was her confirmation each year that the long Maine winter would finally come to an end. But I think it was also a time, when she missed the life she had left behind in New York. At Easter in Maine the snow was just beginning to get serious about melting — the lake still covered in ice. She spoke wistfully of daffodils, flowering trees and a “real spring”. I recall her often saying that in Maine there was no spring — it just went directly from Mud Season to summer. But Mom’s gift was to make all holidays special, and she managed to reconcile the Easter Bunny with snow, ice and mud.
It has been 35 days since she died. During that time, between school and work, I haven’t had a single day to reflect and absorb. Now spring break provides a breath so perhaps this post is the beginning of that process. The week after Mom passed, I met a new patient, who told me about how she still misses her father so much, years after his death. She spoke beautifully about how he is still very present, and her relationship with him continues, just in a changed way from when he was a physical presence in her life. Her words echoed those written by neurosurgeon Paul Kalinithi’s wife, Lucy, in her Epilogue to his stunning memoir, “When Breath Becomes Air,” which recounts the story of his death from brain cancer at 37. She writes:
It never occurred to me that you could love someone the same way after he was gone, that I would continue to feel such love and gratitude alongside the terrible sorrow, the grief so heavy that at times I shiver and moan under the weight of it. Paul is gone, and I miss him acutely nearly every moment, but I somehow feel I’m still taking part in the life we created together.
She goes on to quote C.S. Lewis, one of Mom’s favorite authors, discussing bereavement as not something experienced by just the person left behind but a stage in the relationship between two people. All of these words of wisdom made me think about the actual essence of Easter. At its heart it seems more about the transformative power of love than anything else. Through death one becomes infinitely more real, continuing to live through all the people one has loved and the many ways they pass that love on. As I’ve mentioned here before, in Chinese medical theory, our human hearts hold the Shen — spirit — which in life shines out through our eyes and which is our true reality, connected to the great cosmic ocean of Shen. At death, the earthen container dissolves, but the Shen remains.
I was thinking today of making hot cross buns, which Mom always made for Easter, but to be honest, I’m too exhausted. Next year! Instead here is a very simple recipe that the rabbits would much prefer anyway. It’s a beloved sweet in India and Pakistan, and it’s become one of my favorite comfort foods. It is really terrific for kiddos — much better than piles of candy. If you celebrate Easter, you could create an annual ritual of making it with your kids … don’t forget to leave a little dish outside for the Easter bunny.
GAJAR KA HALWA … ie … KASHMIRI CARROT PUDDING a la PORTLANDIA
- 4-5 cups grated carrots — approximately, can be a bit more (I use the food processor just with regular blade.)
- 4 cups milk (traditionally, whole milk — You can use anything. I first tasted this made with water buffalo milk — today I made it with cashew milk!)
- sweetener to taste (traditionally, plain old sugar, but I like to make this with honey. Maple syrup, coconut or date sugar will also work well here but will slightly change the flavor. I only use about a tablespoon of honey and a small squirt of liquid stevia.)
- 3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or coconut oil
- generous 1/4 cup mascarpone (Optional — this is standing in for khoya, a thickened milk product that you could find in Indian markets here.)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
- 1 tablespoon vanilla (Not traditional, but I think everything is better with vanilla; I find that extra vanilla boosts sweetness so less sugar is needed.)
- pinch saffron (optional but so good!)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds, cashew pieces, or chopped pistachios
In a heavy bottomed pot, fry grated carrots in the coconut oil or ghee for a few minutes. Add milk and salt, and bring to a boil, watching and stirring so it doesn’t burn or boil over. Turn the heat way down, and let it simmer until reduced to the consistency of a hot cereal. I do this very slowly so I can do something else and only have to stir about every 15 min. It takes about two hours. (This is not a dish from the fast food era.) It is a good dish to make while dying Easter eggs! The fragrance that will fill your house during this process is utterly divine. Meanwhile, if you are using saffron, soak it in the vanilla or another tablespoon of milk while the mixture cooks. When it has been reduced by about 2/3 and looks like orange oatmeal, add the mascarpone, sweetener of choice, cardamom, vanilla and saffron, raisins and nuts. Cook for about another half hour on low heat. When done, pretty much all the liquid should be absorbed. (But if you can’t wait, and it’s still a bit soupy, it will still taste amazing!) Do watch carefully at the end; this is when it can easily burn. Remove from heat, and serve warm or at room temperature. Garnish each bowl with a sprinkling of nuts.
This Easter with everything divisive that’s going on in the world, making a recipe from a young Muslim mother in Pakistan seems completely perfect. I am grateful for everything my Mother was and continues to be in my life and also for all the rest of my dear ones, scattered far and wide. Love to all of you and to everyone who has found their way here to the kitchen table … Blessings on this day. May we all help each other to become a bit more Real…
“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’ ‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit. ‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’ ‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’ ‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”