Sautéing My Way Through Grief

When my best friend died in a car accident, I felt compelled to take up cooking. Here are three recipes that helped me through.

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The first week after my friend Céline died in a car accident, I barely ate at all. I was too consumed by grief to even think about food.

The second week, my appetite was back and I craved junk. Potato chips, cookies, greasy burgers. You know, college food — which, in a way, made sense.

Céline and Dallas (Courtesy of Dallas Woodburn)

Ten years before she died, I met Céline on the very first day of college, as I was unpacking my clothes and trying to suppress my anxiety. Céline knocked on my door. She said she lived across the hall and asked if I wanted a popsicle. I chose cherry; she picked orange. Then we sat on my bed and chatted. With her stylish asymmetrical haircut and dangly earrings, she seemed way too cool to be my friend — I figured we would be dorm-acquaintances before drifting apart sophomore year. But that was okay. Céline had a wonderful warm presence that you were just grateful to bask in for as long as you could.

READ: Mourning Recipes From Around the World

I was wrong about the acquaintances thing, and wrong about us drifting apart. In fact Céline became one of my very best friends. We lived together throughout college after that first year of being dorm neighbors, moving into a series of off-campus apartments where we hosted costume parties, raided each other’s closets, and stayed up talking until the wee hours. Céline dreamed of attending Parsons School of Design in Paris and, after graduation, that is exactly what she did. I visited her once in Paris; she was the best tour guide, showing me parts of the city I never would have found in a guidebook. We sipped mint tea at a mosque, slurped ramen in the Japanese quarter, and shared dishes at a Cambodian restaurant. Over meals, I got to meet many of her friends who hailed from all around the world. While I never considered myself a “foodie,” Céline demonstrated the power that food has to bring people together, and also the world-expanding joy of trying new cuisines.

Maybe that is why, after Céline’s taxi was broadsided by a bus in India, I turned to cooking, something I had never done much of before. I felt the urge to create something with my own two hands that could nourish my body, and that I could share with others. That first night, I dished up a simple pasta salad. As I bit into the plump grape tomatoes and fresh basil, I remembered countless pasta dinners with Céline in college, and how she would snack on straws of uncooked pasta as she waited for the noodles to boil.

READ: 7 Meaningful Ways to Incorporate Food — and Cocktails — Into a Memorial

A month after her death, I was cooking every night, looking up new recipes on the Internet, teaching myself how to puree soups, roast squash, and baste chicken. Something about the methodical process of chopping vegetables and following careful directions was a balm for my overwhelming grief, and made me feel closer to Céline. If I wanted to escape my thoughts, I could focus on the simple series of actions before me. If I wanted to let my mind wander, there was space and freedom to do so.

Cooking was, and is, self-care. It encourages me to treat myself with the gentleness, kindness, love, and high expectations that Céline showed me. Cooking my way through new, challenging recipes — some of which I’ve included below — has helped me to nurture the brave, open-hearted, adventurous parts of myself when it would have been easy to get swallowed up by grief.

Hanging on my fridge is a photo of Céline and me. Still today — nearly two years after her death — the kitchen is where I feel closest to her. Here are three recipes, inspired by my dear friend, that have proved comforting amid my grief.

Kitchen Sink Soup

Céline, who was incredibly frugal and never liked to waste anything, would have appreciated this nourishing, versatile veggie soup that also helps clean out your fridge. It is easily adaptable with pretty much whatever vegetables you have on hand!


2 large carrots
1 onion
2 stalks celery
1 potato
3 cloves garlic
14-oz can crushed tomatoes
Whatever other veggies are on hand: bell pepper, snap peas, zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli…
3 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp parsley
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp paprika
2 tsp olive oil


  1. Chop up all of your veggies into small pieces. Mince the garlic.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large pot. Sauté garlic for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Then dump in the rest of your veggies and all of the spices, plus salt and paper to taste.
  3. Cook over medium heat for 7-8 minutes, until softened.
  4. Add veggie broth and crushed tomatoes.
  5. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low for 20-30 minutes, until all the vegetables are cooked through.

Butternut Squash Quinoa “Risotto”

This is a recipe I developed entirely by myself. Céline’s bold creativity inspired me to experiment in the kitchen.


1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
2 cups roasted butternut squash, mashed
1/2 cup water
1 cup baby spinach
1 cup arugula
2 tsp minced garlic

Optional toppings:

slivered almonds
dried cranberries
feta cheese
salt & pepper to taste


  1. Cook the quinoa in the low-sodium chicken broth with the bay leaf for seasoning.
  2. While quinoa is cooking, warm the garlic in a bit of olive oil in a frying pan. Add the mashed butternut squash and cook on medium-low heat.
  3. After about 3 minutes, pour in the water and stir. The consistency of the squash will become more like a thick sauce.
  4. Add the spinach and arugula and continue cooking on medium-low until the greens are fully cooked, stirring frequently.
  5. Once the quinoa is fully cooked, remove the bay leaf. Pour the butternut squash mixture over the quinoa and mix well to form a “risotto.”
  6. Top with slivered almonds, dried cranberries, and feta cheese if desired. (To make this recipe dairy-free, simply skip the feta cheese.)

Sunshine Muffins

These are a great, healthy way to start the day, and I also love them as a snack. They remind me of Céline because she would sometimes say, “Good morning, sunshine!”


3 egg whites
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/4 cup honey


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a muffin tin with nonstick spray, or use liners.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg whites, applesauce, Greek yogurt, and vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, rolled oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, and cinnamon. Slowly add the dry ingredients to your applesauce mixture. Mix well.
  4. Add your carrots, coconut, walnuts and honey.
  5. Pour batter into muffin cups and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Dallas Woodburn is a writer, editor, teacher and literacy advocate living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She blogs frequently about her journey through grief and finding joy in the everyday at

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