After two years of college in upstate New York, I decided to leave the tundra and head back home. Transferring schools was harder than I anticipated; credits didn’t transfer smoothly and it felt impossible to meet anyone. But I got a job at a local coffee shop, registered for classes, and tried to just buckle down and push through. Around the same time, my boyfriend met a nice, cool couple through his new job. I got to know Chris and Aubrey a little better at the coffee shop where I worked. They usually spend their weekend mornings there, and we chatted occasionally, usually on Sunday mornings while I made their lattes. Their cheery warmth was so refreshing; since I was in class during the week, I would go hours without talking to anyone, which was making me a little nuts.
A few months later, Aubrey’s mochas switched to decaf, and they announced that they were expecting a baby in the summer. A few months after that, in May, their sweet little guy, Joseph, was born early with some severe health problems. A week later, on the day he passed, I was working at the coffee shop. Chris came in, weary and exhausted, to pick up their usual orders. Not yet aware of exactly what was happening, I sent him off with his drink, Aubrey’s mocha, and a bag of baked goods for breakfast, cluelessly hoping the best for them.
The next morning was Sunday. I was at work, and there were a few people in the shop. Chris and Aubrey walked in, and without saying a single word, Aubrey pulled me into a hug so tight, I could barely breathe. Not in a lung-crushing, uncomfortable kind of way, but with the kind of overwhelming warmth, compassion, and honesty that it cracks you open a bit. Stunned by their strength and openness, and mortified at the thought of crying in public, and in front of this couple I hardly knew, I choked back tears, and made their drinks.
A few weeks later, Aubrey and I made plans to have lunch. I packed up some plums from the tree in my yard, and headed over to her house. While she told me all about Joe's birth and amazing life, she pulsed some walnuts in the blender with a few spices. I chopped the plums into a fresh, spicy salsa while we swapped stories of grief and loss, pain and joy. We scooped the walnuts and salsa into some dinosaur kale leaves and shared a few laughs, finding a tiny bit of healing through good food and conversation.
Food doesn't solve everything. But there's something powerful about making space to enjoy preparing and eating good food with people you care about. My favorite memories with my friends and family all revolve around food. Whether you're celebrating happy news or mourning an unthinkable loss, open the fridge and cook together. It's so nourishing, in more ways than one.
To read more about Joe and his amazing parents, visit their blog here.
About that raw walnut filling: it is highly addictive. I’m not going to say it tastes like meat (it doesn’t), but it provides a great texture and flavor contrast that is often missing from vegetarian wraps and tacos. I eat it on everything: stirred into rice, crumbled on top of creamy soups, tucked into tacos, or simply scooped into some kale leaves like Aubrey made it.
2 cups walnuts, soaked
1 tbsp coconut aminos, tamari, or soy sauce
1 tsp oregano, dried or fresh
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne
Fresh cilantro or parsley
Soak the walnuts in room temperature water for no more than an hour. Sometimes, if I’m making this on a whim, I’ll prepare the other parts of the meal while the nuts soak for even just 15 minutes. You can absolutely use them without soaking, it just makes them a bit more tender.
Drain the walnuts and put them in a food processor or blender with everything except the lemon. Pulse until the mixture is crumbly but still in tact. Do NOT blend too much, or else it will turn into a paste. Stir to make sure the spices are evenly distributed, and serve in any of the aforementioned ways. If the mixture is too dry, drizzle in a bit of olive oil.
Regardless of how I'm serving it, I almost always squeeze some lemon on top, and shower with fresh chopped cilantro or parsley.