In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Last meal.

We buried my aunt this weekend after a five-year struggle with pancreatic cancer that finally spread to her lymphatic system and brain. It was brutal but she was quite something throughout her illness -- she worked up until five weeks before her death, and traveled all sorts of weird places (Bulgaria, China) between bouts of chemo because she wanted to cram in as much living as possible.

That's her in the photo above, nestled between my grandpa and dad. Her sister is to the right. My aunt and I shared a birthday; she called me every year to wish me a happy one.

A few years ago in the autumn, a little while into her diagnosis, she and my uncle were in D.C. so I invited them by for dinner. It was a weeknight, and I had a rather demanding job at the time, so I did almost everything the day before and my lovely boyfriend Steve set the table and reheated everything while I made my way home from work.

I served an appetizer of sliced beets, feta, Granny  Smith apples and horseradish/sour cream sauce, stacked up in free-form layers -- gorgeous reds, greens, and whites. My aunt wasn't eating much so I made her a mini version, like you'd get at some fancy restaurant.

For dinner I made chipotle/coffee/maple short ribs over mashed sweet potatoes. It sounds a little weirder than it is -- it's actually totally delicious. Sweet, bitter, and smoky-spicy all at once. Again for my aunt, just a daub of orange and brown on a plate, but she pronounced it delicious.

There were candles on the table and linen napkins, and wine. A lovely evening. I don't remember dessert.  

I learned from my uncle a couple of weeks ago that that was the last real meal she ever ate. She couldn't digest solid food after that, a function of the cancer, and was fueled almost entirely by liquid meal supplements.

I can't tell you both how awful and wonderful that was to hear. I have many deficiencies, but if there's one thing I can do, one gift I can give, it is to cook.

Iron your napkins and get out your wine glasses, be it for family, friends or just yourself. Think hard about what to serve, and have it be delicious. Make every meal a celebration. You may, like me, be very humbled and grateful that you did.

For the beets, simply roast them as you would, cool, peel, slice and layer with crisp apple slices and feta cheese. Mix a little horseradish into a few teaspoons of sour cream until you like the taste. If you have fresh dill, you can add that too. Drizzle the beet stacks with horseradish cream and serve with fresh cracked black pepper. 

This is more or less the short rib recipe.



  1. You must feel honored. And sad too, of course.


  2. Bittersweet. Thanks for sharing such a moving story.