A Story of Home and Healing

Friday, November 18, 2016

Karen Moran of Feather and Field 

When faced with a devastating loss and a life plunging out of control, one woman finds two things from her past she knows will save her. This is a story of tragedy and loss turned to hope and healing by the restorative power of the sea.

My name is Karen Moran and I was born and raised in Long Island, New York, on the North Shore, also know as the " Gold Coast."

My earliest childhood memory of food would be with my father, my father who has passed, along with my mother, just a decade ago. I would like to tell you that my parents were fairly young (in my mind) when they passed - 59 and 60.  Their passing brought a change in direction to my life and is the basis to how my life exists today, with the strong memories and intense feelings about food and what it means to me. 

I'm in my 40's raising my three children. My youngest is Ella, who just turned nine, whom I include on some of my food stories . Ella was born on the cusp of the loss of my parents. I live alone today by the sea with my children in a very reclusive environment of peace, and with ease to live, I rebuilt my life after the loss of my family. 

A simple dinner by the sea. 

Talking about my early childhood memories is intense for me, because I think I will always grieve my parents, but I also keep them alive through my cooking, so I celebrate their life daily. My father did all of the cooking, and no matter what kind of business day he had, he came home to cook. Looking back, I believe this was his way of settling down and it was his real passion. 

As a little girl, my father would take me to the local fishermen down by the harbor, where we lived on the water with our views of Long Island Sound. The fishermen were always there as I was up early going off to school. I would see them wearing their rubber overalls, with metal baskets and iron clam rakes, going off in their boats in the morning fog. This was my daily view. My father always received our fish, clams, oysters , lobsters, scallops , crabs - just every shellfish you could imagine - from one of the fishermen.  I remember my father saying those are lobster traps, or crab traps, then he would explain to me what item did what. These are my memories with my father.

A gathering basket of treasures for the harvest table. 

My father always told me that fresh is best. We knew our local bread baker. He only made bread, all kinds of bread. I remember my father telling me on our very first car ride to the bread bakery, he said, "Karen, the bread guy knows me and I know him, so I'm allowed in before anyone else." So we would go right before dawn, and he told me it's a smell that will be the most amazing smell you will ever smell, the scent of freshly baked bread coming from the bread store. I remember this did not seem like a store, but more of a factory, with huge shelves stacked with loaves of bread, all shapes and sizes, but sorted by shape. And the scent, the aroma blew my mind away, I remember wanting to live in the scent if I could. Then in the car, he looked at me, and said, "Now you are going to have the bread, when it's warm, because that's just how fresh this bread is, still warm out of the oven." 

I was in heaven savoring that piece of bread, as we drove around together and collected the fresh produce. This is how I related to my father, by food. He was my introduction to food. I remember going to the farm stands to get our tomatoes. The tomato man was "Tony" and my father raved about his tomatoes. I actually have one of the original wooden tomato boxes that came from Tony's and it says tomatoes on it. I keep it in my kitchen today.

Pears picked from a local farm. 

My father, when he said "you only buy fresh" he meant it. He bought locally and right from the source, or as close as he could get to it. He did this with everything, including cheeses. I remember him bringing home fresh cheese, telling me it was the best right from Parma and seeing the thick black waxy coating that protected it. He told me why that thick black wax was on there and why that cheese was so good, and he would always put a tiny taste in my mouth.

Dried flowers from the garden, waiting to decorate a cake or whatever pleases. 

After my father's passing, which was only 12 weeks after my mother, very unexpected and life-changing for me, it created immense pain and shifted everything. Out of my grief and downward spiral and loss of my parental cornerstone and family, I had to pull myself together.  I had two small children and pregnant with Ella.

"As I was sinking deeper and deeper into a heavy grief, and pregnant, it was a time for change, a time to pull up the boot straps as they would say."

As I was sinking deeper and deeper into a heavy grief, and pregnant, it was a time for change, a time to pull up the boot straps as they would say. There was a baby coming, and I was grieving. I decided to do what I love to do, my passion and what I was educated to do, Architecture. 

Architecture was my first love. I was not your typical child, or girl. I was the one who wandered into newly constructed houses, that were only framed out with rafters, and I would climb up on them, climb anything I could to get to the highest point. I would drape myself over the raw wood, and look down, and my imagination would take over. I would systematically in my mind do a complete floor plan. I was obsessed. I would go home to my room and draw for hours, the house I imagined it should be. I did this everywhere I went and never stopped. I would even do it in already built houses, thinking how it could be better, if you opened this up, or took down this wall, that it could be amazing.

Picnic supper. 

I studied Architecture in New York, which then opened me up to design and fabric and paint. It was a world I understood and where I felt at home. It was also a man's world. I had no idea at such a young age, that in mostly all of my classes, my fellow students were boys studying architecture and design. They had fabulous imaginations just like me. I realized this was my calling, and these were my people, which also took place in the mid-eighties. It was such a gregarious time in my life .

Which gets me back to now. We had land on the east end of Long Island, and while pregnant with Ella, I started drawing again, and drew new house plans. I wanted a fresh start and a clean break from my grief, and to bring my small children and new baby into a home with fresh beginnings. This house was going to be filled with light and love, lots of fresh air, open spaces and views of the sea . It was time to heal and nurture. 

I gave birth to a house and a baby - myself, my two small children and my newborn Ella.

The kitchen sink, salvaged from a home in coastal Maine. 

Which begins the story of now, since moving in nine years ago, this home has been a place of love and light and so much comfort for me and the children. The kitchen is the cornerstone of my home. I built several rooms around the kitchen, to have a baker's pantry, a dry goods pantry, a large stove and all marble counter tops (they're so good for baking and rolling out dough). My kitchen feels French, or sometimes right out of Downton Abbey, a little English. This one room not only nourishes us with the cooking that happens in there, but the love and comfort it brings us. It's the heartbeat of my home, it's the place I feel at peace, where I feel creative, where my mind wanders to new adventures, in cooking, baking, in all areas. I have tall beach grass out my kitchen windows. I can hear it swaying in the wind, and in the summer into Autumn the humming of the crickets, the chirping of the birds. This song out my window as I cook and bake in my kitchen has healed my grief, my older children's grief and Ella who never had to know grief.

"I have tall beach grass out my kitchen windows. I can hear it swaying in the wind, and in the summer into Autumn the humming of the crickets, the chirping of the birds."

A harvest table. 

My home by the sea, is a house I built for my sweet children and me, to be free to play and wander, and to live in the day, in the moment, to embrace the day at hand, to collect shells, and thistles, all kinds of foliage from outside.  These are the elements I use to adorn the table, or adorn a cake I might bake. It's simple and it's peaceful. 

I inherited all of my fathers pots and pans, knives, every tool under the sun. I keep the legacy of my father alive daily, and I do as he did. I take my children, always, even since my first two were born, to the farmers' markets. We go directly to the farm, sometimes even pick all our own fruit. We support or local community by supporting our local farmers and shop local always right from the source, just like my father did.

A cupboard designed by Karen and finished with a chalk paint powder mixture. 

In my cooking and baking, which is now my passion, it calms me and brings me comfort, feeding my family, or sometimes a friend or two who may pop in for tea. This is now my life - nurturing, cooking, baking and collecting things from the sea. 

“The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” - Jacques Cousteau

North Shore, Long Island. 

It's been a while since I've been back to my home town. This view is all to familiar to me with a feeling all its own. It excites me and haunts me. I want to run to it and away from it all at the same time. But tonight I'm off to Island Harvest on the North Shore. I'll put on a simple, black velvet dress and a shawl. I envision myself standing on the hill in this cool Autumn weather looking down at the Sound and breathing in the fresh damp air but also the memories.

This is my story - a story of home and healing.


Almond Torte 

Almond Torte

(Ella calls this her marzipan cake)


Slivered almonds "handful"
1 3/4 cup almond flour
6 large eggs, separated
1 1/4 cups superfine sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
Grated zest of 1 lemon
4 drops almond extract
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

To Prepare :

1.  With an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with the sugar to a smooth pale cream. Beat in the zests and almond extract. Add the almond flour and mix very well.

2.  With clean beaters, beat the egg whites in a large bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold them into the egg and almond mixture (the mixture is thick, so that you will need to turn it over quite a bit into the egg whites).

3.  Grease an 11-inch springform pan, preferably nonstick, with butter and dust it with flour. Pour in the cake batter, sprinkle slivered almonds on top and bake into a preheated 350°F for 40 minutes, or until it feels firm to the touch. Let cool before turning out.

4.  Place on a cake stand, or just parchment with a decorative flower or branch. When done, sift powdered sugar on top just before serving.  

Ella's Chocolate Pavlova with fresh cream and Blueberry Compote. 

Ella's Chocolate Pavlova


          6 large egg whites
·         1½ cups superfine sugar
·         3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa (sieved)
·         1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar 
·         2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (finely chopped)

·         2 cups double cream / or heavy cream
·         Bluberry compote:
·         Ingredients
·         1 cup blueberries
·         1/4 cup water
·         1/4 cup sugar
·         1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice


1.  Preheat the oven to 350ºF and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

2.  Beat the egg whites until satiny peaks form, and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over the cocoa and vinegar, and the chopped chocolate. Then gently fold everything until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in. Mound on to a baking sheet in a fat circle approximately 9 inches in diameter, smoothing the sides and top. Place in the oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 300ºF and cook for about one to one and a half hours. When it's ready it should look crisp around the edges and on the sides and be dry on top, the      center should feel tender to the touch. Turn off the oven and only open the door slightly. Let the chocolate meringue cool completely.

3.  It's very important to turn off the oven and leave it slightly ajar to cool completely. If not it could end up crackling like glass. If that happens all is not lost, just gently put it on your serving plate, cake plate or platter, and once dolloped with whipped cream, it will be beautiful and the taste just so amazing.

4.  Blueberry compote: In a small pot place the water, sugar and lemon juice, let cook until hot about 4 minutes, then add blueberries stirring continuously, it will be done when blueberries have slightly burst. Let this compote cool completely.

5.  To assemble: Place the meringue on your serving plate, mound the top with your cream, and swirl the compote in the middle. If you desire and have any dried flowers or petals from flowers, you could make a little decoration on the side as I did, enjoy!

 The Cinematic Orchestra - "To Build a Home"

All photos courtesy of Karen Moran. Used with permission.

1 comment:

  1. I remembering reading this account before, and being touched by the inner strength that Karen mustered up. Reading this a second time made me appreciate what someone is able to accomplish despite the unnerving circumstances. Truly a story of family, appreciation, reflection, and triumph. Thanks for sharing, Naomi and Karen.