getting my feet wet with candied pecans

I’ve been feeling out of sorts in the kitchen lately. To be totally honest, I haven’t felt like cooking at all. I want to feel like cooking, but I just don’t. I flip through cookbooks and cooking magazines and the inspiration isn’t striking. The thought of having to prepare a meal is, frankly, overwhelming.

My cooking mojo has gone on hiatus.

Since Dad has been in the hospital, I’ve been spending much of my spare time sitting beside his hospital bed, listening to the beeps and dings of the monitors, holding his hand and holding vigil. We’ve been eating entirely too much take out in the evening, and the local food delivery guy has probably memorized our address by now. If weeknight cooking happens, it’s because Sam does it. By the time I get home in the evenings, my energy is sapped.

I guess I’m not as good at multitasking as I thought.

On Saturday I planned to immerse myself in the kitchen and cook something, anything. I just needed to hold a knife, chop a vegetable, stir a batter. The pile of food magazines on my desk has grown to epic proportions, but I wasn’t able to find inspiration there. And, rather than looking inviting, that pile just looked daunting. I had just received a new cookbook, Hugh Acheson’s A New Turn in the South, so I hoped to find something promising there. His cookbook is pretty incredible – beautiful pages filled with gorgeous fonts and illustrations, fantastic southern recipes in each chapter – but I wasn’t up to even cooking from that. I needed Hugh to show up to cook for me. Or at least with me.

Instead, I thought about the bag of frozen pecans in the freezer, and I finally had an idea. I would make candied pecans and bring them as a gift to my dad’s nurse and respiratory therapist. They were so good with him – so caring and compassionate, but also confident and professional – while Dad was on the ventilator. Candied pecans wouldn’t begin to express my gratitude, but it would be a start.

It only took about 35 minutes, from start to finish, but it was just enough to get my feet wet in the kitchen again. A little measuring, a bit of mixing – nothing too taxing and definitely tasks I could handle that morning. The pecans were quite good. The combination of maple syrup and brown sugar was a natural match, and the cayenne pepper gave just a hint of heat on the back of the palate.

I feel bad about this, but the pecans were so good that we kept them all. That gift for Dad’s nurse will just have to wait a bit longer.

*    *    *    *    *    *

Thank you all for all of the warm wishes and happy, healing vibes and prayers you’ve been sending my way. Thankfully, Dad was taken off the ventilator two days ago. He’s now breathing on his own and talking again. He’s still in the Intensive Care Unit, but things are looking up. I may not have responded to each of you, but please know that every comment and every email has meant so much to me. Thank you.


Yield: about 3 cups

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Candied Pecans

These pecans make a great food gift for the holidays. They're very easy to prepare and you can double or triple this recipe to make a large batch. Package the candied pecans in jars, tie a pretty ribbon around the top, and you're set.


2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg white, room temperature
12 ounces pecan halves
1/8 cup maple syrup


Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a half-sheet pan with non-stick aluminum foil and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix sugar, cayenne pepper, and salt; set aside. In a second, larger bowl, whisk the egg white until frothy. Add the pecans to the egg white and stir to coat well. Drizzle maple syrup over pecans and combine until all pecan halves are coated. Add sugar mixture to pecans and toss until well combined.

Spread pecans on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove from oven and let cool completely. Store in an air-tight covered jar.

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18 Responses to “funeral food, and a recipe: lemon buttermilk pie”

  1. Kimberley Mulla — March 9, 2014 @ 7:28 pm

    I’m new to your blog but the idea of lemon buttermilk pie brought me here. And then I read your post. My Dad passed away a year ago. We lived on takeout for two weeks while we slept in his room at the hospital. But we are not in the south so didn’t get to enjoy such beautiful food at his funeral. Southern food was my dad’s favourite. Mine too. Hugs. Sending your family peace and best wishes.

  2. Macaroni Mama — March 9, 2014 @ 7:34 pm

    Bits and pieces made up our lives over the past few weeks. I love this post.

  3. Renée J. (RJ Flamingo) — March 9, 2014 @ 8:08 pm

    Thinking of you all, MJ.

    We have funeral food for Jewish funerals – and for a full week after that. It’s mostly cold cuts and cake at first, then the casseroles and roast chickens after that. And more cake.

    It’s at times like these that I feel sorry for people who say “Eat to live, not live to eat.” They’ll never quite understand the warm, comforting hug inherent in a beautiful pie like this one.

    xox – RJ

  4. Jacqueline — March 9, 2014 @ 11:54 pm

    This beautiful photograph just seems so poignantly perfect. Bright and comforting, somber and serious. I want to make this pie, now. Thoughts are with you and your family.

  5. Sending you all so much love MJ. That you found the words to write this post is simply inspiring. And yes, I do bet your dad would have loved this pie. XO

  6. Gail — March 10, 2014 @ 9:03 am

    While there was plenty of food after my parents’ funerals, nothing was homemade. Platters of cold cuts (which I never eat except at funerals) for sandwiches, platters of smoked fishes & fish salads are all the ‘food of my people’. That, in and of itself, makes me feel good.

    But a little homemade something or other would never hurt.

    Love this pie, love this post. Love you.

  7. Catharine — March 10, 2014 @ 9:37 am

    We love this pie! You’re invited to come link it up (and your other pie recipes you may have) at our Pie Party here:

    Have a great day,

  8. dina — March 10, 2014 @ 10:19 am

    oh my! i’m a huge buttermilk fan. this pie looks amazing!

  9. Jeannine — March 10, 2014 @ 11:34 am

    I’m from Alaska, originally, and was still living there when my father died. Our neighbors and friends filled both our fridge and freezer with love and empathy in the form of carob cakes and casseroles, pies and baked meats. Not just a Southern thing, but strongly a fortunate thing, and I’m glad you have a caring community around you. May you, your mother, and your family heal stronger than you now believe you can.

  10. Eileen — March 10, 2014 @ 6:40 pm

    This pie recipe looks like a “keeper” Jennifer. I'[m partial to custard pies so this looks perfect to me. I’m from the North, and it’s very common here for people to deliver food when someone is very ill or has a family member pass. Recently my neighbors lost their 40+ year old daughter to cancer. I felt horrible for them and didn’t know how to express myself so I baked a huge pan of homemade dinner rolls and delivered them while they were still warm. I think delivering food to someone who is experiencing a loss is one universal way of showing how much we care. I hope your days begin to get easier for you and your family.

  11. Laura — March 10, 2014 @ 11:35 pm

    What a beautiful pie and touching words. You and your family continue to be in my thoughts and prayers.

    When my grandmother passed away unexpectedly in fall 2012, so many friends and neighbors showered us with food gifts, it was so touching! We were in North Dakota, so it must not be just a regional practice. Grief is such a funny thing… sometimes I wasn’t hungry at all, and other times ravenous. There were so many details to be dealt with and having peoples’ food gifts available was such a blessing. I’m now trying to remember to pay it forward and give food gifts to those grieving/going through illness/have new babies, etc.

  12. Kathryn — March 11, 2014 @ 5:42 am

    Such a beautiful post xo

  13. Such beautiful writing, as usual. I wish you a sense of peace and comfort in the days and weeks ahead.

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  16. Brighid — March 17, 2014 @ 8:54 pm

    My father passed away at the end of February so your account resonates so much with me. While there wasn’t different food for our family, it was still part of how we cared for each other. My days were similarly broken up between the normal and the demands of the situation.

    Your pie looks lovely and someday I’ll make it for my family, think of my Dad and your Dad. I know mine would have also loved your pie.

    Thank you for the gift of your words and your recipe.

  17. Funeral food is a church thing up here in the North. I’m so sorry about your dad’s passing, MJ. I don’t have great words in these situations, but wanted to let you know I’m thinking of you and your family. And that pie? I think I’ll make it for someone I love and share the love.

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