Recipes For Life

It's exhausting to carry a heavy heart and never put it down. You start to wonder what it holds, examining which parts are disposable and unnecessary or even replaceable.  Everything is becoming murky.  Everything feels like a mix of tragedy and destruction in the wake of natural disasters, nuclear threats, terrorism, and politics.  Its never felt like a more important time to rise to the occasion and stand up for what you believe.  But what do you believe? 

We are all hurting.  Circumstances aside, I think it's safe to say there is a collective hurt but now what?!  I've been stewing in my own misfortune long enough to realize there is no rescue committee for your life and if you want to feel better you have to do better.  There is no recipe or instruction book on how to pick-up the pieces. You just start picking them up.  Put things together, create piles, salvage what you can and move on.  There is no greater leader right now than you and there is no better time than now.  Ready?

Curry Soup.jpg

PS- This is a green pea curry soup with house croutons and chives, topped with a drizzle of garam masala brown butter.  You don't need a recipe, just initiative. ;)

Cinnamon Rolls

These cinnamon rolls don't exactly represent my dietary belief in "how to feed a senior" but you know... Life is for living!  Items like these gooey cinnamon rolls feed happiness and I think that's just as important as nutrition when it comes to living a good life.  We need to indulge more in simple pleasures.  That's been a real thing for me lately.  Simple pleasures...  I keep an eye out, trying to take note of when I happen upon one and I'm often surprised at their ubiquity.  Sometimes observing one turns into a slew many and I feel a wave of gratitude for this "time" and that doesn't quite fit the stereotype of the caregiver demise.

Caregiving can feel much like purgatory but I'm often taken aback at the moments I catch myself quite content with my baking, gardening, and crafting. I'm frequently bitter at all the moments this experience has stolen from me but its been long enough now that I've come to accept the terms.  There's no going back to the days of what was.  There's only forward. And in this march, I've grown deeper into my hobbies.  This journey is cultivating skills that only come with time and for that I am grateful.

Ingredients

For the rolls:

  • 3 cups flour + more for kneeding
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water

The filling:

  • 1/2 stick of melted butter
  • 3/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp of cinnamon (or even more to taste preference)

The frosting:

  • 1/2 cup of softened cream cheese
  • 2 tbsp softened butter
  • 1/8 cup of powdered sugar (or more or less per taste)
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Combine all the ingredients for the rolls into a large bowl and mix to combine. Add a dusting of extra flour as necessary to absorb moisture and work into a manageble dough ball.
  2. Turn dough ball out onto a floured surface and kneed for about 10 minutes adding flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking.
  3. After the dough is well combined and you are done kneeding, lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough in it and give it a swirl so the dough has been lightly oiled. This will keep it from sticking to the bowl later.
  4. Cover the bowl and let rise for about 1 hour or until it's doubled in size.
  5. While the dough rises prep the frosting.
  6. Place all the frosting ingredients in a bowl and combine with a mixer till all ingredients are well incorporated (be careful not to over mix).
  7. In another small bowl combine the brown sugar and cinnamon for the filling and set aside.
  8. When the dough has doubled in size, dump it out onto a floured surface.
  9. Roll it out into a rectangular shape roughly 1/2 inch thick.
  10. Drizzle the melted butter on top and brush it to cover the top leaving an inch on all sides.
  11. Sprinkle the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture evenly over the buttered area.
  12. Starting with a long side, roll the dough up into a long dough snake (Dough snake? Is that a thing?).
  13. Cut the dough into 2 inch pieces, discarding the two end pieces that lack the filling.
  14. Place the rolls cut-sides up into a buttered pan, nestling them next to eachother but leaving room for them to rise more.
  15. Cover and let rest for about 30 minutes
  16. Meanwhile begin preheating the oven to 375 F degree.
  17. After 30 minutes and the rolls have swollen in size, place in the oven and bake for 30-35ish minutes until the tops turn golden brown and the inside tempurature reaches 160 degrees F.
  18. After baking scoop spoonfuls of the frosting on top while the rolls are hot.
  19. Wait a few minutes and let the frosting melt a little then spread it around the tops in sheer decadence.
  20. Next, give most of these away so you don't die from a binge eating bender... ;)

A Twig's Life

I have a pretty big stick pile.

Leaf litter is slowly starting to accumulate around the house because I have "ideas".  I have lots of ideas...  Like any good hoarder, I see potential in scraps and find myself defending their storage.  As long as I do something with them, then they amount to more than trash matter, right? Or that's what I tell myself.  The truth is, I have a vision and that vision is generously being fostered by the fine folks at Knoll Farm where I am proud to announce I've been awarded a Better Selves Fellowship spot this August!  I am beyond excited!!!!!

My fingers are crossed that I make it to this Vermont refuge.  You never know the challenges when it comes to dementia caregiving, and deciding now that I will attend, will ultimately be determined in the hours, maybe even in the minutes before my departure.  But for fun, lets just go with it and assume I am going.  I am going!!! 

The fellowship is a nurtured self study of sorts.  Everyone attending will be on their own journey yet together, as a community, we will help each other achieve our goals.  My goal will be spoon related but more specifically I want to focus on carving.  And I don't just mean technique, although, I do hope to acquire new skills.  I want dive deeper into the other aspects of carving like knife care and sharpening but also the spiritual side.  I want to explore the intention, the meditation... 

There is something healing in the process of making a tool with your own hands.

I've long thought carving was meditative.  There is something healing in the process of making a tool with your own hands.  It's a placeholder for empowerment, slowly revealing that applied effort produces results and that ultimately, you can in fact do whatever you set your mind to.  It's so easy to surrender to hopelessness but the act of carving always provides a renewed perspective.  With each shaving you are reminded that you're closer than you think, a small echo in your head, akin to a mantra, tells you "keep going".  

As the shape begins to reveal itself, so do all the metaphors.  The "handle" usually appears first.  It's the comfort zone in skill development but then you get to the "neck" and the "bowl".  As with any neck, it's fragile.  You must maneuver delicately or risk breaking it, and I'm reminded of the similarities between these moments and life.  You go on thinking you have a "handle" on things only to realize at some point, your burdens are nearing a breaking point.  It (or you) might snap under the stress without care.  It's a reminder to nurture sensitive areas, a case not to neglect self-care... Then you get to the "bowl".  Perhaps you jump around while carving the spoon but I find the bowl to be one of that last areas of attack.  My students often avoid it till the end.  There is a different technique involved and it requires a different knife but non-the-less it's a critical component to making a spoon a spoon.  It's actually the single most identifiable trait of the spoon yet on the carver's journey, it's often left to the end.  

It's always an interesting pause at this point.  Questions arise as to what things we are avoiding in life?  What single task, if just accomplished, would make a considerable impact in how our days are lived?  What techniques or tools are missing so you can move beyond this block? Wait. Are we talking mental block or block of wood?  It's hard to keep up with the narratives...

I wish I could explain better the thoughts I have on this whole topic.  It's hard to write about carving and a general summery feels impossible.  I have so much to say but can't seem to organized the words for a reader and partly I think the words escape me because so much feeling is at play.  So much is left unsaid here and it's a huge part of why I will do whatever it takes to get to the Knoll Farm refuge and participate in the Better Selves Fellowship.  I know something there is waiting for me.  The mantra keeps telling me "just come"...

 

 

Dark House

I can only speak for myself when I say that the desire to produce anything personal, at this point stems from the utter frustration of maintaining a life that prioritizes other people's priorities.  Nothing feels like it's for myself. I spend my days picking-up the crumbs of a life in regression and hope it amounts to something meaningful.  I'm not sure that even makes sense but you know what? NOTHING MAKES SENSE!

Can you feel my rage?!  I am angry!!!  I am angry that every single day I spend an absorbent amount of time cleaning-up after my dad, understanding his insurance, watching his "shows", paying his bills, and running his errands.  These things are not for me!  Just like your office job is likely not for you.  But the grudge here is that you get to go home after your crappy day to a house that you keep for you, upholding your lifestyle, consuming your preference in media, enjoying your version of downtime...  Well, there is no down time here.  Not in the way that bodes well for sanity.  The stress fractures are everywhere and the cracks are slowly giving way...

 

 

Survivorship

It's been two years now...

en·dur·ance

inˈd(y)o͝orəns,enˈd(y)o͝orəns/

noun

  1. the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way. "she was close to the limit of her endurance" synonyms: toleration, tolerance, sufferance, forbearance, patience, acceptance, resignation, stoicism

adjective

  1. denoting or relating to a race or other sporting event that takes place over a long distance or otherwise demands great physical stamina. "the annual 24-hour endurance race"
palm&I.jpg

You Are A Survivor

The bits of you that are broken, the bits of you that are damaged, do not see them that way.
Instead see them as slowly being filled with beautiful experiences and truths you have learned from the damage, the equivalent of lacquered gold.
I want you to remember you are not a broken thing. Instead, you are a human full of incredible and wonderful experience, made of the same things swords and diamonds are made of.
You are a survivor, my darling, and I salute you for everything you have been through, and for making the universe so proud, so very proud of what you have become.
~ Nakita Gill

Cream Of Asparagus Soup

First you have to set the mood with this sound track I provided for you below. I suggest cracking a window and letting a fresh breeze roll in.  It's officially spring and we're all probably long over due for a deep breath and an even longer exhale.

Ok, now you can dive into this recipe...

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 3 shallots chopped
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 lb asparagus, ends trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces, reserving 1 stalk for garnishing
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp toasted walnuts, chopped
  • croutons (optional)
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions

  1. In a heavy pot melt the butter.
  2. Saute the shallots with the thyme until they soften and begin to brown.
  3. Add the stock a little at a time, and mix it well.
  4. Then add the asparagus and bring the pot to low simmer.
  5. When the pot starts to simmer add the lemon juice (This will help retain the bright green color of the asparagus as it cooks).
  6. Simmer for about 10 minutes or so until the asparagus have softened and then blend with an emersion blender (or carefully in a blender after its cooled) until smooth.
  7. Stir in the cream and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Serve and garnish with croutons, walnuts, asparagus, etc. You have creative license here!

My dad pretty much runs the show around here and I'm getting quite the education on all forms of classic entertainment.  Dean Martin has risen to the top!  Mr. Martin and  some good ol' Andy Griffith...  Two guys I had no idea were after my own heart!

 

 

Let's Build A Dream

Complete this sentence: "When I grow old I...".

It's common to hear "When I grow-up I..." but when was the last time you heard someone talk about their desires for old age. When was the last time you looked far enough into the future so you could see past retirement. I want to know about that version of you. More importantly I want to know more about that version of myself. So, instead of some goals for 2017 I'm setting them for 2047. Let's tack on 30 years and make a daydream for that person. 

When I grow old I'll have long white hair like my mom did. I will live in a rural, small cabin with a small footprint with my love who looks as handsome as the day we met even with the wrinkles. I will be a master gardener and a bee keeper. I will be able to get up off the ground without help and still split my own wood for the oven. The house will smell of fresh bread and the hours will pass with hobbies and craft that reflect a skill that can only be acquired with practice and time. I will have learned patience. I'll be both flexible and strong for my age. I won't be on any medications and I will cook for my friends. I'll take outdoor showers, make up my own sacred rituals, and connect more to the earth than ever before as it will await to receive me in rest.

Cheers!

Clementine + Walnut Tea Cake With Honey

Just this...

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp clementine zest
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/8 cup heavy cream
  • 3 round slices of clementine
  • 1/8 cup juice from clementine
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease a bread pan and lay your clementine rings in the bottom
  3. Take two bowls and in one add all the wet ingredients and in the other add the dry. Mix both sepretly then combine.
  4. Carefully pour the batter into the bread pan (so as not to shift the rings) and bake for roughly 50 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  5. When finished baking, carefully remove the bread and cool on a cooling rack.
  6. Once cooled you can slice the dome off the "top" and invert the loaf so it rests easily with the celementine rings on full display.

Rainbow Beet Tartine

Open-face rainbow beet tartine with whipped ricotta cheese, watercress, toasted walnuts and honey.

Open-face rainbow beet tartine with whipped ricotta cheese, watercress, toasted walnuts and honey.

I am not sure why but lately, all I want is a lush veggie sandwich. This is rare. I'm not much into sandwiches. Unless of-course it's a breakfast version, in which case, I want them all! 

My sandwich aversion comes from a combination of generic fillers and bad bread. They tend to be boring and I want to be dazzled by a sandwich! I want it to feel glamorously indulgent with fun ingredients that go above the call of Subway. Is this too much to ask?!!  And since my generation is becoming the "sandwich generation," a worthy sandwich is a must! According to google, here is the definition:

Sand·wich gen·er·a·tion
noun
  1. a generation of people, typically in their thirties or forties, responsible for bringing up their own children and for the care of their aging parents.

Since I personally don't have children I am going to keep this sandy open-faced but you do what you have to do to make it right for you!  Get yourself some bread and start building a good lunch.  Surely, you're gonna need it to get through the next few years.

Tartines with the crust cut off for my old man. 

Tartines with the crust cut off for my old man. 

Ingredients

•1 slice of artisan bread
•4 beets, a combination of 2 gold and 2 red
•1/4 cup loosely packed watercress
•1 tsp softened butter
•1/4 cup ricotta cheese
•2 tbsp of heavy whipping cream
•1/8 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
•1 tsp honey
•1/4 tsp fresh thyme
•pinch of smoked sea salt (or any salt)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oved to 425 degrees F.
  2. Remove any greens and clean the beets. Place in a baking dish and cover with foil.
  3. Roast beets for 35-40 minutes tossing them occasionally in the pan. (It's this mixing of the juices that bring out the rainbow coloring.)
  4. Prick the beets to test for doneness. Let cool completely then peel to remove the skins.
  5. While the beets cool, whip the ricotta and heaving whipping cream with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. store in trhe fridge till ready to use.
  6. Butter the bread and griddle both sides in a skillet.
  7. Spread a small dab of the riccota mix on the bread and then lay down the watercress. (A small amount will help keep the greens in place.)
  8. Next you can really add that ricotta. I scooped it out with a spoon and flattened it some.
  9. Slice the golden beets and places the slices on top of the ricotta.
  10. Drizzle with a little honey.
  11. Add the toasted walnuts and a little fresh thyme and sea salt and it's ready to eat!
Toppings: honey, thyme, smoked sea salt, and whipped ricotta

Toppings: honey, thyme, smoked sea salt, and whipped ricotta

PS- I made that spoon! Mahogany. My first since being in FL.

PS- I made that spoon! Mahogany. My first since being in FL.

* The End.

3 Cheese Frittata With Cauliflower And Mushrooms

3 Cheese frittata with cauliflower and mushrooms.

3 Cheese frittata with cauliflower and mushrooms.

It seems like it has been weeks now since my dad has eaten anything other than bananas, ice cream, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. His teeth are so sensitive that no matter what I make, he's not interested and with each passing day I worry about his declining weight and lack of nutrition.  I have been searching recipes high and low.  Soups, purees, etc... He's just losing interest in eating and I'm losing confidence in my cooking.  Insert this frittata and together we both stumble a few steps forward.

Slice of nutrition.

Slice of nutrition.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, chopped
  • 6 eggs
  • 4 crimini mushrooms, medium diced
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 3 tbsp chopped chives
  • 2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp oil or butter (or more if needed)
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Position an oven rack in the center of the overn and preheat to 357 degrees F.
  2. Place the caulifower in a pot covered with water and boil for 4 to 5 minutes until it's soft but holds its form. Then strain and pat dry.
  3. While the caulifower is boiling, stir together the eggs, milk, mustard, and paprika in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Next, stir in all the ricotta and chives.
  5. Add half of the parmesan and mozzarella and mix well to thoroughly combine.
  6. On the stove-top, heat an oven-proof pan on medium-high and add the oil or butter.
  7. Saute the mushrooms until they brown and release their liquid.
  8. Add the cauliflower, to the mushrooms and continue to saute.
  9. Allow the cauliflower to brown, then add the egg mixture, patting down the cauliflower so it's evenly distributed without stiring up the bottom.
  10. Scatter the left-over parmesan and mozzarella cheese over top and place in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the center is set.
  11. Let cool for 2-3 minutes before slicing into wedges.

Finally we have a food breakthrough.  Hopefully there are a lot more recipes to come!

Recipe For Self-Care

Ingredients for a self-care scrub: coconut, rose petals, and Himalayan salt.

Ingredients for a self-care scrub: coconut, rose petals, and Himalayan salt.

Long story short, I need therapy.  And I need it in any form I can get it.  It could be clinical but right now I would welcome any and all forms. Massage, retail, physical, medicinal, smudge stick? They all could work.  Since my mom's abrupt passing, my life has been spinning so fast that I can't seem to tell up from down or right from wrong.  It's all a jumble of voices telling me all the things I should do.  There is no shortage of advice for the grieving but you know what the grieving should do?  Freaking grieve! Ugh, hilarious!!!  I laugh at my own suggestion because a month consumed in the end-of-life aftermath would prove that only a naive person would think our culture allows room for mourning.  No.  There is no room for that so I warn you not to get your hopes up.  Any space you create for yourself in loss is merely a distraction from our cultural demands of filing paperwork, paying lawyers, fighting probate and navigating the system.

Job creation is code for bureaucratic paperwork.

I used to think the system was flawed and we were a family falling through the cracks but that's not the case.   The system is not flawed.  It's fixed and I realize now that I wasn't a pawn being puppeteered by the masters but rather, I was (and remain) a cog, diligently filing the paperwork and stroking the flame of "progress".  At a later date I might go into more detail about these things but in effort to stay on topic I'll quickly say this; job creation is code for bureaucratic paperwork. If you are curious to understand what I mean watch this Ted Talk.  Our situations are different but exactly the same and at this point I struggle with defeat.

See what I mean?  There is a darkness here and I live with it daily.  It's not grief. I wish I had room for grief but I am so consumed with a bitter disgust for the way the world works that I feel I need a complete cleanse of the mind, body, and spirit.  My thoughts are bitter, I feel like crap, and my spirit...  Like I said... Defeat.  To crush the souls of the living I am sure steals magic from the world.  One by one, I can feel the world becoming a dangerous place as those like me take there position alongside the army of the raged.  It's an army of those who feel burned and irrationally waiting to strike, given the opportunity. It's not a good place.  

Therapy.

Therapy.

So, what's the fix? I'm going to try swimming.  For the month of September I am going to practice with the city's master's swim club which is an adult swim program that holds practices daily with a coach. I am hoping I can swim the rage right out of myself and get back to a more forgiving person I am comfortable being.  I am only saying this here for accountability because these days it's hard to hold myself to anything other than pajamas. 

Magic.

Magic.

I'm also putting faith into all the other magic the world is gonna throw my way. The awesome folks at the Jewelry Studio of Wellfleet sent me an amethyst necklace, symbolic of healing and comfort for the grieving.  What they probably didn't realize was amethyst was my mom's birthstone and purple was her favorite color.  Right now it's so much more than a necklace.  It's a shroud to treat the wounds of a broken heart.  

Magician's hands.

Magician's hands.

My mom and I, we were just getting started.  Her hands were harbingers with talent and creativity that was unmatched, even against Alzheimer's. For the first time in a long while I felt traction for "promise".  I was embracing the role of caregiver. Re-branding it even... I started to feel the potential and together, I imagined us making great things.  I was just finishing up the foundation when she was stolen from us, a loss that feels like insult to injury.  It's been a raw deal these last few years...  I'm bitter and things are dark but what would you expect after being repeatedly shown that wounds don't heal, they only grow deeper.

Depression is ok to visit but not a good place to live. Thus begins the journey of moving on.  Last night was a new moon which is said to usher in new energy. I'm ready.  I look forward to clarity and hopefully the calm it could bring. I am anxious for some stillness and a twinkle of light...

TLDR: Plan your days by the light of the moon as the sun will never wait for you to catch your breath.

UPDATE 9/21/16: I've been cross posting the details of this journey on Instagram @ashleylook1 under #selfcarerepair.

The How & Why Of Spring Rolls

spring rolls

Why?

Because they are easy, nutritious, and a good "group" activity.  Assuming you are looking out for a loved one and have lingering time on your hands, why not head to the kitchen and gussy up some spring rolls? 

1. They are easy.

I'm always looking for activities that stand to benefit both my mom and I and this one holds-up.  I prepare everything in advance (although depending on the needs of supervision, prep might be something you could delegate) and then the two of us can sit down at the table and roll away.  When going through the motions side by side, my mom, whom has Alzheimer's, can easy follow along. 

2. They are nutritious.

Unfortunately, my mom often can't always eat them due to dysphagia, or complications related to swallowing but anyone without such concerns can go ahead and binge eat their way to good health.  I know that might sound like a tease but you have to remember that we are feeding more than one mouth in this house.  My father's vascular dementia is taking a toll on some of his motor skills like hand eye coordination, so using utensils can be challenging for him.  At least with the spring rolls he can pick them up with his hands and have at them.  It's one of the few ways he can eat "salad".  It's also a fun way to eat vegetables.  I mean, who doesn't love finger foods?

3. They are a good "group" activity.

It can be hard to make time for senior engagement when chores abound but these spring rolls are like a twofer! Getting the ingredients prepped and sitting down at the table and working on them is a surprising win when it comes to time management. We'll have boatloads of healthy snacks and the activity alone is enough to help me feel like we are sharing quality time together.  All too often it's easy to slip into allowing passive entertainment occupy my parents time, which serves no good for any of us.  They are unquestionably bored and under-stimulated (which I personally find to be a triggers for Sundowning) and I face issues of guilt and frustration knowing I haven't contributed meaning to their day.  So, anything I can do that challenges them in new ways proves fruitful regardless of nutrition.

Rice papers

Rice papers

How?

Yes, I know I should have started with "how" but oh well... 

  • First and foremost, find some rice papers!  They are typically found in the international section of your grocery store.
Preparation organization

Preparation organization

  • Prep whatever you want to put in the rolls.  I typically go for a mix of greens, some herbs, crunchy things like carrots, cucumbers, and peppers, and some kind of protein like crushed nuts, hard boiled eggs, chopped cocktail shrimp or chicken. Use your imagination.  You have endless options, just remember that whatever you decide to use needs to fit in the wrappers so cut accordingly.
Spring roll steps.

Spring roll steps.

  • Next you're ready to start rolling.  In a medium sized skillet add some warm tap water and place it by your rolling work station.  Working with one rice paper at a time, soak each wrapper in the water until it's completely soft and filmy.  
  • Lay the soft wrapper out on a clean surface and add your filling in the middle.
  • Fold in the sides first and then the bottom section and roll it right up.
  • Dip them in your favorite dressing and enjoy!  We used a store bought peanut sauce but I think any standard dressing could work too.

 I would suggest making all the spring rolls before eating.  Stopping to taste really derails productivity.  You can also store any leftovers in the fridge for a few days.  There's nothing like having a little power snack to get you through the chaos.  The caregiver struggle is real so make sure you're all fueled up! 

Creamy Chicken & Mushroom Soup Recipe

Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Soup

Yes, it's officially summer and soup might not be your go-to meal but most the seniors I know have poor circulation and are frequently cold.  It's also being suggested according to this article that the thermoregulation of body temperature might be a therapeutic treatment for Alzheimer's disease.  Say-what?! This takes comfort food to a whole new level, and what's more comforting than a bowl of soup?  It's also loaded with nutrients and soft on the teeth which is an every growing concern that I am realizing plagues the senior demographic right up there with high blood pressure and dramas with Medicaid.  Some things I cannot fix but I can fix soup. So... Creamy chicken and mushroom for all my favorite seniors this week!

The ultimate care package.

The ultimate care package.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 large chicken breasts
  • 4 carrots, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 1/2cups Cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/8 cup chopped parsley (and a little more for a fresh garnish)
  • 1 sprig rosemary

Directions

  1. Place the chicken breast in a pot and cover with water. Slowly heat on medium till they are cooked through.
  2. While the chicken is cooking prep the carrots, celery, onion, mushrooms and garlic.
  3. In a heavy pot melt the butter. Add the diced carrots, onion, and celery and stir to coat them evenly in the butter.
  4. Sautee for several minutes until the vegetables soften and then add the mushrooms, garlic, and thyme.
  5. Cook for several more minutes until the mushrooms begin to release their juices, then add the flour.
  6. Stir constantly incorporating the flour and loosening any bits starting to stick to the bottom.
  7. Slowly add in the chicken stock and mix well. This will deglaze the bottom of the pan and help add flavor.
  8. Add the bay leaves and allow the soup to heat into a low simmer.
  9. While the soup is heating, carefully remove the chicken breat and place in a large bowl or cutting board. With two forks carfully pull apart the chicken until shredded into small pieces.
  10. Carefully add the shredded chicken and the parsley to the soup pot and continue cooking until the carrots are soft.
  11. Once cooked through, remove from heat and stir in the half and half and add the rosemary sprig.
  12. Return to the heat and warm the soup through but avoid boiling.
  13. Once warm, you can serve it immediatly remembering to remove the bay leaves and avoiding the infusing rosemary sprig (which can be discarded before storing any leftovers).
  14. Enjoy, hopefully with a friend!

Just #Koolbob

This is a round-up of some favorite shots of my dad from Instagram.  It's not as easy for me to make updates over here but with it being Father's Day, I figured it was the perfect time to archive some #koolbob moments. 

My dad.

My dad.

#koolbob. A veteran of the Korean War and now fights the war on dementia. As this Memorial Day passes I find that our family remains in hope that#veteran Affairs will hurry its decision to award him VA Benefits.
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We submitted an application back in January, and by March finally received notice that they had received it. And now, the last day of May, I find I am still holding my breath! "Hurry!!!! We need you! He needs you!"
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If a picture speaks a thousand words then there are a thousand more in this photo that are lost behind the glamour of social medial. My dad is freshly shaven and styled to perfection which is honestly a rare treat. He is handsome and forever cool and I think the glimmer of what is left of him shines through right here. But he is suffering daily. He is in anguish of the loss of his mind and his independence. It's a painstaking effort to uphold dignity to the caliber that this #soldier deserves but he deserves it! On this #memorialday I continue to hold my breath, cross my fingers, and pray #veteranaffairs REMEMBERS him!

UPDATE: On this Father's Day, June 19, 2016, we continue to wait...

The Man.

The Man.

People always commend me for undertaking #caregiving but what they don't realize is for one, they give me too much credit and two, they seem to neglect their own capacity to provide #love.
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#motivation to be a #caregiver wasn't a random calling, hollering at me from a street corner. It was more like a nagging voice reminding me I had the ability to make a difference yet waiting patiently for me to act.
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If you had the capacity to change someone's life for the better, would you do it? Of course you would! Because we are not different you and I. Separated by circumstance maybe, but connected in#humanity and a belief that when the time comes for you to step-up, you will. And you will. It's not a question of if? It's just a matter of when. And when "when" comes, you will be relieved to learn that you didn't make the difference. You are the difference!
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FYI: Friends of #koolbob do not worry. This picture was taken months ago and he has quite recovered;)

The Myth.

The Myth.

Behind every good#caregiver is a pot of #coffee. And in my case, this guy, bringing it to me every single morning while I am laying in bed!

The Legend.

The Legend.

Shave and a haircut, two bits!

That's all for now.  I hope all the dads out there are having a great day!

How To Make Yogurt

Homemade yogurt with granola and fruit.

Homemade yogurt with granola and fruit.

Everyone should be making yogurt.  It's a better bang for your buck in both the health and financial sense.  It's also incredibly easy and requires only the usual household items.  Don't be a sucker and think you need a yogurt maker.  You don't!  You will however need the following items:

  • Sauce pot
  • Cooking thermometer
  • Mason jar (I use the 1/2 gallon size but you could use a series of smaller ones)
  • An insulated cooler ( I use the standard Igloo brand lunch cooler)
Yogurt and fixings.

Yogurt and fixings.

Ingredients

  • Half-gallon of organic full-fat milk
  • 2 tbsp plain yogurt (organic and full-fat)
  • 1 tbsp sugar

Directions

  1. Add the milk to the pot and slowly heat to 185 degrees F stiring frequently to keep from scalding. You do not want the milk to boil!
  2. While it is heating prep your sink basin or a large bowl (large enough to hold your milk pot) with an ice water bath.
  3. When the pot of milk reaches 185 degrees F, immediatly remove it from the heat and place it in the ice bath.
  4. The tempurature will begin to lower. When it reaches 110 degrees F, stir in the 2 tbsp of yogurt and the tbsp of sugar and blend it well.
  5. Next, pour the milk miture into your mason jar(s) and seal tightly.
  6. Place the jar(s) in the cooler and complete submerge with hot tap water. If the jar(s) lifts or begins to float, try placing something on top of it like a small plate to hold it under. Ideally you want the milk mixture to be completely submerged.
  7. Close the cooler and leave for 7 or 8 hours.
  8. After the 7 or 8 hours have passed, remove the jar and chill in the refrigerator for a few hours until cool.
  9. Then, eat it! Some folks might want to drain off the some of the separated whey from the top but it's not necessary. You can stir it into the yogurt for more protein!

Our household consumes a lot of yogurt!  My mom eats it almost daily as it's one of the easiest things for her to swallow due to dysphagia issues.  It's loaded with protein, calcium, vitamins A and B, phosphorus and potassium which are beneficial nutrients for many seniors so long as they are not trying to avoid dairy.  It's also worth mentioning that yogurt is a fermented food which means it's a host of healthy gut bacteria which can help restore damages caused by antibiotics.  If nothing else it's a food crafting session for anyone with time and curiosity on their hands.  If all we have are a series of days to make the most of, why not infuse them with a little bit of creative health.  Plain yogurt is a foundation for all kinds of deliciousness.  Once you have the yogurt, you can always add other goodies to your heart's contentment!

Dutch Baby Recipe with Strawberries

A delicious and dialysis friendly Dutch Baby with strawberries.

A delicious and dialysis friendly Dutch Baby with strawberries.

Over the last few months I have been cooking and delivering meals for an 84 year old women with chronic kidney failure that attends dialysis treatments three times a week.  I don't know much about dialysis but what I do know is the treatment is very exhausting with a diet that is highly restrictive.  The first couple of times when making deliveries she would meet me at the door and we would exchange friendly chit-chat.  However, over the last few weeks our exchanges have evolved.  The door is left unlocked, I let myself in, and then set about making my prepared meals comfortable in her refrigerator.  I can tell she is tired.  Sometimes I find her sitting in the dark and fear that's only because she is too weak to stand to turn the lights on. One look at her swollen feet and I know my job is more than providing her with dinner.  I have a self-appointed side duty of providing small but important creature comforts.  Nothing extravagant, as doing so might burden her with conversation she is too tired to have.  Instead I address a few minor things to make her evening a little more comfortable.  I turn a light on, move the TV remote closer and serve her a meal on the seated portion of her walker so that she can eat at a "table" and have mobility when she is ready.  The last thing I want her to do is stand-up.  "Rest Lori, just rest...  I got this".

Unfortunately, I only provide dinner so what's to be done about breakfast you ask?  Well, let me introduce you to the Dutch Baby!  Whereas pancakes require constant standing and supervision, the Dutch Baby is more like a "set it and forget it" version.  It requires few ingredients and bakes in the oven allowing tired feet to rest while you wait.  This recipe is also free from added phosphates which are often found in store bought mixes.  High amount of phosphates in the blood can cause assorted calcium related issues in the blood, tissue, and bones which is a serious concerns for someone dealing with renal failure.

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tsp. powdered sugar
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450
  2. In a small sauce pot, combine strawberries and granular sugar and heat on medium low so that the berries begin to soften in there juices and come to a simmer.
  3. Combine the eggs, milk, salt, and flour in a bowl and mix well
  4. Heat the butter on the stove top in an oven proof skillet, moving it around trying to coat the pan evenly on all sides.
  5. Pour the mixed ingredients into the pan and let cook without stiring for one minute.
  6. Carefully transfer the skillet to the oven and bake without opening the door for 15 minutes (the dutch baby will start to rise)
  7. After 15 minutes, turn the temperature down to 350 and bake for another 10 or so minutes until the top is well puffed and golden brown.
  8. Carefully remove the dutch baby from the oven and dust it with powdered sugar and top with the stewed strawberries.

Something about the crackling sound the Dutch Baby makes when you add the fruit makes me giddy! Throw in the fact that the ingredients are simple, the cooking is low maintenance and it's free from cautionary additives makes this a win, regardless of kidney status. So, go make one and kick up your heels!  The Dutch Baby might quickly become your new breakfast standard.

Mortality, Loss, and Finding Peace

The slow goodbye

The slow goodbye

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is emotional torture.  It can be wretched.  Almost violent in its disruption especially when loss comes as a surprise.  Death can be insufferable for those who are left behind and therefore mortality as a topic is generally avoided.  The mere thought of a loved one dying is enough to send the mind to a dark place.  The idea alone causes enough disrupt that it's often saved for private existential moments.   Even then, those thoughts are often stifled  because losses as such produces a hurt that is better to shirk. Such thoughts are depressing at best.

Unfortunately, as a caregiver you are often forced to face mortality head on.  You become keenly aware that time is a gift and death is around the corner.  Alzheimer's is a terminal illness and having two parents with dementia makes it impossible to avoid the gloom and doom that lingers on the horizon.  The worst part is that this disease voices a slow goodbye.  The daily reminder that I am witnessing active death is mentally and emotionally exhausting.  At the same time, it is unavoidable and rather than waste time distracting myself, I have decide to explore mortality and death's inevitability by embracing it as much as possible.  This obviously is not an easy subject to swallow but I have found a few resources that are nothing short of inspirational.

1. What Really Matters At The End Of Life

This Ted Talk video by BJ Miller, a palliative care physician, is a must!  Seriously, make the time to watch it and discuss it with somebody.  It's incredibly thought provoking and provides some relief from the agony that is death and dying.  If you are confused on what is important for yourself or those you are caring for, you can find some comfort here.  He also confirms something I have been thinking a lot lately; that all things can be cured with cookies!

2. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

I read this book by Atul Gawande after several suggestions from friends and I am so glad I did.  The stories compiled in this book shed light on the medical industry and the efforts to prolong life at any cost.  It echos the video above but goes deeper into the perspective that quality of life is equally important if not more important than longevity.  Gawande provides outstanding examples of when to let comfort and dignity triumph over prolonged survival and offers a perspective of hope for many facing impossible decisions.

3. Moving On

If you haven't seen this music video stop what you are doing and watch it right now!  It's so smart and creative and beautifully on topic that I almost cry every time I watch it.  Ainslie Henderson is a genius!

 Everyday is a struggle but discovering resources like the ones above are proving to be a source of comfort during, what you can imagine, is a most uncomfortable time.  I believe that anguish in loss is meant to be therapeutic and that heaving cries are part of tragedy's cleanse.  That being said, it's hard to hold on to pain's authenticity when it's the daily norm but to strip ourselves from tragedy's sorrow seems like cheating the soul.  I don't want to distance myself from the pain of this loss as it diminishes the legacy of my parents memory.  Instead I am moving-in closer, finding comfort in an uncomfortable topic, and seeking out new feelings for what end of life means and the emotional grip it holds on my heart. 

5 Steps To A Better Breakfast Sandwich!

Bacon, egg and cheese sandwich with avocado.

Bacon, egg and cheese sandwich with avocado.

There are a few steps you can apply to greatly improve your breakfast game, especially in the sandwich department.  This one goes out to the restaurant I wont mention at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.  It was bad.  Real bad! And for the love of what should be an easy breakfast win for every kitchen everywhere, I am providing a few crucial steps to building better breakfast sandwiches.

  1. Stop toasting the bread! Cover you bread, muffin, etc. with foil and heat it in the oven for a few minutes. It comes out warm and soft and steamy and all fresh baked like.  Toasting bread is for sandwiches that are exceptionally soft and creamy and in need of texture.  If you were scrambling your egg and just adding cheese or using bacon pate (is that a thing?) well, then toasting might be necessary.  It's all about the texture. And this rule applies to all sandwiches not just breakfast.  The texture profile is just as important as the flavor profile!
  2.  Bake the bacon. It cooks more evenly and gives you more control over your ideal bacon crispness. No folding or cutting to fit it in your cast iron skillet. That's right! I am talking to you!! YOU know who you are...
  3. When it comes to the eggs, keep them yokes runny! Does dipping sauce mean anything to you?!!!  A runny yoke is your breakfast sandwich au jus.  Sure, you can cook your yoke all the way through but when you do, you are changing the general moisture content of the sandwich.  A cooked yoke equals a drier sandwich so you might have to make some adjustments at Step 5.
  4.  Keep the cheese traditional! This is not the place to pull out your world class stink.  A riff on an old classic still needs to hold up to classic expectations.  That means the cheese needs to melt!  Some cheeses just don't melt well and you really need the cheese to help hold this sucker together.  This is the glue that keeps every bite going into your mouth and not on your plate.  Do we need to discuss Feta right now?  I don't think so...
  5. Lastly, you can glam up your breakfast sandwich with the extras. This is where you can add your signature touch and give your egg sandy some personality. The image above is pretty basic with avocado and hot sauce but this is where your plethora of condiments will shine.  Layer on some tomato slices and a little pesto or tapenade?  (Ugh... I can here you thinking Feta is a must for the Greek version but remember Step 4?!  Crumbly cheeses are a no! What you need is a white melty cheese.  Use Provolone and you get a mild cheese that won't distract from your Mediterranean flavor theme and does a good job holding your sandwich together).

Maybe I am too opinionated so feel free to shut me down here and tell me how you like yours.  I am open, I will listen, and I want to hear! What's your favorite combo?  What are your sandwich demands? Do you have a formula? Tell me, tell me!