Last week my mother-in-law Lillian Saiger passed away and the family sat Shiva in Toronto. This time I was not the mourner, but the supporter, and watching from that perspective allowed me to see the beauty and choreography of Shiva. As I sat with my husband, sisters-in-law, and Uncle Dave, I observed the sadness, loss, and the intensity of their mourning, but there were other aspects to this rich tradition. Friends and family arrived to share stories of my mother-in-law, some even walked in carrying photos, others talked about her recipes. People showed their respect by coming by to wish their condolences, but their kindness was also demonstrated as they quietly dropped off a plate of their favorite dishes for the family to share, small gifts meant to console and sweeten the bitterness that the family was experiencing. Plates of home-made poppy-seed cookies, a loaf of banana bread, a noodle-cheese kugel, Quiche, home-made cupcakes and red velvet cookies. People provided meals, even from a distance, a salve to help heal the wounds.
I listened to stories of my mother-in-law from people who knew her from various stages of life, and learned all kinds of things that I didn’t know. She wore bikinis, as a young woman she smoked, she invited my father-in-law on a date soon after they first met. A South African friend shared that my mother-in-law was her mentor, and told me that when she first moved to Toronto, my mother-in-law took her under her wing and encouraged her to play bridge so that she would meet new people. I met someone who told me that just after her husband passed away, Lil insisted that she join her for Shabbat dinner. I watched my children, nieces and nephews come together as part of this choreography, with such grace and beauty, each one finding their unique way to help and support each other and their parents.
Were there any great surprises, not really. I found out that there was an explanation for why my mother-in-law’s fricassee recipe looked darker and richer than my version. I was missing an ingredient. During Shiva Lil’s niece Carol told me that when Lil gave her the recipe, she said to add a little grape jelly, grape juice, or even some Manishewitz. I was so taken aback, how was it that I never knew this, but Carol reassured me that it wasn’t that Lil had intentionally left out an ingredient, but rather that the recipe changed over the years, a work in progress.
On the last morning the Cappe girls provided breakfast, the last meal before the mourners “got up” for the customary walk. It was the final dance, and after the davening we sat down to a meal that Lil would have approved of, and enjoyed.
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened coconut
1 cup toasted almonds (chopped or I used almond slivers)
1 cup of seeds (I used sunflower or pumpkin)
1/4 cup chia seeds (optional)
1.5 cups dried fruit (I used raisins and craisins)
1 cup light coconut milk
3 cups milk (I used almond milk)
1 tsp vanilla
4 tbsp maple syrup
Cinnamon (to taste)
1 package frozen blueberries
Toast the oats and coconut on unlined baking sheets at 325 for 5-7 min (take out before the coconut burns)
Toast the almonds on the stove until browned.
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir. Leave overnight and it’s ready to eat the next morning. Serve with yogurt, berries, more nuts or dried fruits. Sometimes in the morning I add in a bit more milk if it’s mostly absorbed. NOTE: Enough for a crowd and as is customary to say in Toronto, auf simchas.