Food

THE DINNER ROLL RECIPE

“It’s time for us to move back to the Bay Area,” said my father.  “We need to live closer to you — not with you — but near you.”  At 85 he finally admitted to himself that my mother was slipping away and she would need more care than he could provide.  Not yet diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease, she was showing all of the signs.  I had noticed her failing as well, but the decision to leave their lovely home located between Sebastopol, California and Bodega Bay which boarders the gentle Pacific had to be theirs.

The little farm as the family lovingly titled my parent’s retirement home had been a gathering place for more than 20 years and tradition at Thanksgiving.   All of that time she and my father bought the bird from a local turkey farm while the rest of us brought the side dishes.  The one thing, however, that no one even ventured to duplicate were the dinner rolls straight from Mama’s oven.

Whether the recipe was her own, her mother’s or one clipped from a magazine we never knew.  What we did know was the roll recipe was tucked away in her black, loose-leaf binder among the other clippings and hand-written cooking treasurers collected through all the years of her married life.  My sisters and I never asked for the recipe because the rolls were Mama’s speciality.  Being a wonderful cook she prepared other specialities as well when there was an occasion or if she felt inspired, but when she was busy, food was plain and simple, “and better for you in the long run,” she assured us.  So it was that we grew up experiencing a few culinary delights as well as steamed potatoes still in their jackets and vegetables cooked in “waterless” cookware.

With their final decision to move absolutely firm, Ken and I looked, and found, an ideal house for them just a few blocks from us.  Four months later I drove the two-hour trip to begin packing with the family coming the following week for the big move.  Mama saved everything.  My job with the help of my niece Denise was not only packing, but also included sorting through some 60-plus years of accumulation.  Dad’s job was to keep those empty boxes coming, and Mama’s job was to see that we were all fed and happy.  After all, she was a wonderful cook.

As we sat down for dinner Denise and I looked at one another with the same thought, “What is thisssss?”  Tasting did not answer the question.  Too much spice, too much salt and too much of whatever else it was that she found in her food supply which made up the mystery dish.  My father, who usually wolfed down his meals in a matter of minutes, ate everything on his plate, but it was an obvious effort, and because he was hungry.   Denise and I dabbled with our food then went back to packing.  Mama, we agreed, had forgotten how to cook.  Following that first night one of us worked with her preparing dinner and I told my dad that he would have to help Mama in the kitchen once they moved into their new home.  Either that or he would have to get used to guess-what dinners.  I had known that Alzheimer’s was stealing away my mother’s thoughts and memories, but I hadn’t realized it was stripping away her skills as well.

When I packed the kitchen supplies, I placed all of her cookbooks in one box, sealed it up realizing that it would be unlikely she would ever use them again.  At the new home I placed the box on a shelf in the garage, planning to glean the best of her recipes and to browse through the black binder at a later date.

The later date didn’t come until after she was gone.  Picking up the dilapidated binder I thought about the aroma of her freshly baked rolls which had beckoned us to the dinner table on so many memorable occasions.  Page by page I searched, but to no avail.  There was no recipe for the rolls I remembered.  Instead of being tucked away in a book it was no doubt tucked away somewhere in the corner of her mind.

Even after  nearly two decades I find that every so often a thought races through my head, “I’ll call Mama and ask her about …..?”  But just as quickly reality follows; Mama isn’t here and a thousand little questions will never have answers.  Nor will I ever make rolls as delicious as the ones she made.

Originally posted 2009-06-04 06:23:00.

SUNDAY DINNER WITH KEN AND COMPANY

lentil spaghetti

This person with Alzheimer's even enjoys lentil spaghetti

Our niece, Carla, and her husband, Chris, came to visit last Sunday.  She is the daughter of Ken’s sister, Loretta, who also is a victim of Alzheimer’s.  Coming from Oregon they had stopped in Santa Rosa to visit her mother who lives in a full-care facility before continuing on to the East Bay where we are located.  Two of our adult children and their spouses were here as well and with Ben helped Ken into the living room so he could be part of the day.

“Mom is doing well,” Carla reported.  “She doesn’t know anyone – not me or my kids, or my brother and sister.  Nor does she recognize her life-long best friend, Jean.”  We talked more – actually at great length — questioning and comparing where Loretta and Ken are as they journey into oblivion. I said that Ken seemed to be having trouble walking.  “Mom walks just fine, but has trouble eating,” explained Carla. Interesting how the disease attacks different parts of the brain in its various victims. I laughed, though, about the eating and reminded Carla it wasn’t one of her uncle’s problems.  Ken still eats whatever Ben or I put in front of him,” which brought up the subject of food and lunch which was ready and waiting.

Carla and Chris are vegetarians and have been all of their married lives (Carla longer) and I respect their choice.  When I know they are coming I prepare a non-meat meal and serve it to all invited guests, knowing that it doesn’t hurt anyone to go without meat for a meal or two.  That Sunday we had lentil spaghetti, tossed green salad and homemade rolls; lots of protein, but no beef.  My son, Keith, who raises cattle, is a good sport about eating what’s served, but I noticed he didn’t go back for seconds.  A meatless meal for beef growers makes for a lively and amusing conversation which included all of the bad meals mom (me) ever made becoming fodder for the fun.

When my mother experimented with a new recipe for my dad and he was unimpressed he wolfed it down anyway exclaiming, “Well, you don’t have to ever fix this again.”  However, experimenting with new recipes is often a joy and challenge for homemakers, and was something both mom and I liked to do.  With Ken so appreciative of what I served I was always spurred on to clip and file some great recipes from a variety of magazines. (Possibly some of those meals are what Keith remembered as every experiment wasn’t always a roaring success.  Then there was the dreaded meatloaf every Tuesday which is at the top of his ever-expanding bad-meal list.)

Yet, the quest for interesting meals went on even after all of our children were grown.  However, as Ken’s AD progressed, he no longer held much interest in what he ate; only that he ate.  For a while I continued clipping and saving recipes, and then I realized I was clipping and after a couple of weeks I tossed the clipping. My motivation for food preparation had lost its zest.  Ben and Criz usually cook Ken’s meals and I make something for myself.  It just isn’t fun to cook for only one person – me.

A few days after Carla and Chris left, I found myself reading a magazine and I tore out a recipe.  I have always been a zucchini person and the recipe I found would be great for Chris and Carla’s next visit.  It contained bread crumbs, lots of garlic, red pepper flakes, a little onion, olive oil, salt and four thinly sliced zucchinis – everything roasted and served over spaghetti.  “Perfect,” I said to myself, but I was a bit troubled thinking about all those carbs. Then I read a side-bar section printed in red which suggested that if you didn’t want to serve it over pasta, you could clean and devein a pound of raw shrimp, stir it into the zucchini-bread mixture and roast everything together.  Never mind filing this under Vegetarian.  I’ll check out what else I can do with lentils for their next visit; perhaps a lentil loaf?  That would probably drop-kick the meatloaf from the top of Keith’s bad-meal list.

My zest had a revival.  With all of the ingredients, including a package of frozen raw shrimp, in the house I prepared a single serving as a test run.  Delicious!  Two days later I made the full recipe telling Ben he could take home two servings and the two left were for me and Ken.

“This is really good,” said Ken, enjoying every bit of the zucchini and shrimp covered with garlicky toasted bread crumbs. Whether my motivation will return to the joy of cooking and continue into the tomorrows I don’t know, but tonight creating a culinary delight was really fun and the meal was appreciated by Ken as much as he is able to appreciate anything. Perhaps that should be motivation enough.

Here’s a link to a recipe similar to the one I made: http://primalplayground.tv/sun-dried-tomato-shrimp-on-zucchini-noodles

And here’s the one to lentil spaghetti: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/vegetarian-lentil-spaghetti/detail.aspx

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/85934826@N00/4267368265/

Originally posted 2011-08-07 02:43:32.

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