I want to warn you that this post starts with sadness, in case you need to save this reading for another time. But, it ends with friendship and a recipe.
Seven years ago, I lost my dear friend, Melanie. On a narrow Kentucky road, Melanie and her three children—Madeline, David and Charlotte—died in a car accident. When something like that happens, it’s hard to wrap your brain around Why? Some turn to God for answers, and some curse Him for the unexplainable, searing loss. I asked for answers.
Melanie, her twin sister, Missy, and I grew up together through elementary school, during those pivotal years when we start to become ourselves. As kids, we were inseparable. Even after I moved away, we stayed close throughout high school and college. I was in her wedding. We didn’t see each other much, but we talked often.
But then I moved farther away, and I let the years slip by. Too busy, too distracted, too focused on making sense of my own life.
At the time of Melanie’s death, we hadn’t been in touch in years. We didn’t have a falling out. The opposite in fact. I thought about her all the time, always meant to call, to write. I found out later, she did the same with me.
Melanie’s death had a profound impact on my life. It changed me. I reached out and rekindled important friendships I had lost, and began to nurture existing relationships. Without friends, we drift alone in this world. I’d always believed this, of course. But my actions didn’t always match my belief. Before her death, I often let myself be too busy to be a friend. Painfully, I awakened.
Here's what I learned about friendship. I can’t just give lip service to friendship. Friendship is like a marriage. To develop a meaningful relationship, I have to be there—sometimes in person and often in voice, for those friends far away. Being there in spirit doesn't count, because friends can't feel my thoughts. Action matters. Friendship means giving of our talents and having the humbleness and gratitude to also receive, because it feels good to give. A friend helps through difficult times, and also has the courage to accept help when she needs it. Friends laugh, but we also cry, sometimes from happiness and often from sorrow. Good friends are truthful, offering constructive criticism and helping to prevent us from spiraling off course, or maybe just to stop a bad outfit. A good friend receives constructive criticism gracefully, knowing gentle guidance is given in love.
I am not perfect now, in my friendships. But I continue to work to be a good friend. And as a result, my life is so much richer.
Last weekend, I catered a 40th birthday party for a remarkable woman. The birthday girl, Sarah, gathered twelve of her closest friends for an intimate dinner at her home. There, I was once again reminded of the rich rewards we both give and receive through meaningful relationships. I witnessed friendship in action.
As I cooked in the kitchen, I listened through the open window to the women gathered around the candlelit table outside. One by one, they took turns expressing how Sarah’s friendship—her love, wisdom, compassion, understanding, being there—has shaped their lives. What a magnificent testimony to friendship.
I don’t know why Melanie and the children died. Only God knows. But in a very small way, I’ve made meaning from that loss, and perhaps others have too.
Because food provides a vehicle for gathering people together, for giving us the time to sink into conversation and stay awhile, I’m giving a recipe here. At Sarah’s party, one of the favorite dishes of the night was the whole roasted cauliflower. Whether you make this recipe or another, I hope you gather your friends around the table, to laugh and love and share and cherish the relationships that make life meaningful.
Whole Roasted Cauliflower
This recipe was inspired by my recent trip to Israel, and adapted from this recipe in Bon Appétit Magazine. If you are opposed to poaching the cauliflower, you can just roast the cauliflower in the oven for a very long time (like 2 hours), but you won’t achieve the silky texture that comes from poaching. The spiced wine broth also gives it a lot of flavor. Save the broth and make a soup out of it, putting all that cauliflower flavor to good use. Serve the cauliflower on a bed of tahini with a side of spicy cilantro sauce, called zhug.
1 head cauliflower, tough leaves removed and stem trimmed
1 cup white wine
1 tablespoon sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling at the end
1 teaspoon whole coriander seed
1 teaspoon whole cumin Tahiniseed
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling at the end
a handful of parsley or cilantro
2 bay leaves
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.
Place the cauliflower in a pot and add enough water to cover (or almost cover). Add all of the seasonings, wine through bay leaves. Stir. Bring the broth to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, cooking about 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is very tender. Use a fork to test. It should slip in and out very easily.
Remove the cauliflower from the water and place on a baking sheet or an oven-safe skillet. Place in the oven and let roast for about 45 minutes, or until very dark and beginning to blacken in some spots.
Remove from the oven and drizzle with extra olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. Serve warm or at room temperature with tahini sauce and zhug.
1 cup unroasted tahini*
1 clove garlic, ground to a paste (if desired)
about 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
½ teaspoon sea salt
Add tahini paste to a large bowl. Add garlic (if using), lemon juice, lemon zest and about ½ teaspoon sea salt. Whisk together with a fork, making a thick paste. It will turn a strange color and consistency and you’ll think you’ve ruined it. Add cold water, a few tablespoons at a time, until the tahini becomes the consistency of a thick sauce. I generally use about 1/2 cup of water. Taste for lemon and salt and adjust, as desired. Tahini sauce will keep in the refrigerator for one week.
*Try to buy a tahini from Israel or Lebanon. They can usually be found at a Mediterranean market. You can also find our favorite brand online here.
Makes about 1 cup
Jalapenos* or other spicy pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 bunch cilantro, stems and leaves
about 2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Place the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender and pulse several times, until all the ingredients are blended, but not a smooth paste. Pack in a jar and store in the refrigerator. Zhug will keep in the refrigerator for one to two weeks or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
*The number of jalapeño peppers is up to you. Use one for mild and up to 10 for extra, extra spicy. I usually use about 3.