It’s a gorgeous autumn Sunday. We have opened the doors to the patio and the soft October light shimmers through the drapes and onto the wall. My husband is sacked out on the sofa, while two football teams battle it out in high-definition digital color. The purples, blues, whites and greens of the game are so beautiful and soothing, I could almost be gazing out at the ocean. I’ve got turkey meat loaf cooking in the oven and the delicious aroma hits me like a tranquilizer gun. Aaaah. I love this day. It’s perfect in the present moment, and it also tugs at my memory of many other days spent just like it – lazy days arranged around family, food, a game on TV. I don’t care a whit about who wins or loses today, so what I’m really tapping into is the healing power of Comfort. It’s a theme that’s been on my mind recently, thanks to my friend, Suzan Colon’s wonderful new memoir, Cherries in Winter.
Suzan, a magazine writer, was laid off from her dream job last year and like millions of Americans in these tough economic times, was forced to drastically slash her budget. For this career girl and her husband that meant among other things, forsaking all their favorite restaurants, take-out treats, and gourmet groceries for home-cooking and what Suzan calls “stick to your rib” foods. In her quest for cheap and hardy fare, Suzan discovered an old file of her grandmother’s recipes, and it proved to be a treasure, because what Suzan uncovered amidst the tasty soups and stews, was, in fact, her family’s story for surviving hard times. As Suzan wrote: “The recipes Nana wrote and saved offer more than directions for making the comfort food that sustained my family for four generations. They’re artifacts from times good and bad – not vague references, but proof that we’ve been through worse than this and have come out okay. And right now, that’s something I need to know.”
As Suzan delved back into her family’s history, she not only updated family recipes, she, more importantly, found her own seat at the proverbial grown-up table. She recognized herself as the latest in a long line of enterprising and hard-working females – women who survived hard times with smarts, pluck, and always with elegant style (whether it be perfect red lipstick or the extravagant purchase of luscious winter bing cherries) – and the payoff was huge. Suzan didn’t just survive the lay-off and “come out okay.” She took a leap of faith and dove deeper as a writer. This warm, poignant and funny book is the result.
And that is a great lesson for all of us who look forward to being better versions of ourselves. Maybe we too can look back and embrace a few of our own family’s food traditions – and update them for health reasons certainly, but as a way to get nourishment that feeds our souls as well as our bodies. Who knows where that might lead – when you try out new healthy recipes to honor the memory of your grandma, the great cook, or you get up early for a walk and silently thank mom for all those years she got up to go to work? Or you imagine how great you’ll look after losing Just 10 – just like that fabulous aunt of yours?
Maybe that’s why I love turkey meat loaf – it’s a childhood comfort that reaches all the way to my adult self. My mom’s meat loaf was made with ground beef, topped with ketchup, cooked to a delectable crisp, and served with buttery mashed potatoes. But it came with a fat and calorie count off the charts, so I thought it was off my menu for good. Until I came across a great heart-healthy recipe for turkey meat loaf. I like to serve it with baked sweet potatoes and steamed green beans, and it’s healthy, delicious, and just like when I was a kid it really does have power to reassure me as the sun sets too early on Sunday night, and the night air turns chilly that yes, all will be fine. Food is life-sustaining, Suzan reminds us. And eating is just one part of it. “Many of my happiest memories are associated with food – being able to provide it, the meditation of preparing it, the delight of sharing it.” Suzan Colon’s Cherries in Winter has just come out in paperback.
Click here to purchase your copy of Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon.