Tag Archives: Cooking

Courage at Twilight: Some Bacon with Your Fancy French Toast

Despite the first Sunday being our Church’s normal monthly fast day, I felt too excited to cook something pretty and delicious from my new cookbook to want to fast, and I had my heart set on crunchy French toast made from slices of brioche spread with Adam’s peanut butter and dipped in a mixture of eggs and cream and whole milk plain yogurt and dragged through crushed corn flakes and sliced almonds and browned on a griddle and topped with fresh cinnamon whipped cream.  The image in my mind seemed almost its own religious experience, preferable by far to fasting.  I set a loaded plate of fancy French toast and bacon before Dad, feeling pleased with myself, and loaded up my own plate of deliciousness.  Dad offered two slices to Stacy, the CNA, who was not too proud to accept, and which I honestly was about to do, on my own, out of politeness.  After eating (is the taste ever as good as the romantic anticipation?), I began to walk away to other labors that weighed on me, when Dad called after me to cook some bacon for Stacy.  I found myself suddenly enraged, and turned back to the kitchen and tore the package from the fridge, spilling cold bacon on the bar.  Mom saw my distress and coolly but immediately said, “I’ll do it.”  I knew instantly something was off, because, as a rule, I do not experience rage, except perhaps over child abuse and domestic violence and human trafficking, and certainly not over something so trivial as toast and bacon.  So, why the sudden rage?  I knew this was my opportunity, before moving on, before making mistakes, to turn inward the bright lights of introspection and understand my distress, layered though it was sure to be.  Clearly, I had been pandering for praise for my fancy crunchy French toast, as well as for my magnanimity in making and serving it.  A little deeper, I saw that I already resented feeling like a servant, bustling dutifully about to meet each need, and I felt belittled at another’s apparent presumption that I had nothing to do but stand by to fulfill the next manifested need.  And I had things to do, my things!  Worst of all, I felt demeaned at being told to be a servant to a servant.  Many layers, none flattering, each reproaching.  And I thought of Jesus, the Son of God, a God himself, the Creator and Master of earth and sky and cosmic universe, who yet made himself the servant of all, who in symbol washed his followers’ feet, instructing me to do likewise.  Dear Jesus, I turned my thoughts outward, upward, to the Divine Presence, please help me be more humble.  Help me to not be too proud to give and to labor, for others.  Stacy had mentioned how much her husband loves peanut butter and French toast, both, but it was too late for me to offer her a slice to take home to her husband: she was out the door before I finished figuring out my frustration, and I lost the chance.  And by then the time had come for choir practice.  Mom held tight to my arm as we walked slowly into the neighbor’s house for rehearsal.  “It’s so nice to have a strong arm to lean on,” she said to me kindly.  But I was not feeling strong of spirit or strong of character, even though Mom had seen my distress and also had seen past my selfish fit over bacon straight into my heart and felt quite convinced I was steady and firm and strong, and good, as I will aspire and work harder to be.  Perhaps next fast day I will simply fast.

(Crunchy French Toast, from Tieghan Gerard‘s Half Baked Harvest cookbook Recipes from My Barn in the Mountains.)

Courage at Twilight: Prayer before Murder

Mom has taken to riding the stair lift up and down the stairs, though Dad’s disability was the urgent impetus for installing the lift. She does suffer with arthritic knees, and the 21 stairs have become increasingly difficult to take on.  And even if her need is not yet equally acute, the lift is easy and pain-free and even fun, as much of an adventure as she cares for at 83.  Dad’s wheelchair routine, on the other hand, is anything but easy.  A quick trip to the dentist for a checkup and cleaning involves dozens of indispensable sequential steps, such as, transfer him from his recliner to his wheelchair; swing the foot support “arms” into forward position, and lower the foot rests; raise his legs by pulling on the tongues of his shoes; roll him in his chair out the front door, which Mom opens ahead of us and closes and locks behind us; roll down the ramps—with new confidence on the new grip-paint surface—open the front passenger door of the Mighty V8, lower his legs by the same shoe tongues, raise the foot rests, and swing out and remove the foot support arms; position and lock the chair as close to the front seat as possible, and lift by the armpits as he pulls himself mostly upright; lift his left foot into the car from behind his left knee, and push his hips with my available knee as he heaves against the handles to slide into the seat; fold and lift the heavy chair and stow in the back of the suburban.  Then reverse the whole process at the dentist office.  Then do it all again on the return trip, except that I must gain momentum to make it up the ramp, which frightens Dad in his powerlessness as I push.  Then do it all again for the eye doctor, the heart doctor, the skin doctor, the foot doctor, the diabetes doctor, the divers tests….  After depositing him again in his recliner at home, I retreated to the kitchen, and soon heard him call, “Rog, are you there?”  He wanted to tell me something from the day’s New York Times.  If I am in the same room while he is reading the newspaper, he delivers to me a verbal new reel, like today: S. Army admits botched drone strike that killed civilians in Kabul…Nineteen protesters sentenced to death in Tehran…Six-year-old brings gun to school, shoots and kills teacher…Draft pick scores 71 points in first game with new team.  “I’m here,” I reported, but thought with condemning self-examination: Are you really there, Roger?  I cook their meals, make home repairs, shop for the groceries, landscape the yards, place the decorations, run the errands, fix the computers, solve the problems, and am otherwise at their beck and call when I’m at home.  But am I really there, serving and giving, cheerful and sincere?  Or do I chafe at the chores and move through the motions and withhold real devoted love?  In many ways, my life is not my own.  I live in their house.  I eat what they eat.  I watch what they watch.  I rarely read.  I feel always tired.  Dad told me that he feels so very tired by the end of the day, and feels so very tired waking in the morning, and feels so very tired throughout the day, his reading often leading to napping.  “One of these days I might go to sleep in my recliner with my book and just not wake up.  That’s how it should be: that’s how death should come.”  He shows excitement at seeing a movie I have selected for him, then falls asleep ten minutes in.  Upon referral, we set out to watch a new murder mystery movie, our dinners growing cold on our folding TV trays.  “We should pray,” Dad reminded us, and I found myself laughing.  “Yes,” I chimed in, “we had better pray over our food before we watch our murder.”  The prayer took two minutes and the movie two hours, two wasted hours, two hours distracted from things that really matter.  I am glad we prayed.

(Pictured above: roasted vegetable bisque made from scratch without a recipe but with tips from my daughter Laura, a wonderful cook.)

Courage at Twilight: On the Edge of the Bed

The morning sky dawned pewter gray, and leaden light seeped through the plantation shutters.  I climbed the stairs after my stationary bike ride and knee push-ups, and through a doorway saw Dad sitting on the edge of the bed, in profound shadows.  He did not move, but stared at the wall, at the shutters, and I could feel him contemplating his next move, as in, Do I have the strength to slide off the bed onto the commode?  Will this day deliver the same slow struggle?  He knew it would.  The nurse had called him the day before and had reported, “The doctor asked me to let you know your MRI looks good.”  What does that mean? he had asked.  She did not know.  But I knew.  A “good” MRI means no lumbar spinal condition is contributing to Dad’s profound leg weakness and wasting, to his paralysis.  A “good” MRI means the certainty of a bad diagnosis, of diabetic amyotrophy, incurable, untreatable, a close cousin to Lou Gehrig’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.  The call annoyed him.  He had questions for the doctor to which he wanted answers, like, Is there anything I can do to slow my deterioration? and Is there any connection between September’s meningitis/encephalitis and today’s diabetic neuropathy?  “Your MRI looks good” answered nothing, but just eliminated a negative.  Mom called to make an appointment, and the receptionist said Dr. Hunter would see him again in four months.  (If he’s still alive, I could not help muttering to myself.)  Watching Dad sit on the edge of his bed, I pushed away thoughts of his perpetual fight against despair; I do not have the strength to absorb his angst.  But I can cook his dinner, and served a beautiful baked chicken and dirty rice baked in a French cast iron casserole.  “Thank you for this lovely dinner, Rog,” Dad praised, and Mom giggled cutely for the hundredth time at being waited upon.  We browsed through Netflix for 30 minutes, and finally settled on an obscure Norwegian movie with dubbed English dialog, and Dad promptly settled into a nap for the duration.  I used the time to assemble his new office chair, since the hydraulic piston had broken on his old chair and it had sunk permanently to its lowest height, too close to the floor for him to get up by himself.  He will feel lordly in the new (and inexpensive) black bonded leather chair, and much more comfortable as he writes letters to beloved family members, one who was injured by a drunk driver, one serving a Church mission in Massachusetts, one shivering in Montana, one in the Army in Honduras, one who is brilliant and has big questions and a good heart, and to others who he loves.  These are his last contributions, the contributions he has the strength for, little actions with big meaning for those he loves.

 

(Pictured above: chicken and sausage on a bed of dirty rice, Cajun style.)

Pretty on the plate.

The old.The new.

Courage at Twilight: Moving Pieces

Mom and I started a puzzle. 500 pieces.  It came in the gift basket delivered by the caroling young women from church.  It is a pretty puzzle of a nature scene, in the mountains, tinged with the scarlets of early fall.  Warm and pleasant, a reassurance during our freezing dirty-snow urban winter.  Mom separated out the edge pieces and starting making matches.  I managed to frame the border during a Father Dowling mystery episode (which I handle so much better than NCIS for the 1990s absence of violence and gore).  During a dinner of creamy chicken vegetable soup, Dad obsessed about the bitter cold and how during their first winter here 24 years ago a pipe burst in the basement for lack of insulation (the contractor’s helper had run out of insulation and had left the pipe exposed and the contractor now had to come back and fix the pipe and fix the ceiling and fix the wall, plus add the insulation that would have prevented the whole disaster) and how this year he did not have the strength to wrap the house hose bibs like he has done every year before and how they were exposed and how he hoped they would not freeze and crack and he wondered how far into the house zero degrees could penetrate and could zero degrees reach the basement pipes and burst them again?  Seeing no point in discussing the matter, I dressed in a heavy coat, strapped on a headlamp, and left the house armed with a stack of thick rags, plastic shopping bags, and neon-green duct tape, trapsing through deep snow to wrap the faucets—we all hoped this precaution would be sufficient, noting that the faucets were already anti-freeze hose bibs.  “You have set my troubled mind at ease,” Dad smiled thankfully.  Needing to rise at six the next morning, I said good-night at ten and bent to bed.  But I often wake at 12:30 in the morning to the sounds of Dad’s effort to transfer from the stair lift to the wheelchair, and Mom’s efforts, in her long cotton nightgown, to push the chair to the bed, Dad helping what little he can, and their talking, and sometimes their bickering over him issuing instructions she was already following.  I can tell from the tone if my help is needed, when I throw on my bathrobe and respond.  So long as he maintains his night-owl lifestyle (granted, he no longer reads until three in the morning), I cannot be the one to help him get to bed.  A routine of caregiving until 1:00 a.m. then rising at 6:00 a.m. daily would destroy me, probably in only two days’ time.  Thankfully, the CNA assists Dad in the mornings after I have left for work.  She knows to use the wheelchair to get Dad from the bed to the shower, to use the heavy-duty seated-walker to get him dried off and to the couch for dressing and to the stair lift to descend for breakfast and a day’s reading.  That is what he can do: read and read and read.  And too quickly the time comes to prepare another dinner worthy of them and the legacy they leave, perhaps lemon chicken on a bed of pesto couscous, or Hawaiian chicken on a couch of coconut rice (my favorite), or stewed spicy chicken and dirty rice, or, on occasion, beef franks sliced into canned pork and beans.  The puzzle beckons after dinner is cleaned up.  I stare at 500 unconnected pieces, feeling totally intimidated, knowing I can never find two matching pieces in that chaotic morass of 500, then somehow forming the border and slowly fitting together the interior, until the puzzle is done, and I am astonished and wondering how it happened.  So many pieces.  So many moving pieces.

Courage at Twilight: Transference

We have experienced another week of steady decline in Dad’s mobility.  He has suffered increased weakness.  I have suffered increased worry.  He cannot walk.  Life is very different when you have walked for 86 years and suddenly find yourself paralyzed and immobile.  The word of the day is “transfer,” by which I mean the experience and process and effort of shifting one’s bulk from one seat surface to another, like from and wheelchair to a toilet, or from a shower chair to a walker chair, in which one moves laterally rather than vertically, and does not ambulate.  I sat down across from Dad to suggest the time had come to focus on transferring rather than walking.  “I think we should refocus our approach,” I explained.  He nodded in sad reconciliation, feeling humiliated and small.  How could I reassure him?  In truth, with the power wheelchair, he can enjoy greater independence and freedom of movement than with trying to walk.  But transference is a skill to be practiced—it is not an easy exercise, and I invite you to pretend your legs do not work and try transferring from one chair to another with only the strength of your arms and the span of your bottom.  Now add arms to those chairs.  To help him transfer from off his sofa to his wheelchair, I installed risers under the sofa feet, raising the couch five inches, and screwed three inches of lumber to the legs of his recliners.  Struggling with this new necessary skill, his transfers can be, shall we say, inaccurate, like onto the arm of a chair instead of into the seat of that chair.  Some transfers are violent, like when he fell from his wheelchair onto his couch so roughly that he knocked the couch of its risers and was lucky not to capsize altogether.  Since the escapade did not end tragically, I can comment after-the-fact on how I wish I had seen it happen and how funny it must have seemed.  A hair’s breadth of fate or providence separates tragedy from comedy.  Dad pronounces all his mishaps as comical, veritable jokes, although he curses more than he laughs when in the midst of transference.  Mom pounced on me when I came home from work, before removing my coat and tie, asking me to re-elevate the couch.  Then she showed me the toilet plunger sitting in the kitchen sink, and explained how the food disposal had plugged up with old spaghetti, and she could not clear the clog, try as she might.  Putting my height and weight into the plunger, I compelled the dirty water and ground up food through the pipes and successfully drained the sink and emptied the disposal.  She is always so grateful when I fix things she can no longer manage.  The next problem to solve involved her pharmacy of 24 years.  She and Dad had received letters informing them that their pharmacy was no longer in their insurance network, and in only two weeks they would have to pay full retail price for their medicines.  I offered to help switch to a new pharmacy, and envisioned the hassle and weariness of assembling all the prescription bottles and insurance cards and driving to the new pharmacy to see the staff and taking an hour to input the data into the new system, and the weather was very cold, and the streets icy, and the sky darkening at 4:30 p.m., and I really did not want to leave the house on this cumbersome errand.  Instead, I called the store, they took our information, and promised to get their information transferred from the old pharmacy to the new.  Mom beamed, amazed at my miracle working with the sink and the pharmacy.  I will try to elicit the same response with tonight’s dinner.  It is time to shift from writing to cooking.

(Pictured above: Italian pesto pasta and chicken with brazed asparagus.)

Courage at Twilight: Dirty Rice

I informed Mom and Dad I was cooking southwest wraps for dinner: ground turkey, black beans, corn, and rice rolled in tortillas and crisped in an iron skillet.  He looked at me funny and asked, “Rats for dinner?”  “Wraps,” I reassured him.  Earlier in the day he had cut himself.  He had reached through the bathroom doorway for his walker handles, and the door’s strike plate had sliced the paper skin of his forearm.  The CNA wiped the floor clean with baby wipes, and bandaged his arm.  He sat at the kitchen table telling me about it.  My daughter Laura has sent me her ten favorite recipes—all winners—and I have made two or three each week to spice up Mom’s and Dad’s dinner time.  Tonight, we gobbled up Cajun chicken with dirty rice, which I learned is rice cooked in the fats and juices and spices from cooking the sausage and chicken pieces.  Dad praised the meal no fewer than six times before we finished eating.  I relish the experience of making beautiful and delicious dishes which people enjoy.  As we ate, Dad told me the results of his Mayo Clinic spinal fluid test.  The nurse had called to inform him that his spinal fluid is “completely normal.”  Completely normal.  “My spinal fluid is completely normal,” he sounded discouraged.  “But I am getting worse by the day.”  Once again, the good news was hard to take.  No diagnosis equals no treatment.  Here was one more possibility explored.  Here was one more hope disappointed.  Here was yet another beginning of searching for elusive answers while suffering unanswerable pain and weakness and while fighting for his life and for his quality of life.  I am powerless.  All I can do is cook dirty rice.  James the physical therapist stopped by after dinner to evaluate the effectiveness of therapy.  He asked Dad all the same questions everyone else has asked.  He poked and prodded and asked “Does that hurt?” a dozen times.  Yes, it hurts.  A lot.  After ten minutes, James had figured out what dozens of doctors and nurses and tests and therapists had not figured out.  The spinal nerves are inflamed, causing him pain, due to his age and his recliner sedentariness and his stooping over and due to his spinal joints not being moved and not circulating blood to the nerves which therefore are inflamed and causing him pain.  Simple.  Just do these exercises.  And don’t sit: sitting kills your nerves.  I am skeptical of any one person who has all the answers, and that quickly.  But, could he be onto something?  I will try to help Dad to the exercises.  Meanwhile, he is too tired and weak to anything but sit in his recliner and kill his nerves.  He invited me to turn on the Christmas lights wrapped around the bushes, and asked if they had come on despite the snow.  Yep, I answered, for I had wrapped every joint and plug with black electrical tape to keep out the water, as I did last year, and the year before.

Courage at Twilight: Old Man’s Lament

Can I visit with you for a second, Rog? I know you’re up to your elbows in dishes right at the moment.  Thanks for coming over to me—I couldn’t have come to you.  I see everything you are doing for us.  You are doing all the cooking and cleaning up after.  I feel bad about that.  I would like to help you cook dinner and wash the dishes.  But I just can’t.  And I’m getting worse.  My legs hurt so bad when I try to stand, worse every day.  I’ll call the doctor tomorrow and see if they have sent my spinal fluid to the Mayo clinic—it’s been two weeks already—and I’ve gotten a lot worse.  I hope they find something so they can treat me.  I can’t stand just sitting here and deteriorating and not knowing why, or what I can do about it.  I just can’t walk at all—even with a walker my legs are too weak to walk.  Look, my walker is three feet away and I can’t even get to it without you pushing it to me.  I can’t help you, and I feel bad.  I’m so very grateful for everything you do for your mother and me.  Your meals are delicious and healthy.  Tonight’s pesto chicken pasta, and that braised asparagus, were both superb.  Do you think Olive Garden makes anything like that?  You always have to pick up after me: when I drop something, I can’t bend over to pick it up, so there it stays, unless you pick it up for me.  I love working in the yard, but you do the yardwork because I can’t.  And you fix what’s broken, like the toilet valves and the sink stoppers.  This year, you put up the Christmas lights for me.  They look so cheerful, and I’m so happy they are up and shining and bright.  Aren’t you?  I just couldn’t do it.  Two years ago, I did the lights myself.  Last year, I helped you a little.  This year, I just watched from the sidewalk, from my power wheelchair.  I tried driving it on the grass, to get closer, but the wheels just sank, and I couldn’t go anywhere but back the way I’d come.  I’m very grateful to you.  Well, that’s all I wanted to say.

Courage at Twilight: Tzatziki

We both arrived home at 5:00 p.m., me from work, ready to cook dinner, and Dad from the podiatrist, holding his and Mom’s Burger King “lunch.” I decided to cook dinner anyway, because I had planned it, and I wanted to eat something wonderful, and I had all the fresh ingredients, and the chicken breast was thawed.  Listening to the news blaring for two hours while I cook had many times left me frustrated and depleted and sensorily overstimulated.  But I finally discovered I can listen to music while I cook, with my new headphones, old fashioned and corded, for watching movies on the airplane seat back screen.  Suddenly lost in Adam Young’s masterful short scores, like Apollo 11 and Project Excelsior and Mount Rushmore.  Instead of squinting absurdly as if to shut out the shouting commentators, I began to smile and bop and groove as I mixed my tzatziki sauce.  Chicken gyros were on the menu.  Before I started cooking, Mom asked me to tell her one thing about my day at work, and I evaded, mentioning lunch with a friend, like saying “Recess” in answer to “What’s your favorite class?”  I don’t know if I do not want to talk about work, or if I am simply uncomfortable talking.  I am not a talker.  Dad, now, he is a talker.  In my conversations with Dad, he does the talking.  I contribute an occasional “um hum” or “that’s interesting” or “I didn’t know that” as he expounds Christian doctrine, analyzes personalities, described his perpetual 87-year-old aches and pains (“it’s getting worse, Rog”), and worries about family members and finances.  He passes the time and fills the voids with continuous intelligent talk.  He dredges up the old stories: about a policeman we knew, JM, who was caught running two brothels in New Jersey and got caught and rejected an invitation to retire and was convicted and imprisoned instead; about the diminutive old German, Buntz, who died, and Dad stepped up to be executor of the estate, and the man’s coin collection (I remember it) lay stacked in short pillars on the ping-pong table in the basement, and fetched $20,000 for Buntz’s family; about the union tradesmen in 1971 who picketed the construction of our East Brunswick church building, being built by the labor of church members—Dad was the volunteer contractor—until they grew ashamed of themselves for picketing a church being built by its members, and they pitched in and wished us well with smiles; about how Jesus is good and true and trustworthy, doing more for us in every moment that we can possibly perceive or understand, though we will see it all one day.  I play the role of hushed filial audience, always impressed, frequently annoyed, often sighing burdened and dismayed.  I say little and am uncomfortable with the stage performance that is conversation, never heedless of how my hearers react.  But when my distress is sufficiently severe, and I have gathered my courage for weeks or months, I venture to tell Mom and Dad my troubles, and I am articulate and smart despite the awful hurt, and they listen carefully and interject carefully and do not grow weary.  And then we fall back into our conversational roles, and later while Dad watches the news with Mom, I listen to Adam Young and dance and cook chicken gyros with tzatziki sauce.

(Pictured above: chicken gyros in tzatziki sauce, with pita bend awkwardly buttressed.)

Courage at Twilight: Banana Pancakes

“Could this really be the end?” Dad wondered aloud to me.  He could not even pivot on his feet to point-and-fall into his chair, and his legs trembled on the verge of collapse.  His sudden decline accompanied his cold—he tested negative twice for Covid antigens.  Yesterday was Wednesday, my long City-Council-meeting work day, and when I walked through the door at 10:30 p.m., Mom sighed with a drawn look, “I’m glad you’re home.  Your dad had quite an adventure today!”  Dad’s adventure was not watching hummingbirds on his back patio with Lone Mountain in the background, but a runaway walker crashing into the fireplace brickwork and Mom calling neighbor Brad to pick Dad up off the floor, which took several attempts.  He could not rise from his newly-elevated recliner, even as I strapped the new sling around his torso and pulled hard on the handles.  He could not walk to the stairs, but sat is his walker shuffling his feet as I nudged him forward.  He could not, of course, ascend the stairs, and his arms and legs trembled and shook as I pulled up on the sling with all my strength on each step.  (The quote for the stair lift was $14,000, which means we will not be purchasing the stair lift.)  He could not get into bed until I lugged his legs up and in.  He could not cross the bathroom after his shower this morning, when I wrapped him in a towel, turned him, and pointed him in a controlled fall onto the walker seat.  Mom murmured “I can’t do this” several times, foreseeing what she would face when I was at work, and she is right: she cannot do it.  I listened all night for panting groans and shuffling feet, and darted to his room at 5:00 a.m. when he was part way back to bed, about to collapse, and I grabbed him and dropped him on the mattress and hoisted his heavy lame legs into bed.  So, is this really the end?  I do not think so.  But the end grows forebodingly closer, and I feel like I am staring down the long dark rifle barrel of inevitable imminence.  While Mom helped him dress, I cooked up my daughter Laura’s “Foolproof Pancakes” with a twist of mashed baby red bananas and half whole wheat—and with bacon on the side, because why not?  And Dad enjoyed his banana pancakes and bacon.  And Mom enjoyed her banana pancakes and bacon.   Me, too.

The Sling.

Courage at Twilight: Late Lunch or Early Dinner?

I try to leave work at 3:00 p.m. in order to arrive home at 4:00, ready to cook or shop or take Mom or Dad to a doctor appointment or do yardwork, knowing that I will go up to my home office and work remotely at night to catch up on work.  Sometimes I do not get home until 5:00.  Often, when I come through the door, I find Mom and Dad just starting to enjoy their “lunch” while watching NCIS.  Dad has his onion with ham and Swiss sandwich.  Mom enjoys leftovers with a Yoo-Hoo.  Sometimes they bring home Burger King combo meals—Whoppers, French fries, and Diet Cokes.  By the time they finish their lunch, I am ready for my dinner, having lunched at noon.  Some days, I will find a snack and head upstairs to work or blog until it is time to cook and eat dinner, between 8:00 and 9:00.  Other days, I just make a dinner for myself, often steamed vegetables and hard-boiled eggs, either swimming in olive oil and vinegar or mixed with melted butter and salt, or maybe a giant salad tossed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  Some days I cook.  Other days Dad cooks.  Sometimes we heat up a can of Campbell’s soup and call it good.  Having cooked for the family for 45 years, Mom is done with cooking.  I don’t blame her.  Now, Dad and I enjoy cooking for her.

Courage at Twilight: Stuffed Peppers

Dad thought stuffed bell peppers would be a nice dinner for Mom and me. And he did not want me “slaving away” in the kitchen, as he put it.  So, he began to thaw the ground beef, cook the rice, cut and seed the green bell peppers, and mix in the seasonings.  Mom had given him two recipes for stuffed peppers, but they conflicted in critical respects, and caused some confusion in the kitchen.  Short on produce, Mom and I drove to the grocery store with our yellow-legal-pad shopping list, the items organized according to their location in the store and our usual circuit.  Home two hours later, we found Dad slaving away over his peppers, understandably utterly worn out.  But when they emerged from the oven 30 minutes later, the cheese crispy on top, the stuffed green bell peppers were beautiful and wonderfully delicious.  Thanks for dinner, Dad.

Courage at Twilight: Bratwurst and Beans

“Rog?” Dad called eagerly as he stumbled through the door from mowing up the leaves.  “Have you started cooking dinner yet?”  Remembering a prior conversation about the possibility of spaghetti, I had pulled a package of meatballs from the freezer to thaw.  With two minutes left on my stationary bike ride, I panted, “I got the meatballs out, just in case, but I have not started dinner.”  He told me his idea for dinner, emphasizing it was just an idea—he wanted me to know he was not vested in the idea.  “We could grill bratwurst, and warm a can of pork and beans and a can of stewed whole tomatoes,” he offered.  This particular random combination of dishes had never occurred to me, but I consider that it had not only occurred to him, but sounded good to him.  So, I concurred, suggesting we add steamed spinach to the menu, since we had accidentally added a third bag of spinach to the two bought the week prior.  The brats browned up nicely on the indoor electric grill (with a power cord borrowed from an electric skillet, since my cord was thoroughly grilled with the previous brats).  After asking God to bless the food for our nourishment and strength, we dug into to the eclectic gathering of food.  And I enjoyed it.  Remembering childhood dinners of pork and beans mixed with sliced frankfurters, I sliced my bratwurst into the beans, and felt at home.  “Didn’t we have a great dinner, Lucille?” Dad crowed.  Yes, we did.

(Image by Karl Allen Lugmayer from Pixabay)

Courage at Twilight: In Which Roger Finds the Courage to Cook Julia Child’s Delectable Boeuf Bourguignon

Alone with Mom and Dad on Thanksgiving, I determined to make a nice meal (that was not a turkey), and found my courage to try Julia Child’s recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon (beef stewed in red wine).  The recipe had intimidated me for a long time, because of the expensive ingredients (quality cut of beef, bottle of Bordeaux) and the many involved steps that have to come together.  Boil and brown the bacon sticks.  Brown the beef cubes.  Sauté the sliced carrots and onions.  Pour in the red wine and broth.  Simmer in the oven for three hours while sautéing small whole onions and quartered mushrooms to add later.  “Do not crowd the mushrooms,” Julia charged.  The last step was to boil the wine and broth down to a thick gravy to pour over the platter of beef, bacon, onions, carrots, and mushrooms.  To my wonder and delight, the meal was a smashing succulent success.  I felt quite proud of myself as the three of us chewed with delighted mmmms and ahhhhs.  How disappointing to get full so fast!  I will not prepare this dish often, but the four-hour cook time was worth the happy result as we quietly concluded our Thanksgiving Day with our meal of French Boeuf Bourguignon.

Courage at Twilight: Saturday Morning Mystery Oatmeal

While cold cereal is the work-week’s morning fare, I enjoy cooking breakfast on Saturday mornings. Nothing fancy or heavy—I usually turn to oatmeal. “I love it when you cook breakfast,” Mom reassured me. She normally eats dry Quaker granola with glasses of milk and mint tea on the side. But she loves my mystery oatmeal. Easily bored with the same old, I improvise, wondering what flavor combinations will set well in the oat stew. Classic apple-cinnamon oatmeal is Dad’s favorite. This morning I tried something new: lavender-banana. My goodness, it was delicious. If you want to try them, here are some simple instructions and tips.

Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal

Ingredients (4 good servings)
4 cups water
2 cups milk (or 2 more cups water)
3 cups rolled oats (not quick oats—quick oats turn to mush while rolled oats remain soft but pleasantly and chewily textured)
salt to taste (I use ¾-1 tsp)
1-2 diced apples, any variety
1 tsp cinnamon

Instructions
Add diced apples to water-milk mixture, along with cinnamon and salt, and bring to rolling boil. Because of the milk, the liquid will quickly boil over, so watch it carefully. Allow the apples to soften in the boil for 3-5 minutes. Add oats and stir. Lower heat to low boil/simmer, and stir frequently for 5-10 or so minutes until the oats are soft and thicken to desired consistency. Sweeten to taste with sweetener of choice. Brown sugar and honey are both wonderful. Mom prefers white sugar. Dad employs Splenda. I use Stevia extract. A dollop of heavy cream adds a bit of luxury.

Lavender-Banana Oatmeal

Ingredients (4 good servings)
4 cups water
2 cups milk (or 2 more cups water)
3 cups rolled oats (not quick oats—quick oats turn to mush while rolled oats remain soft but pleasantly and chewily textured)
salt to taste (I use ¾-1 tsp)
1-2 ripe bananas
1 tsp lavender flowers, ground (I found these in our neighborhood Smith’s grocery store spice aisle)

Instructions
Add lavender and salt to the water-milk mixture, and bring to rolling boil. Remember, it boils over almost without warning, so watch carefully. Add oats and stir. Lower heat to low boil/simmer, and stir frequently for 5-10 or so minutes until the oats are soft and thicken to desired consistency. Add the sliced bananas only at the very end, when the oatmeal is done, and reduce heat. Adding the bananas late releases the wonderful flavor without turning them to mush. Sweeten to taste.

Option Tip: reduce oats by ½ cup and add ¼ cup cream of wheat for extra creamy thickness.

Courage at Twilight: Baked Birthday Salmon

For Mom’s birthday dinner, Dad baked his specialty: salmon.  He lined a baking dish with aluminum foil, sprayed on a little oil, placed the fish, and sprinkled on lemon pepper and salt.  I added a generous dollop of butter on top of each piece.  Into the oven for 45 minutes, and out it came, moist and flaky.  (I’m afraid I tore up one piece checking if it were done.)  He added steamed asparagus with butter and salt, and small potatoes sautéed in more butter and salt, with herbs.  Such a dinner is a sublime end to a long Sabbath fast, a cheerful gathering of parents and child, a turning of the day’s stresses into a satisfied sigh, a triumph of taste, and a happy birthday feast.  As far as I am concerned, Dad can bake salmon any day he likes, birthday or no.

Courage at Twilight: Holland Mints (Not)

I wanted to make a nice dessert for Dad, and settled on a cream cheese tart.  I added fresh guava puree to exotify the pie, and sweetened the filling with Splenda.  I have become proficient at making French tart shells (pie crusts) from Julia Child’s cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking.   Dad sat at the island watching me prepare the dough.  “Don’t mix it too much,” he interjected.  I think you mixed it too much.  It needs to be ice cold and barely blended.”  I paid no heed, and placed the wax-paper-wrapped balls of dough in the fridge to chill.  After a few hours, I rolled the dough out and shaped the shell in the spring-form pan.  When I first starting baking, I pressed into the shell a sheet of aluminum foil and poured in a pound of dry black beans, to keep the bottom from bubbling up.  The beans are a cheap but effective substitute for ceramic baking beads, which I only recently bought.  Sitting in a yogurt container, they looked just like Holland mints, round and white.  Dad suddenly picked up a ceramic bead and plopped it into his mouth, thinking it was a mint.  Before I could articulate gentle words, I blurted, “Uh uh uh!” like one would chide a child with its hand in the cookie jar.  I did not mean to treat him like an errant child, but out of instinctual fear I did what I needed to do to stop him before he crunched on the glass bead and broke a took, or swallowed the bead.  He quickly spit it out, and neither of us looked at the other or said a word.  I did not want to shame him anymore than I already had with my tut-tut, and he did not want to acknowledge his gaffe.  We pretended nothing happened.  But later, when the pie came out of the oven looking beautiful, he confessed, as if I hadn’t known, “I almost ate one of those white glass beads.  I thought it was a mint!”  The beads removed, and the guava cream cheese filling poured in to bake, the tart tasted wonderfully delicious.

Courage at Twilight: Cooking to Music

Having recovered from my last exhausting cooking experience, I resolved to cook a nice Sunday dinner for Mom and Dad.  Mom sat in her recliner, reading the Sunday New York Times, listening to music in the family room: a home-made CD of Mom’s church choir performances.  Dad decided to rest in the living room, reading Michelle Obama’s excellent memoir Becoming, playing his daily Johnny Mathis.  The kitchen is situated in between.  I attempted to review Julia Child’s cooking instructions, with “Count Your Many Blessings” in one ear and “99 Miles from L.A.” in the other.  Unable to read, I put the book away and attacked the recipes from memory.  Cooking Julia’s French recipes has become easier with practice, I guess, because I had dinner ready in good time: sauced fish poached in white wine; creamy garlic onion mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and sliced cucumbers.  Practice is also helping me refine the textures and flavors for a more pleasurable outcome.  Mom and Dad agreed the meal was a triumph.  But now I am tired and do not want to cook for another week, knowing I will be hungry tomorrow.

Courage at Twilight: Forbidden Fritters

Following our routine after selecting the week’s produce, Dad waited in the deli area while I finished the grocery shopping.  My cart heavy-laden, I circled back to gather Dad and his cart and to head together to the register.  As we passed slowly by a stack of boxed pastries, Dad picked up the top box and looked longingly at the apple fritters.  “I sure would like to have an apple fritter,” he lamented, teetering on temptation’s edge.  I understood the angst with which he contemplated the moist deep-fried fritters covered with white sugar icing: I, too, ached for a bite of blissful sweetness.  We stood in silent solidarity, Dad with his fear of diabetes and me with my fear of being fat.  He put the box down with genuine sadness.  We squared our shoulders and walked toward the register, leaving desire behind us.  “When we get home,” I offered, “I’ll make us some French crêpes rolled around sliced fresh bananas, peaches, and strawberries, with dollops of stevia-sweetened whipped cream.”  “That sounds wonderful,” Dad said.  “Let’s do it.”

(Image by pixel1 from Pixabay.)

Courage at Twilight: Lasagna for Dinner

Dad told me he would cook dinner tonight.  We would have lasagna with meat sauce, plus steamed vegetables.  I told him that sounded wonderful.  When I arrived home from work, he took the lasagna out of the box and slid it frozen into the hot oven.  An hour later he emptied a bag of frozen lima beans into a pan, and shucked fresh sweet corn on the cob.  Stouffer’s makes such yummy lasagna—thank goodness for the occasional frozen dinner.  Stuffed and satisfied, I thanked Dad for making dinner.

Courage at Twilight: Sunday Sabbath

Today is the Sunday Sabbath.  My laptop is hooked up to the flat screen via HDMI chord, and we are watching church by Zoom—the sacramental service, the hymns, the prayers, the speakers, the Sunday School class.  I have brought to Mom and Dad bowls of six-grain hot cereal cooked with apples and cinnamon, cooled and enriched with cream.  When church services are over, Mom asks me to take her envelope with her tithes and offerings—her alms—to the bishop, for the support of the Church and the poor of the Church.  And I walk home to discuss with them the deep doctrines, and what to cook for dinner: chicken fricassee in creamy red wine paprika sauce with steamed zucchini and corn on the cob.  After dinner will come attempts to read, and naps in recliners.

Courage at Twilight: Muffins with Gabe

I tended my great-nephew Gabe on a recent Saturday afternoon. He is all of three years old.  He lights up when he sees me because I love him and play with him.  I light up when I see him because he is adorable and smart and fun and sweet, and likes being with me.  On that Saturday we made my daughter Laura’s recipe for banana chocolate-chip muffins—the secret ingredient is sour cream, and these muffins are wonderfully moist and soft.  Gabe and I set up our work areas on the kitchen’s center island.  Given the attention span and dexterity of three-year-olds, I thought it best to give him his own bowls and measuring implements and ingredients.  While I mixed the real recipe, he mixed his own concoction.  The secret ingredient of Gabe’s muffins?  Colored sprinkles, lots of them.  And egg shells.  As I was breaking eggs into my batter, he asked for an egg for his.  He held the egg over his bowl, smashed it with his little hand, and dropped it into the bowl, shell and all.  Mom and Dad watched smiling from the family room.  I could hear a faint ringing echo as we mixed batter and talked, and I said to Mom, “Can you hear that ringing?”  It turned out to be a hearing aid sitting on a table, reacting to my voice.  But Gabe got off his stool and came over to hug my leg with a concerned look on his upturned face.  He teared up and asked about the monster making the noise.  When the hearing aid explanation meant nothing to him, I tried to reassure him by telling him confidently that there were no monsters in the house because I had eaten them all for breakfast—yum!—and that my favorite one was the chocolate monster—yum!  And not one monster was left to bother him.  He laughed, looked worried, and laughed again.  As Gabe left with my sister and some sprinkle-topped muffins, I told him to gobble up any monsters he found at his house for his breakfast, and he smiled and said okay.  Yesterday he left a crayon rainbow drawing on my pillow.

Courage at Twilight: French Cooking

One of my purposes is to make mealtime easy, healthy, and pleasant for Mom and Dad, by cooking dinner for them. For two years I have enjoyed cooking for them occasionally on a weekend.  Now it can be every day, if wanted.  It brings me pleasure to bring them pleasure.  I have always wanted to learn to speak French and cook French.  I study French lessons on Duo Lingo once or twice a week—I may become competent in ten years so.  And after watching Julie & Julia in 2020, I bought the 50th anniversary edition of Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  This week we enjoyed (1) quiche in a buttery shell with green onions, mushrooms, spinach, and ham, (2) salmon soufflé, (3) crêpes with Splenda-sweetened fresh fruit and almond whipping cream (for my son Caleb’s 22nd birthday “cake”), (4) carrots and parsnips glazed in a buttery sweet sauce, and (5) cream of mushroom soup, all from Julia’s book.  I have fun cooking delicious, appealing food, and we all enjoy consuming it.  The recipes were hard at first, but have become second nature with repetition.  Dad sent me an email today, “I will be cooking dinner tonight.”  These six words implied so much: (a) I can cook, too; (b) I want to cook, too; (c) I love to cook, too; (d) I can do things; (e) I want to share the load; (f) thank you for your cooking; (g) I want to take a turn; (h) I want to do something nice for you like you do for us; and, (i) isn’t it wonderful how people take raw ingredients and make such creative, delicious dishes?  So, tonight he cooked delicious “saucy pork burrito rice bowls” with ingredients and recipe provided by Hello Fresh.  When I asked if I could be his sous chef, he said sure.  As the three of us sat at the table with our fragrant rice bowls, Dad remarked, “We made this, together, didn’t we Rog!”  We did.    And it was very tasty.

Consecration Cooking

Consecration Cooking

I cooked for hours.  Even though just yesterday I had roasted the annual turkey, yet today I had cooked for hours, for my children, who would arrive at 6 o’clock for dinner with dad.  Tó Brandileone crooned in the other room as I kneaded five parts butter to four parts flour, simmered sliced leeks in butter and their own juices for a long time until totally tender, whisked eggs and cream, rolled out the cold dough and baked the shells in 10-inch springform pans—they would be enormous quiches, Continue reading

Homemade Granola

Laura compiled a family recipe book for Christmas 2018: A Little Bit of Everything.  My favorite recipe so far, her own, is for yummy homemade granola, full of oats, coconut, almonds, and flavor.  I decided to put the process to poetry.  (The full recipe follows the poem.)

Homemade Granola

A gifted daughter gifted
to me her granola
recipe for Christmas
with smiles and promises
of customer satisfaction
and I have made it these twelve months
one gallon at a time: it is so
very tasty and crunchy
with flaked coconut and almonds,
slivered, and rolled oats, ground flax
sweet from honey and brown sugar,
and that flavor enhanced with happy splashes
of coconut, almond, and vanilla extracts
all mixed
with melted coconut oil and baked
for 13 minutes then turned
and baked for 13 more
at 325 until golden
brown and glistening from the egg whites, oh,
can you smell it! the confluence
of aromas, warm and delicious and balanced:
they linger for hours and I do not even
need to nibble
though I no doubt will eat some in the morning
from my favorite clay bowl
the bowl with the chip and the bright
colored rings, with icy whole milk.
I say thank you with a slurp
I do not intend despite its
inevitability. But
no matter: I have no audience
to impress, and, if I had,
she would surely
understand
if not
approve.

The Recipe

Beat well in large mixing bowl:
¼ cup coconut oil, melted but not hot
1 egg white
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
¼ tsp almond extract
½ tsp coconut extract
½ tsp vanilla extract

Mix well with wet ingredients:
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup ground flax seed

Bake:
Spread mixture evenly on large cookie sheet. Bake for 13 minutes at 325F. Remove from oven and turn mixture well, then spread again. Bake for another 13 minutes, still at 325F, until golden on top. Remove from oven and turn. Allow to cool. Eat it up!