I received a curious piece of e-mail on Saturday. It was a note from a spice company asking those of us who cook to please watch a documentary about Amy Winehouse.
I didn’t know much about Amy except that she died of a heart attack brought on by heavy drug and alcohol abuse, won a Grammy and wrote a song entitled Rehab – the first two lines of which I sang repeatedly after I broke my foot.
Curious, I drove to the library after church, borrowed the dvd, got comfy on my bed and slipped the disc into my laptop. The hub was hogging the family room tv with NASCAR.
For two hours I sat on my bed and witnessed the sad and infuriating progression from hopeful to hopeless. Exactly five years and one day after she died.
She was simply a hopeful, humble girl grateful for a gift. A gift that she would always have to enjoy, a sanctuary, a refuge from depression.
Along came a spider and sat down beside her.
A bad boy by the name of Blake Fielder turned her on to cocaine.
And then he left her brokenhearted and addicted.
After “Rehab” made her rich and famous, he returned to ride the gravy train.
The anger I felt while watching the film was directed at him.
And at her dad, who also took a seat on that train.
Neither of the two most important men in her life nurtured her talent or protected her heart and soul.
Both of the two most important men in her life exploited her talent and neglected her heart and soul.
Toward the end of the documentary, toward the end of her life, Amy was invited to sing a duet with her idol, Tony Bennett. It was a big deal.
After she passed he said, “She was one of the truest jazz singers I ever heard. To me she should be treated like Ella Fitzgerald, like Billie Holiday. She had the complete gift. If she had lived I would have said, ‘Slow down, you’re too important.’ Life teaches you really how to live it, if you can live long enough.”
Amy might have lived long enough if her talent had been nurtured, not exploited; treasured, not trashed.
So why did the owner of a spice company beg me to watch a documentary about Amy Winehouse on the anniversary of her death?
Frankly because he is a bit of a lunatic. And a bit of a pompous jerk. But that’s another story.
My take-away: Amy’s is a cautionary tale about a malnourished soul.
I’ve told you before that I went through several months of bizarre and scary neurological weirdness about seven years ago. At times I thought I might die.
Sitting in my family room one day I told God why I didn’t want to die. I was thinking out loud, stripping life down to its bottom line.
It wasn’t my ministry that I wanted to live for – someone else could do that – I wanted to live for my family. I told God that I wanted to live so I could cook nutritious meals for my family.
Since then, the Formica-topped, nothing-special island in my kitchen has become my sanctuary.
It is a place of refuge from the depressing realities of this fretful world. When it all becomes too much, I close my laptop, head for the kitchen and engage in culinary art therapy.
It is the holy place where I prepare sacred gifts for my family.
It’s where I do what I can to make the world a better place.
Lemons and lavender.
I feel better about paying top dollar for organic produce if I at least try to use every bit of it. So on Saturday, as I was making a citrus marinade, I zested the lemon before I cut and juiced it.
I paused the making of the marinade, poured about a cup and a half of organic sugar into my food processor, zested the lemon directly over the sugar and then added a tablespoon or two of dried lavender flowers which, coincidentally, I bought at the spice store on Friday. I gave it all a good whirl and then poured the sugar into a jar.
So now I have a jar of lemon, lavender sugar in my fridge right next to the perpetual jar of plain lemon sugar. I just keep zesting lemons into that jar and adding more sugar as I go.
There’s always citrus sugar on hand for pancakes, scones, sugar cookies, tea.
I was feeling a bit out of sorts this morning so I headed to my sanctuary and sliced a peach and some strawberries.
I threw in some blueberries, too, and then sprinkled it all with a spoonful or two of that lemon lavender sugar.
I love how the sugar makes the fruit glisten.
And how it draws out the juices.
Juices. We’ll need some shortcake to soak them up.
So I poured 12 ounces of half-and-half into a small saucepan, added 3 tablespoons of local honey and a half teaspoon of the lavender flowers. Just as it started to turn from a scald to a boil, I removed it from the heat, covered it and let it steep for an hour. Now the strained cream is in another jar in my fridge just chilling.
Later, when I make Alton Brown’s shortcake recipe, I’ll use my lemon, lavender sugar in place of plain sugar and I’ll use my honey, lavender infused half-and-half in place of plain half and half.
Because the love is in the lavender and the lemon.
Lavender-honey whipping cream would be great to top the shortcake and fruit. But I spotted my whipped cream dispenser already in the fridge and remembered that I have limoncello whipped cream to use up. That will be really good, too.
The hub is working in his office twelve miles away, my daughter is shaping youngsters into fine citizens twenty-five miles away and I will spend the next hour here in my kitchen baking soul-nourishing goodness into our lives.