Life After Emilee Logo | Neal Klein honoring his wife after losing her to pancreatic cancer
Life After Emilee Logo | Neal Klein honoring his wife after losing her to pancreatic cancer
Life After Emilee Logo | Neal Klein honoring his wife after losing her to pancreatic cancer

Come Join Me As I Shop and Cook For The First Time Since Emilee Is Gone

Come Join Me For A Bit

Today, I passed a couple of thresholds, hurdled a few hurdles, and crashed through some force fields, some invisible barriers.

You know I have not really cooked a home cooked meal since Emilee has died. Oh, I made franks, but that does not count for anything. I have been heating up prepared meals that I buy from a place in East Haven called La Cucina, or from Fresh Fields, and this may sound bizarre, but I hadn’t even gone vegetable shopping. Why? I mean I have been going to the supermarket for milk and yogurt and cheese and staples, but there is a store Emilee and I used to go to once a week for fruit and veggies, and a few other items like pasta and special grated cheese from Liuzzi’s a specialty Italian market that has some of its items in this store.

She was the one that would cook. Although not much the last few months because she was too tired. So, why go to this store if nobody was cooking? Well, I started having this craving for oven roasted vegetables. One of my favorite foods Emilee used to make. So, I decided to go to Connecticut Fruit and Vegetable market, where we used to shop. I did not realize that walking into the store would be the first invisible force field I would cross. Bam, it hit me as I walked thru the automatic slide doors and grabbed a cart. No, I did not walk into the doors, silly, (although it is in my realm of possibilities).

I almost never shopped there without Emilee. I always pushed her in the wheelchair that we kept in the back of the car. In the store, I would grab the plastic bags for the veggies, and she would do all the picking, and I would put the stuff in the carriage. You have to understand that she was superb at handling the shopping cart from her wheel chair. She would put her feet on the bottom of the carriage and handled the turns and corners with superb finesse. Most people were overly nice, but on occasion we would encounter a totally oblivious individual (she had some other descriptive names for them).

So, even when she had deteriorated in cancer progression, we somehow managed to get out of the house and go. It is only ten minutes from our house, and it is fairly easy to negotiate the aisles once inside the store, unless it is a weekend, so we tried to avoid those times. It was our time out together.

When I grabbed the shopping cart today, and started down the first aisle, I almost lost it. I had to remind myself (without talking out loud which I do incessantly and drove Em crazy….she said I talked to myself more than I did to her….probably true)…..had to remind myself to breathe, but the sadness came on me like this wave that you (I) did not see coming. I was pushing the cart, not the wheel chair. I was picking out the veggies. I was making all the decisions…..what veggies, which ones looked good, checking the dates on the containers of seafood salad, deciding what pasta I was going to use to make the…..the tuna salad.

I knew we still had elbow macaroni in the house, but I did not want elbows. I wanted baby shells when I saw those. Then it would be like the salad they have in the store, which I like. I had to remember what I needed to do these simple but delicious roasted veggies Em would make. I wanted zucchini and yellow squash, broccoli, baby tomatoes, asparagus, spaghetti squash (yesssssss, such a cool vegetable, just like spaghetti but it is squash strands…..sooooo cool). I needed panko breadcrumbs, has to be panko, and I needed high end grated parmesan from Liuzzi’s. I also absolutely love roasted baby cherry tomatoes.

So, I obviously managed to swallow the lump in my throat and focused on what I needed to get in my cart. I wasn’t sure I had enough olive oil at home, but was banking that I did. (Just enough it turns out). Okay, back home, get the bags inside, and figure from watching and helping in the past (when she felt well she really did not like me helping, it was only when she couldn’t stand for more than a few minutes at a time did she let me help…….

So, next would come the test. Did I really pay attention? Remember, I am the guy who managed to kill a precooked frozen veggie burger, and killed the indestructible (??????) pan, one of those ceramic jobbies that supposedly cannot be destroyed…….YEP…I did……first time using it……(LMAOROTFL and crying)….I burnt the veggie burger…it stuck to the pan and scorched the s**t out of it….lol….had to throw it out…along with the burgers…lol….lol….lol…..tears…snorting right now……lol…..click and clack brothers…..oh god……

Okay, where was I????? hehe…. Do the spaghetti squash first cause you gotta do that first. Because it takes the longest. Right. Cut it in half with the big kahuna of a knife, and do not cut yourself, put in the big pan with enough water to just cover the bottom of the squash. Oven on at 400, timer set for 45 minutes. Now get the veggies prepped. And get some jazz music on for background help.

Now I am realizing I am breaking yet another one of those barriers and crossing a threshold. I am cooking in my own kitchen, no one is there to tell me what, how, when, although I could feel Em grabbing the seat of my pants and nudging me this way and that. Now for some very questionable knife skills. Wash the veggies. Cut the broccoli flowers off (I don’t like the stems), break the asparagus so it is the tender part that is left, thinly slice the zucchini.

Now I am realizing, that I have more than will fit in one roasting pan. Thankfully, I do have four roasting pans, because I needed all four. So, spray the pans with pam so the veggies don’t get glued to the pan, coat the pans well, lay out the veggies nice and neat. Now to drizzle the olive oil, drizzle not pour. Requires a little finesse. I don’t want to overdo the oil, and I am conscious that I do not have an abundance of it, and I have four pans that need to get drizzled.

Next, the panko bread crumbs, neatly but heartily sprinkled. Finally the grated parmesan, then a few more bread crumbs and voila, looking good so far. Timer is beeping for the squash. Poke it with a knife and if it slides in easily, it is done, and the knife slides in without resistance, so out comes the squash. The veggies can go in the oven, but I can only fit three, so I leave out the pan with the tomatoes. The other three go in, two on top, one on the bottom. Now to watch and make sure they do not burn. Set the time for 10 minutes and then I will check on them.

Take the spaghetti squash out of the pan of water…..steaming away….. and hot. Let it cool for a few minutes, then take a fork and scrape out the insides, and watch how it comes out like strands, magic. I get that done, and keep checking the veggies. The pan on the bottom is cooking faster than the ones on top, so I flip that pan around so they all get done, and after another 8 minutes or so, they come out, and the tomatoes go in, I reset the timer for 5 minutes so I don’t overdo anything, get the dirty stuff that I used washed, and of course I am tasting the first tray of veggies…..the zucchini and yellow squash, and I am getting excited. Good…….no, really good. The panko gives them a crispy crunch, the cheese for flavor, and the veggie does the rest……simple but delicious.

The rest of the veggies cook, and when the panko is nice and browned, everyone comes out. Tasting. Asparagus is perfect, they all are. The tomatoes, oh my god I love roasted tomatoes. I don’t want to get erotic here, but the flavors are orgasmic,…..in a culinary sense. For the taste buds, it is orgasmic, and damn it they deserve it don’t they? Simple, rustic type food. My bliss.

And then the bittersweet wafts over me. I know she is watching me, but ……. Ahhhh…….here comes that lump in my throat again. And of course, I am also thinking that this is practice for making dinner for someone, a friend, someone, I repeat, a friend, to share it with. (She smacked my head, again.)

So, now to put the dish together. The spaghetti squash when warm, got a little butter, just a touch of I can’t believe it’s not butter, the veggies go on top, prettily arranged if I want to go for aesthetics and points for presentation. Some grated cheese on top…… and IF someone wanted, they could put marinara sauce on it, but I am not going that route tonight. Bread would also add a nice touch, but that will be for company. No bread tonight. You could also put some kind of dressing over the top…..but I want it plain tonight.

I broke another barrier. I did NOT burn anything tonight. It actually tastes really good. I made dinner from scratch. She is smiling. She knows I not only can take care of myself, but…..damn…she just smacked me and told me to behave. I can start to cook when I am so moved. I can explore and see what else I would enjoy making. I did just say enjoy. Bittersweet. She is not here to enjoy it with me. She wouldn’t have been able to keep from telling me what to do……actually towards the end, she would get exasperated with me asking so many questions……just do it…..she would say…lol…. she even had to talk me through making a grilled cheese. I mean who doesn’t know how to make a grilled cheese???

So, I don’t think I will be cooking every night. But my repertoire of functional behaviors is slowly expanding. And I am sure I will learn to cook other meals. But, I am happy and I am sad. I crossed another threshold, broke another barrier, cracked another invisible force field wall, how overwhelmingly sad I feel. I feel both, this sad piano music in the background is not helping at the moment. I did not pick it.

Silly Pandora always injecting variety into my own composed station of blues, gospel, jazz old and new, music is such a godsend these days. Pat Metheny, Chuck Mangione, Billy Joel, Marc Antoine, my Pat Metheny station that I just throw all the jazz fusion in the world onto, along with Al Jarreau (So sad he just died recently), Take 6, more than I can mention.

Music….the power to take you and carry you, to hold you, embrace you, move you, bleed every last tear out of you, lift you up above the clouds, catch you, toss you, surround you, care for you, move you to move and dance, with your feet and body or with your mind while you are sitting in a chair, move your heart to ache, to mend, to smile, to cry, to feel…..to feel….something…anything….to feel…to know you are alive, and that you have an encyclopedia of emotions that play like an instrument. They can be strummed, stroked, culled into harmony, twisted into discord, exquisitely entwined or torn apart.

I don’t know this for sure, but I think most of us probably do not use music as much as we could to soothe our souls. To escape when we need to, and to engage us and help keep us alive. I am pretty sure it does something to our endorphins although I did not google that. I feel it. But I would be willing to bet we can use it to help cope better with the havoc that chemo can play on the body and the mind. And not just for chemo-related effects, but for mood enhancing effects.

Did I mention how good my dinner was? Perhaps I can invite you to join me sometime, metaphorically speaking? Or for real? A part of me wants company, and yet a bigger part of me wants to be by myself (have always been a loner), to write, to cook, to sing, to ……cry…..damn piano music again. Okay, switch it up. YES, Bob James and Earl Klugh, Handara on the album Cool. Now, that is music to groove to….such classy piano and guitar….god….they are blessed, a little calypso grooving funk. Can’t sit still.

You know, when I eat a really good healthy meal, I don’t look for dessert. At least not yet. Now they are playing Mahalia Jackson gospel, critics say she is one of the best gospel singers ever. She definitely has the spirit inside her. Then again, Bali Run by Fourplay on Fourplay, is more of a mainstay, staple, for me. Intelligent music I call it. It takes you for a ride, with various twists and turns, and there are lovely sights along the way. Blue in Green (take 3) by Bill Evans on Best of Bill Evans, or Old Folks by Dave Hazeltine on Perambulation. And then, there is George Benson, my very first exposure to jazz when I was ……twenty-two. A housemate began my education in jazz. Hands over my heart to her (Mickey), wherever she may be.

And, on that note……..did I pull you in with me for a few minutes….you were here with me for a spell….and you kept me company…..as you always do…and for that…I am grateful….because without you…. I would truly be alone….this is my way of connecting…it is my channel…words and music….so….please come back…if you are having trouble with food, forgive me….. I hope my talking about eating did not bother you in any way. I hope you will pardon me and …..I am not sick with cancer…..I have lived through it vicariously, but….. I only know it from being next to it, so close….so close…so painfully close……….And, on that note…and a half dozen tissues …Always, Love, from my heart to yours……

Neal Klein
Life After Emilee, on the loss of my wife to pancreatic cancer. I’m not accepting comments right now but please feel free to get in touch via my Contact page.

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