This post started out about pot roast. And as I was writing about browning and caramelization and braising techniques, all of the words seemed silly and insignificant given the reason I was writing about pot roast in the first place. So I decided to back up a little.
A few weeks ago my husband, children and I made the familiar drive from our home in Boise, Idaho to my hometown of Seattle, Washington. We’ve made the drive a hundred times before, but this time was different. I was going home to be with my Mom. To say goodbye to my Mom.
She fought a courageous battle with a multitude of physical trials over the past 13 years, among them being a destructively progressive case of MS and a major brain injury. She continually defied medical odds and bounced back from near-death hospital stints time and time again. So even though she had been sick for years, it was still a shock to suddenly hear that this time was different. This time she wasn’t bouncing back. This time we would bring her home, but it would be so she could finish her mortal life surrounded by her family at home.
I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences with people you love. And like me, you have felt the weight of your world crashing down around you. I hope you’ve also felt the buoying strength that can come in trying times from the love of both God and other people in your life.
My Mom passed away three days after I arrived. I won’t detail everything that happened in those three days because it was a sacred, personal experience, but I was so happy I was there. I sat at her bedside and told her I loved her. I held her hand and told her it was okay for her to go; that she fought such a good fight and we were all going to be okay. I told her I’d miss her every day of my life and I couldn’t wait to see her again one day.
You might be wondering what on earth this has to do with food and blogging and pot roast. Well the thing is, you probably know my Mom more than you realize.
Hundreds of thousands of you have read this post. My experiences with my Mom have shaped my character and played a significant role in influencing my thoughts and feelings about Motherhood.
I grew up at her side in our kitchen. She taught me that food is a way to show love and help people connect with one another. Our kitchen table was evidence of that, and so much of my life is built around that now. My Mom taught me how to cook. She never realized it, nor did she ever really get to understand what Kate and I have built here. When I was at her house after she died, I found this copy of our very first cook book. I remember my sister sending me a text about it at the time. I sent a copy home to my parents and my Mom put post-it notes on all of the recipes that looked good. So like, every page. I laughed because so many of those very recipes were ones she taught me to make! She didn’t know, and couldn’t remember. After my Mom’s passing, Kate pointed out how cool it is to think that my Mom can finally see all that we’ve worked so hard to build here and she would love it.
On the drive back home to Idaho after she passed away, my mind was flooded. We were quickly trying to pull together funeral arrangements, and I would only be home in Boise for a few days before we turned around and made the drive back home to Seattle again for her burial. The previous weeks and days had been emotionally exhausting and my heart ached. We pulled into Boise with our car full of tired children at 11:30pm on a Saturday but before heading to our home we went to the grocery store. Because I needed a chuck roast.
Boise was cool and drizzly that weekend and the following day was Sunday. In the final hours of our drive home, all I could think about was how that next day I wanted to curl up on my couch with a blanket and smell a potroast braising in the oven. Because that’s so often what was happening in my childhood home on Sunday afternoons. That scent was almost healing. There is a reason they call it comfort food; my brain went straight to it without even trying.
In the days and weeks that followed, friends overwhelmed me with love and service. People showed up with at my door with beautiful flowers. One friend made activity bags for each of my kids for the car trip. Others took my kids off my hands. And they brought food. My brother came over and noticed all of the things that had accumulated and noted sarcastically that no one brought him any food. We laughed and noted that women know how to communicate with one another. Most friends didn’t even say a word. They just knocked on my door with a smile, gave me a big hug, and handed over a plate of brownies, or a pan of lasagna, or freezer meal or loaf of bread. And I heard and felt the message that no one needed to say out loud.
Food is love.
And that’s why I love what we do here. My Mom taught me so much of what I know not just about food, but gardening, home-making, life, faith, family and so much more. And I have had the unique opportunity to share it with millions of people around the world. Millions. I marvel at that. Part of that is her legacy.
So while you may have never met my Mom, you know her through her famous Mint Brownies and Peanut Butter and Jam Bars. You’ve adopted her traditions if like me, these Cheesy twice-baked Bleu Cheese Potatoes or Overnight Sausage and Egg Casserole grace your tables on holidays. You’ve tasted a bit of her warmth and goodness if you’ve made her signature Candy Cane Cookies found in our second book, and her love shines through in countless other recipes on this site and in our books. Whether she knew it or not, she’s part of Our Best Bites. I would say the same about Kate’s Mom, who died when Kate was young. We’re lucky to be the daughters of great women, whose shining examples continue to uplift and inspire us.
For anyone out there experiencing trials and heartache of your own, know this. There is purpose in everything, even the darker days. I truly believe that. One of my favorite thoughts is by James E. Faust, and I’ve felt a renewed significance of it in these past weeks:
Here then is a great truth. In the pain, the agony, and the heroic endeavors of life, we pass through a refiner’s fire, and the insignificant and the unimportant in our lives can melt away like dross and make our faith bright, intact, and strong. In this way the divine image can be mirrored from the soul. It is part of the purging toll exacted of some to become acquainted with God. In the agonies of life, we seem to listen better to the faint, godly whisperings of the Divine Shepherd.
Into every life there come the painful, despairing days of adversity and buffeting. There seems to be a full measure of anguish, sorrow, and often heartbreak for everyone, including those who earnestly seek to do right and be faithful. The thorns that prick, that stick in the flesh, that hurt, often change lives which seem robbed of significance and hope. This change comes about through a refining process which often seems cruel and hard. In this way the soul can become like soft clay in the hands of the Master in building lives of faith, usefulness, beauty, and strength. (-Faust, The Refiner’s Fire.)
In the weeks to come, you’ll see my pot roast recipe pop up here, and now you’ll know all the heart behind it. I hope it, along with the rest of the food we share here, helps you create traditions, memories, and safe places for your own hearts to return to.