Friday, November 19, 2010

Foodie Confessions

I love to cook and bake. I love to try new tastes, new flavors, new twists on old recipes. Sweet potatoes? Sure, you can dot them with butter, cover them with brown sugar and cinnamon, top them with marshmallows. But I like to take things a little further. Add a can of mandarin orange pieces, juice and all. Add some chopped walnuts or pecans. Maybe a little maple syrup?

Recipes? Hmmmm... my daughter asked for my recipes when she went away to college. So that year for Christmas, I designed a flip-up, full page calendar book - with corresponding monthly recipes; Easter, St. Patrick's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas - even picnic and grill recipes. Bean dishes for the cold months. Recipes that took advantage of each harvest each month. Recipes for homemade pasta, recipes for pies and cakes and cookies, and recipes for everyday meals as well.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are always my days to shine. Dad used to have a drop-in, open-house kind of holiday attitude, and there had to be football snackages for the early afternoon, food for the big meal, and evening snackages for the folks wandering around with drinks in their hands. So cooking for the holidays at our house started at 4 AM and didn't finish until late afternoon.

I always make at least 3 kinds of pie for the holidays; fresh pumpkin (not from a can), pecan, and the third one varies depending on the harvest for that year. It could be cherry, apple, or blueberry, but all are served with real whipped cream. Dad and I hated Cool Whip, and never allowed it on the table. Those nasty airy little fluffy "salads" people make with it gave us the heebie-jeebies.

Mike has never carved a turkey at our house. It isn't his fault - I even bought him an electric knife. But my turkey is so moist that it falls off of the bone. I make what my Southern friends call "Yankee stuffing" - crumbled bread, lots of onion and celery, garlic, salt, pepper, and some secret spices that make it piquant and biting. Halfway through the turkey's baking time, I snatch it out of the oven and pack it full of this stuffing til its little bones crack and it can't keep its little legs together. Then I baste it even more heavily than I did at the start (more real butter and spices) and put it back in the oven to finish. I use a sturdy roaster with a tight lid that keeps the juices and flavors inside. When I take it out of the oven and pull off that lid, you'd better step back! - the steam will curl your hair and fog your contacts!

We have mashed potatoes and gravy. I never use fake or dried potatoes; I always boil wonderful red potatoes, then whip them into a frenzy with a 1/2 pound of butter, a little milk or cream, salt, pepper, and parsley. Sometimes I like to pop them under the broiler for a minute to get a light brown crust.

Yeast rolls. On the yeast rolls I sometimes cheat and buy store-bought if I don't have time; otherwise I make some plain, and some with grated cheddar cheese and spices.

My deviled eggs are weird, apparently. I like them to be flavorful, not bland; the yolks are whipped with lemon juice, garlic and onion powder, worchestershire sauce, mustard and mayo; sprinkled with parsley and paprika for color. Folks eat 'em like cookies.

I make chocolate rum balls, and a "Drunken Sot" fruitcake that soaks in French Brandy and dark rum for six weeks. No candied fruit ever even accidentally falls into that fruitcake batter; it is all liquor-soaked fruit with a rich cake dough to bind it all together.

Only butter, not margarine or fake butter, is ever served at my table; real cheese, not cheese mix, real flavorings, not artificial. I take pride in using only the best ingredients; if all I have available are cheap imitations, I don't make that recipe. No substitutions, please!

I'd love to tell you the measurements for all of these recipes, but to be honest I haven't measured anything in years. I add stuff until it looks right, or smells right, or tastes right, then serve it. Cooking is my creativity, my joy, my pleasure, and watching peoples' faces light up when they bite gives me the greatest pleasure of all!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thankful? Um, OK

You have no idea what it's like.

Every day, coming down the stairs, wondering if your partner is awake, asleep, or unconscious.

Some days are 'good', days in which he laughs and makes you laugh, silly things you say to each other, keeping it going. He has a whole 'cow conspiracy' theory, now, that cows are plotting to take over the world. They have lookouts. They are opposed to the horses, but sometimes use them as decoys. They gather around the phone lines, making calls to other groups gathered around other phone lines, communicating in vastly stealthy ways that humans never seem to notice. His mind had always been very creative; he should have been the writer, not me. The things he has come up with in the past have kept me thoughtful, inspired me, kept me laughing.

We haven't slept together in years, because we can't. He has to sleep in a "V" position; sharply done. He can only sleep on his back. He slept in a recliner the first two years; I bought him a bed that has that 'memory foam' in it, that raises head and feet like a hospital bed. It's the only way he can sleep. I have my own room upstairs, with a pillowtop queen size mattress where I sleep - usually on my side, stretched out.

He always was a little OCD; concentrated so hard on what he was doing that he could not notice any distractions. It's why he was a helluva firefighter as well as a paramedic; no one and nothing would change his thought processes and actions. Now, though, the OCD is pronounced; to complete a task - ANY task - he has to concentrate fully on it, or he wanders away and forgets. His palm pilot has lists on top of lists on top of lists. Not only does he write down 'mow the yard' but he also writes down "pick up limbs" , "check the gas in the mower", "Check the mower tires", "empty the bag into the compost pile". He is still creative - in a determined sort of way. He keeps track of every different bread recipe he tries or changes, even down to the length of knead time, how much extra flour he uses, etc.

When we sat in front of the lawyer for the last time, he told us that the medics and attorneys for Workers' Comp had given him an approximate death date. In other words, based on his type of injuries and surgeries, as well as the following medications that he would be on 'for the rest of his life' - they had stamped him with an expected expiration date. Most people in his situation rot away quickly, emotionally and physically; stop taking their meds, stop going to the docs, stop wanting to live. It's why they didn't want to promise him his retirement payments, and why Social Security fought so hard against giving him back the money he put in for years - they were waiting for him to die. Of course they'd have to pay his spouse much less.

The drugs made him vicious and violent at first, then they made him forget... forget the past 20 years of marriage, forget the feelings he had as both a man and a husband. Those were hard times at first - like having someone who loves you and whom you love suddenly get Altzheimers, the vicious cruel kind of mindlessness. He didn't understand the people around him any more. He didn't understand the traffic whizzing by him when he drove. He didn't understand stores and clerks and the people with whom he used to interact every day. They spoke a different language, had a different thought process, ran around and over him as if he didn't exist any more, which added to his confusion. This frightened him, and the fear made him angry, lash out, violent. Because I knew that this was not him, was just the fear, the pain, the confusion that overwhelmed him, I put up with the violence - even when it was turned on me. I fled when I had to, to save my life - but I always came back, because I knew he was not really abusive. This new person was not the man I married, but was a desperate, confused stranger in pain, who needed someone to protect him.

So now we are where there are almost no people. Where those who do live around us are easy to remember; names, faces, habits - because there are so few of them. He knows the chickens and the cows and the horse and the dogs because he interacts with them every day, all day. His woodworking shop and small engine repair shop are his refuge; where he can think carefully about projects, and do them incrementally until he gets them perfect, with no one to disturb his thoughts. Where food and weather are the main topics of conversation in the house. Where he can plan a whole Halloween or Christmas decoration extravaganza weeks in advance without being interrupted. Where his hours in front of the TV or the computer are mindless escapes from his ever-present pain and his few 'responsibilities'.

From a deeply passionate, loving, demonstrative marriage we have settled into a comfortable caretaker/patient existence; still mutually dependent, but differently. Like a steadily dripping waterfall, we have worn a groove into the rock of our marriage, and it is a comfortable if uneventful trap. Emotions aren't permitted, they cause upset and aren't worth the trouble. No pressure to perform, unless you count that the cows need food occasionally in a blizzard, or that the wind whips around the house and peels the occasional piece off and has to be repaired. All is quiet; the long days and nights silently blending into one another. He has outlived his "expiration date", and continues to do so, unmolested and uneventfully.