Connection. I luuuuuuv cooking for people because of the connection it brings along with the nutrition. I get to have connection (yeah) but I also really enjoy watching other people connect at parties and special events. This is so important for me to write about right now because our connection to others is so … let’s just say OFF. It simply isn’t the same to connect with someone over internet or phone. Don’t get me wrong, if it is all I can do, I will take that. Confinement in the home is no bueno!!

Connecting around food is where my joy and livelihood resides. This pandemic has shook this internal home to the core. My work has changed, my relationships have changed, and the way I connect has changed. There is not an emotion that I haven’t experienced in these last few months. As we have seen the restaurant and food businesses has suffered greatly. So many of us are feeling unconnected and unhinged. Connection is more important than ever so how can we do it?

These last few months have defenitly been the most difficult I have ever experienced. The uncertainty and lack of control of things around me has driven me to all kinds tactics to make some sense of it all. It doesn’t make sense.

Feeling around in this dark lonely space has led me to a truth. Being together and connection brings joy to most everyone. When that is taken away, what do I do? What can I do? What can we do? I get flexible. We get flexible. It writes easily but actually doing this is difficult. Resistance to change is real, very real for me.

I listened to a podcast with Brene Brown. If you have a few moments on a walk, drive or at home- turn off the news or Netflix and listen to it here. Brene has an interview with Dr. Vivek Murthy. He was our 19th Surgeon General. His discovery is that the root of so many illnesses stem from the lack of human connection and loneliness. I haven’t read his book Together but it is in my amazon cart. He believes something humans need so desperately and are drawn to is relational connection. I find this so fascinating that this came from our very own leading doctor of western medicines. This isn’t a drug, or exercise, or food but connection. Those items are extremely important but we can not alleviate our relationships and the effects they carry.

Many times I have wanted to show strength through being independent and going it alone. I have also been around many and felt loneliness. I have wanted to show strength in being strong and inflexible, to push through no matter what the circumstances. I have felt shame in needing another person to tackle life’s obstacles. But this is not how we are meant to be as humans says Dr. Murthy. I don’t know about you, but this gives me great relief. It feels unnatural to me to go at problems alone but I go down this spiral of shame in needing help. This only adds to my loneliness at a time of need and vulnerability. Connection is the answer.

At the end of the podcast, Brene and Dr. Murthy end with “tilting the world towards love” idea. Oh man, I love this. I believe my way of doing that is to find ways to connect with you and to support your connections with your loved ones through nutrition. How do we do that right now? We must find ways. One way is being outdoors around a table with a summer table cloth and fresh flowers. Having a friend or two over, while wearing masks to talk over the many things going on and nourishing the body with nourishing. If you don’t cook, call me, I’ll take care of that part for you. Another is reaching out to a loved one, whom you know has taken quarantine seriously, inviting them in or sitting on their front porch with a snack and cold beverage. Or, maybe it is starting a new profound connection to someone you live with. We can do this together.

I need you friends. Humans need humans. Something so basic and so true. I invite you to write me or call me with any questions regarding connections and how you make it happen around food. Let’s share together what has worked for each other in this time of needing help on such a deep level. Now is not the time to retreat but to lean in. Now is the time to think of new ways we can connect respectfully and healthfully.

Here is my recipe for Panzanella which is an Italian salad made with fresh vegetables and home made croutons. It is great for outdoor entertaining wether for on the back porch, on the lake or a picnic in the park. This basic recipe comes from Ina Garten’s cookbook Parties. This cookbook is a staple here with many classic recipes. I’ve added some items to beef it up (but without the beef) 😉

Italian Panzanella

Ingredients

olive oil

1/2 Italian rustic loaf cut into large 1 inch cubes (udi’s frozen baguette for gluten free)

kosher salt

6-8 compari tomatoes (I find these are the most flavorful if you cannot find fresh heirloom organic grown from the local farmers market)

1 European cucumber, seeded and cut into large bite size slices

2 bell pepper (orange, yellow or red) bite size cubes

1/2 red onion sliced

3/4 cup cubed sheep’s milk feta (omit for vegans)

1 avocado cut in cubes

20 large basil leaves, chiffonade sliced (thinly)

3 tablespoons capers

20-25 kalamata olives pited

Vinaigrette

1 garlic clove minced

1/2 tsp dijon mustard

3 tbs light colored vinegar (white wine, apple cider, champagne, or red wine)

1/2 cup olive oil

kosher salt

black pepper

Directions

Heat a couple of glugs of olive oil in a cast iron skillet on medium/low. I don’t usually specify what to cook on but the cast iron skillet really does toast the croutons nicely. Add the cubes of bread and a couple of pinches of kosher salt. Watch the bread and toss occassionaly to make sure all sides are golden brown. Add more oil if needed.

Mix all ingredients of the vinaigrette.

Toss all ingredients, croutons, and vinaigrette. Taste for needed salt and pepper. As this sits at room temperature the flavors become vibrant. But eating while the croutons are still warm but soaked with dressing is devine!

We are finding new ways to connect and I hope this brings some pleasure to your new found ways of important and precious time together. And don’t forget to connect here with me @ mandy.gritsandhoney.com I want to hear your stories of connection.

Much love,

MK