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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Despondent to Delicious


The first official meltdown occurred on Thursday night after discovering that the heat was not kicking on in my parent's home. Too late to call a repairman, the night was long and sleepless worrying about my two elderly folks with no heater. I piled extra blankets on them and used a space heater but still worried. In the end all was fine and the heat was fixed the next morning thanks to the Greenhouse connection. But that night....the breakdown arrived at almost exactly the two-week mark and she wasn't pretty.

I'm not the type to have a breakdown that's a polite,little cry in a corner. It's big and nasty and overwrought with drama complete with Oscar-clip worthy moments.
A phone call to Keith helped get me...well, less dramatic at least.

Friday was a new day and a blessedly calmer one. I spent the evening with Kak and JB and they whipped up a wonderful dinner. JB grilled salmon with some Potlatch seasoning that was soon topped off with some amazing Asian marinade by Barefoot Contessa. I'm a tad miffed with Ina, though. Now that I'm hooked on this marinade, she's apparently discontinuing it. Tease! The salmon was accompanied by oven-roasted potatoes, salad and bread. Kak was wizardly with the spice on all of the dishes and displayed her mighty spice collection for me.

The background music for the evening became the Hope for Haiti telethon. The soul was soon stirred by a haunting rendition of Hallelujah performed by Justin Timberlake and Matt Morris. Click on the video to check it out and please donate to www.hopeforhaiti.org. I will be downloading this one for sure.



Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chicken Surprises, Pate Christine and the Busy Bee



I finally got the time to return to the joys of the internet today. I'm forcing myself to blog something other than my current mental state which can be summarized with a simple BLAUGGHHH....

I'm doing the things I came here to do but so much of it is somewhere between exasperating and heartbreaking that my own state of mind is relatively bleak. I got my father evaluated from his doctor and watched him fail a mental health test. I felt so badly for him that it was difficult to remember that the evaluation would help us get him care in theend. This morning Dad and I had a nice breakfast together only to watch the day deteriorate as his paranoia grew by leaps and bounds. My mother's own illness only exacerbates the worst moments. It becomes tougher by the day and the moments of relief my friends provide me are more meaningful than ever. Of course, each moment involves food.

I had dinner with Kaki and JB Friday night and as usual it was excellent. I brought some local hometown favorites...Mister Bee potato chips and Broughton Chip N' Dip. JB grilled some fantastic shrimp which we dipped in a Sriracha-spiked cocktail sauce. We then had Porterhouse steaks and baked potatoes spiced with Spyke seasoning (Kaki's Dad's favorite) and A-1 sauce. I was also turned on to the utterly addictive Southern Shores Creamy Horseradish Sauce which they carry at the Greenhouse. Seriously...I could eat this with a spoon. Their dogs, Sophie(who's pictured)and Shadow kept a watchful eye on any flying food shrapnel that may come their way.

I did the folk's laundry at Kristy's on Sunday. She whipped up a 70's recipe she'd gotten off the WTAP website. Called Chicken Surprise, they were yummy croissants filled with chicken, cream cheese, onions and spices. Chowed on 'em while watching some Food Network. Kristy later surprised me with a delicious gift from dear Christine...the wonderful Levee House pate I've written about in a previous post(see: The Pate of Our Lives). I've decided she has tweaked it and made her own so the pate bears renaming...it will now be known as Pate Christine.

Sarah Jane and I met at an old favorite Marietta, Ohio breakfast spot called the Busy Bee. Tiny little diner in Harmar Village with still-amazing food. The scrambled eggs and biscuits were perfectly fluffy and the bacon and hash browns perfectly crisp. Oh, and when you ask for hot sauce it ain't Tabasco...it's Texas Pete, baby.

These brief but blessed breaks are saving MY bacon....Thanks to all of you.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Big Day Out


I've been avoiding taking my father out of the house and citing the remaining ice and snow. I was indeed concerned about trying to balance he and I on icy patches around town. It wasn't entirely the truth. Taking my father around town worries me for selfish reasons as well and I loathe to admit that. I worry about the many possible embarrassments that can occur as well, both for him and me. Pretty callous, don't ya think?

Steeling myself to deny him again, I arrived downstairs this morning to find him fully dressed in clean clothes, hair nicely combed and freshly shaven(no cuts!). I found I couldn't say no. And so we went...

I've mentioned in previous posts that there is scarcely a greater thrill for Dad than going out to eat. We went to the Fireside and he got his two eggs over easy with bacon and hash browns. He devoured it all and of course, relished every bite. I've always been amazed that I've never had to rush the Heimlich maneuver on him the way he shovels that food away. He grew up during the Depression and knows what it's like to be blessed with good food. He's not about to let any of it get away. I watched him and wondered how I could have considering keeping him from this simple joy.

My mother provided me with the other emotional moment of the day. I've mentioned my sister Mona before and how she lost her struggle with her own mental illness. Mom handed me the last letter Mona had written them before she died five years ago. I didn't even know it existed. It was a bittersweet read as it detailed my sister's hope for the future while struggling with everyday life. The letter was written with the holidays in mind and featured a detailed description of a favorite holiday meal that our mother always made. Homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, roast chicken with noodles made from scratch, perfect green beans, oyster dressing and homemade honey-wheat bread. This was a true example of the power of food as a connector....that meal was lovingly made by our mother more than 25 years ago, wonderfully described by our sister through the haze of her failing mind twenty years later and tearfully read by me five years after my sister's passing. The letter completely transported me to the sights and smells of that dinner as I'm sure it did for my sister when she wrote about it.

The memory of that meal made me feel closer to them all.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Personal Thaw

Compounding the aggressive feeling of hopelessness in helping my parents is the general environment itself. Winter thus far has been a bit of a beast from Kansas City to here. Today the temps finally crawl above freezing and some of the snow and ice have begun to melt. Though we have a long time to go before winter is done, moments of humor and signs of spring help me personally thaw out as well.

My only moment of foodiness yesterday came from books and oddly, my parent's favorite evening show..Wheel of Fortune. Every night we gather to watch the local news followed by NBC News with Brian Williams then finally the all-powerful Wheel. We bond with Pat and Vanna and my parents take this time to try to solve the puzzles and give their failing minds a bit of a workout. Last night's theme was international food and I was so excited that when the first puzzle appeared, I blurted out the answer much to my parent's chagrin. Way to go, Wheel Stud...how magnanimous of you to beat your mentally ill parents at their own game. Obviously, I need to get out of the house....that would be a pic of my childhood home above.

Today, I did get out and stopped by the Greenhouse where they have been decorating for spring. The bright colors and in particular the rainforest display were instant spirit lifts. Had a bite of Kaki's delicious hash brown casserole before heading to her home for a bit of mental respite before heading back to the folk's.

My parent's neighbor Bobby provided a humorous story about Dad. Bobby has been a godsend by watching out for my folks and driving Dad around for his errands. He told me of asking Dad for his keys at which point my father removed his false teeth and handed them to Bobby. Bobby then said,"Your keys, Rex....not your teeth." It may seem as if I'm mocking my father but rest assured that is not the case. We, my parents included, must find the humor as always and Dad laughs at the story as well. That's my Dad....he'll give you the teeth right out of his mouth.

Another surefire way to personal thaw is remembering the world is much bigger than your own problems. The horror and tragedy that has befallen Haiti from that earthquake reveals an entire people desperately in need. ABC News says that CareUSA is one of the groups that is not a scam and is already doing good work. They are working to get much-needed food to the area. Click on the following link to learn how to help...

http://www.care.org/emergency/haitiearthquake/index.asp

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The View From Here













The pics shown on this post are the views from my parent's sun room overlooking the backyard. One is a wintry look through icicles of my Dad's garage otherwise known as His Home Away from Home. The other is of the neighbor's and the Pike Hill. It's a view that has become my Mother's only connection to the outside world aside from the front porch. My parents venture outside less and less and spend a fair amount of time simply staring out the windows. I find myself watching them, searching their eyes wondering what is left of their thoughts....are they wishing it would be spring? Are they reflecting on their time tending their flower and vegetable gardens? Are they searching and sifting through what's left of their memories for reminders of better days? Are there any thoughts at all?

Watching their decline is agonizing and I find my own thoughts awash in myriad emotions. I silently feel my own heart breaking at their growing loss of dignity and then I find myself slipping into anger...at myself, at God, at Fate,at what seems to be the utter unfairness of it all. How could these two people who devoted so much of their lives to God and church seem so abandoned by both? I realize it's not a question easily answered and then feel crushed by the inability to fix or heal the situation. How ironic that at the same time I'm railing against God, I then realize that I'm also praying for guidance more than ever....

So, as I've repeated in previous posts, I try to hold myself together by searching for the comforting nostalgia of being here and the healing humor that helps release me from the stress. Today's nostalgia came, of course, in the form of food. My parents get food deliveries from Meals on Wheels and the food is frequently the same food as the hot lunches served in the school system. Today's was my favorite in school...school pizza. It's ingredients may be suspect, but, oh, were we some happy campers in school when it was pizza day. I took a bite of the pizza and the memories were instantaneous. We used to shamelessly prey on dieting fellow female students and talk them out of their pizza. It pales in comparison to, well, pretty much any other pizza but we loved it then and it's memory triggering properties are clearly intact.

The humor today came in realizing that the back of my Dad's shirt had some type of logo on it. Looking at it more closely, I realized it was for West Coast Choppers. I have no idea where he got it but how funny to suddenly think of my Dad as an 89-year-old biker dude. You go, Easy Rider.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Travelling the Frozen Tundra














The 6 a.m. jaunt to the airport was in frigid 10 below zero weather. My original flight had already been cancelled and rescheduled due to the weather. The new flight remained on time and I was off to the portal of hell called security. It was soon quite clear that we have returned to post 9/11 levels of airport security. I'd forgotten that the most recent terrorist attempt was with something devised in the man's own underwear. So, let's just say the patdown was a tad more...familiar than I'd remembered. Indeed, when it was done I felt the security person should have at least bought me dinner first. Wow.

As we lined up to board the plane, I had a great view of them de-icing the Southwest planes so I decided to photograph it. I suddenly found myself yanked out of line and searched AGAIN in front of everyone else in line. As humiliating as that was, it took me a minute to realize...well, of course..I was photographing the planes. It's heartening instead to know that they ARE noticing that type of suspicious behavior.

After a quick plane change in a cold and wintry Chicago we were off and landed about an hour and a half late in an even more wintry Columbus. I met Sarah Jane at Max and Erma's for a yummy Tortilla burger before we headed out. I have a long history with Max and Erma's which is a Columbus institution. I remember first going with Kristy and my friend Lisa Sellers Blenis and her mother Sharon. Sharon got a charge out of mine and Kristy's tales of creating food experiences in the kitchen of our childhood...the kitchen belonging to Kristy's mother Mary Alice; the original Kool-Aid Mom. Sharon always remembered that and brought up the food experiences every time we saw her. Keith and I also love to go to the original Max and Erma's in German Village when we visit one of our favorite bookstores...the Book Loft.

Sarah and I left to make the three-hour drive to our hometown of St. Marys. Sarah couldn't get her windshield washers to work. She quickly shifted into McGyver Mode and removed her earring to use in unplugging her washers and used snow to clean off her windshield. We hit the road and as we neared our hometown the snow kept increasing. We finally made it to the Greenhouse and spent the evening with Kristy, Kaki and JB. We fed on Kaki's soon-to-be-famous Dump Ribs which were ribs slowly done in the oven and marinated with whatever was in the fridge. They were awesome!

Now. it's off to the parents....

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Homeward Bound










I'm going for homeward bound as opposed to snowbound in hopes my flight to Columbus will not be fraught with weather worries. KC is in the Deep Freeze following our latest storm and that same storm is now bearing down on my hometown as I fly in. I'll be leaving in subzero temps and arriving in more snow....assuming I'm on time. Throw in the higher level of security and the undertaking of my parent's care and my nerves are on overdrive. It is what it is, though...so I will forge on through.

We made an attempt at Emeril's Roasted Red Pepper hummus this week and well, the effort fell short. As you may have seen from old posts of mine as well as a memory provided from my friend Lena, dips involving garlic clearly are not my forte. Our food processor is small and we adjusted the amounts possibly that's where the errors began. The dip wasn't bad....we just kept feeling it was missing something. We kept adding lemon juice and salt as the recipe said but to no avail. We'll just keep trying..Click on the title of this post for the link to the recipe.

It will be tough to bid farewell to my home, pets, friends and Keith in particular, for up to 12 weeks. Duty calls, though, as I attempt to figure out the best path of care for my folks...and how to get them to agree to it.

My original plan was to use this punishing winter to cook more and serve the original intention of this blog. Life interfered, though, and while I intend to keep blogging I won't be able to do much cooking for awhile. I believe, as always, though that food is one of our greatest connectors as human beings and so I will continue to explore that link.

I'll be posting soon and until then, take care and I'll take any prayers you might happen to have lying around.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Flashback














As I mentally prepare for the extended trip to my hometown to care for my parents, I also anticipate the usual childhood flashbacks that will follow. This particular trip I will be cleaning out some long forgotten areas that will undoubtedly unearth a few treasures..including some embarrassing ones, I'm sure.

This post features another Saturday morning cartoon flashback...and I do mean flashback. Lidsville was one of Sid and Marty Krofft's patented psychedelic shows featuring several giant foam hats(including a chef's) and Charles Nelson Reilly. Between that hallucinogenic half-hour and the sugar rush I was embarking on from my heaping bowl of Count Chocula, I was experiencing the seven-year-old's version of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Oh, the seventies...my Disney lunch box. My friend Richie Dale had a Pet Rock. Kristy had a mood ring that was always black....it just meant she was always cold but we thought it just meant her mood was eternally foul. The combination of sugary cereals and HR PufnStuf along with Sigmund and the Sea Monster must have done lasting damage to my psyche. After all, it wasn't long before I decided I loved disco music and tried to save up enough money to buy a satin disco jacket. Once I had it, I just knew that Kristy and I would be discovered as the long-lost siblings to Kristy and Jimmy McNichol and we would all stroll merrily off to Studio 54 together.

While I cringed putting that into print, my childhood was largely blessed while growing up in that little town of St. Marys. My Dad's garage was our playpen where we ate mustard sandwiches and hot fudge sundaes while reading Archie comic books. We played flashlight tag and Red Rover and ate Chicko-Stix and loved the Midnight Swims at the County Swimming Pool.

I need these memories desperately through this process of caring for my parents. My childhood gifted me with some of my greatest treasures...my friends who are still with me. These friends will collect around me and help me right through every torturous moment to come....even if I start listening to disco again.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Elementary, My Dear













We headed out into the ill 7-degree wind today to grab a bite of Five Guys comfort food and then to a matinee of Sherlock Holmes. The movie was fine, not brilliant, not bad. It had the typical Guy Ritchie flourishes and the appropriate grimy visuals of 1800s England. The highlights by far were the two lead performances of Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Dr. Watson. Their witty portrayals lifted the entire film out of the mediocre category. Food figured throughout from a mere meal to actually being part of the deductions....an egg and honey recipe, a favored fish and chips made with a special beer, olives and nuts offered by the femme fatale and some tainted wine.

We finished out the day whipping up some homemade turkey noodle soup. We used the smoked turkey Keith's Dad sent home with us. Celery, carrots, onions, thyme, parsley, chicken stock, noodles and smoked turkey and simmer away. No recipe followed. We were unsure of the smoked turkey but it actually kicked up the flavor well. We also made one of my favorite sandwiches...Barefoot Contessa's goat cheese and roasted red pepper sandwiches. Herbed goat cheese, fresh basil, roasted red peppers, a balsamic vinegar mixture, a happy handful of capers and crusty ciabatta bread. Keep in mind that the recipe says to create the vinegar mixture and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours to let the flavors meld. We didn't do that and it was still marvelous but I'm sure allowing the mixture to "breathe" would even be better. Here's the link to the recipe...


http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-pepper-and-goat-cheese-sandwiches-recipe/index.html

Friday, January 1, 2010

Once in a Blue Moon

































































On the last eve of the last decade, we attended our friend Charlotte's and her new husband David's charming wedding. The ceremony setting was a small chapel on the William Jewell campus. The evening was crisp and crystal clear and the sun was setting as we entered the chapel. It was a lovely and simple ceremony. Our girl Jenny led the proceedings and it was her first officiating gig....she aced it. Char looked beautiful and was outright giddy the whole evening. As we sat in the pews waiting for the ceremony to begin, we fell into a hysterically inappropriate conversation led by the imcomparable Jane Durr. Sitting directly behind some of Charlotte's family members, the featured dialogue was,"At the Margaret Sanger clinic in New York, EVERYONE got a diaphragm!" Despite our attempts to subvert, the ceremony was perfection. Many a happy tear was shed. Our co-worker Drew and his girlfriend arrived just in time to run into Charlotte and David as they were departing the sanctuary. As we all departed the chapel, the sunset had given way to a brilliantly beautiful full moon. The moon was in fact a rare blue moon. How fitting.

The reception was at the Hilton and was great fun. The food was highlighted by a made-to-order pasta station with some excellent ingredients. Mine featured sun-dried tomatoes, fresh garlic, yellow and red peppers and a blend of a hearty marinara and a five-cheese sauce. The silver wedding cake and a host of wedding cookies and treats were offered for dessert(the iced peanut butter cookies were...like, holy cow good). Dinner inevitably gave way to the usual suspects of wedding dances(Cha-Cha slide...c'mon, it's the cha-cha slide!). The only snafu came when a portion of the head table collapsed with a kid underneath. The kid was completely unfazed and the table quickly fixed. Dancing resumed and the party carried on. The evening ended on a bittersweet note. As we left and bid Charlotte and David farewell, I realized I'd almost forgotten that we were actually saying goodbye to her...she would soon be moving to Wyoming. Char, I hope you and David have all the happiness you can stand....and then some.

We were home before the clock struck midnight. I was actually quite happy to share the moment with Keith...quietly and at peace.

Happy New Year, friends. May the new decade bring many peaceful moments to all of us.