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Sabbath at the Spectrum Café: Food Rituals of Loss


In addition to memorable Sabbath meals, “Sabbath at the Spectrum Café” features fresh perspectives on food, community and unique stories surrounding vegetarian cuisine.

How do we deal with loss? With time, first of all, then fond memories. And perhaps a few gentle rituals.

Lately I’ve been living with the threat of loss…anticipating losses to come of loved ones with cancer. My mother has non-Hodgkins lymphoma and, after a year or more of chemo, seems, at least for the present, to be doing OK. Our 41-year-young niece has a virulent brain tumor, and five children to live for, and we are very afraid. My cousin Lisa was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. And our beloved dog Spot just died after a year of fighting bladder cancer. In my world these days, loss seems to be named cancer.

I treasure the little mementoes my grandmother passed down to me from her own mother and grandmothers. The treasures—a thimble, a quilt square, a jewelry box—embody my memories of her.

And every time I eat a waffle it reminds me of her. She always made sure there were plenty of the crispy edges I loved, poking out the sides of the waffle iron. She spoiled and doted on me as grandmothers do, and somehow that love has survived in that little food memory. My husband’s mother made fabulous cookies, beautiful enough to have come from the finest of bakeries, and so, like Proust’s madeleines, such cookies always bring her memory to life for us.

If I think about it, I can come up with a food-related memory for nearly everyone I have loved. Food—its taste, its preparation, what it looks or smells like—is always at the center of every get-together, every celebration of life, and of death.

When we moved from San Francisco to a little cabin in the woods 15 years ago, we missed our wonderful church and the fellowship it provided. Max once made over 130 servings of couscous—in five huge trays—for the church’s 125th anniversary dinner. Now when we make “St. John’s Couscous,” it reminds us, happily, of that church we lost, which was so important to us at that point in our lives. And we did find another church to love, and in which to worship and serve.

We also missed the sushi bars and Thai restaurants of our Richmond district neighborhood. We lost the vivacity of the ethnic diversity of the city that we loved so much. But we had acres of pine, oak, and Douglas fir trees, and a little black and white spotted dog that adopted us right after we moved here. Over time we learned to repeat or reinvent favorite food memories we had enjoyed in the city. We often make our own version of Thai Fried Rice for two…usually to use up leftover steamed white rice. It’s good with fresh fruit on the side, and reminds us of our favorite Thai restaurant. We are at the opposite end of the “teeming city,” but we have enriched our little kitchen with the food other people have brought from far away worlds, to make San Francisco feel more like home to them. Their food memories are now our food memories.

Still recent is the one-month anniversary of the death of Spot, who’d been our constant companion for these past 15 years—and always present when dinner was being prepared. As Max cooked our entrée, I felt like adding something simple but special to the table…not exactly a fruit salad, not quite dessert. This “fruit sashimi” rounded out the meal just right, balancing the saltiness of the fried rice. The almost formal beauty we once admired in sushi bars, now expressed in fruit, not fish, was like a bouquet on the table. We cooked, said our usual blessing of gratitude, ate our meal, and observed the anniversary of our loss. 

And as I took my walk this morning—once my habit with my dog at my side—I realized it has now become my solitary ritual. With every step I feel her loss, but remember her with gratitude. As I walk with my phantom companion, I pray, and contemplate how to deal with the losses of loved ones that are sure to come. Perhaps with time I can learn. Food memories will be important.

Laura Lamar is Spectrum’s art director, and a graphic designer and a partner, with her husband, illustrator Max Seabaugh, in MAX Design Studio. They live in the woods in Northern California, where they cook together and reinvent food memories from the past. The recipe for “St. John’s Couscous” (and many others) is available in their recent cookbook “Chez Max (Max’s House).”

Photo credit: Laura Lamar and Max Seabaugh

This week’s recipes for Fruit “Sashimi” Salad and Thai Fried Rice come from Laura Lamar and her husband Max Seabaugh. Lamar writes that the salad is “simple but beautiful,” and recommends making extra rice for the fried rice so that it can be enjoyed the next day.

Fruit “Sashimi” Salad
Serves: 2
Prep time: about 5 min.


2 strawberries, sliced into fans
1 large apricot, plum or other stone fruit, sliced in thin wedges
Handful of grapes or blueberries
Dessert dressing
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice,
Dash of fig balsamic vinegar or other fruit-flavored syrupy thick vinegar*


1. Arrange strawberries—in a roughly circular shape on a flat serving tray—with thin wedges of one large apricot, plum, or other stone fruit.

2. Fill in center with a handful of grapes or blueberries.

3. Make the dessert dressing by mixing together the powdered sugar, orange, juice and fig balsamic vinegar until smoothly blended. Drizzle over fruit.

*Can be purchased at

Thai Fried Rice
Serves: 2
Total prep time: about 15 min.


1 hot dried red chile, seeds removed (leave seeds in for added spice)
2-3 cups cooked rice (white or brown)
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Whites and greens of 3-4 scallions, sliced crossways
1 red bell pepper, coarsely diced
1 zucchini, outer green skin and about ¼ inch of the inner flesh only, cut into 1-inch long by ¼ inch-wide sticks
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or non-hydrogenated canola oil
1/8 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped, for garnish
½ cup unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped, for garnish
Stir-Fry Sauce
2 teaspoons white sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce or tamarind sauce
2 teaspoons lime juice
Thai Chile Vinegar Sauce**
Chiles (serranos, jalapeños, habaneros, etc.), thinly sliced
Plain or seasoned rice vinegar


1. Fluff rice with a fork until grains are separated.

2. Make Stir-fry Sauce by mixing together all ingredients until fully combined. Make Thai Chile Vinegar Sauce by filling a small canning jar with thinly sliced mixed chiles and covering them with plain or seasoned rice vinegar. Let sit a few minutes before using.

3. In a wok or large skillet, warm the oil. Sauté the garlic until barely cooked, then add the zucchini and chile, cooking and stirring for a minute or two.

4. Add sauce mixture and cook another minute or two, then add the rice. Cook, stirring frequently, for another minute or two.

5. Add the red peppers and scallions; stir together until heated through, and serve in rice bowls. Garnish with cilantro, peanuts, and Thai Chile Vinegar Sauce (careful, it’s hot!).

**Thai Chile Vinegar Sauce can be made in advance and stored in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for several weeks

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