Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: CIAO, ADIOS, ALOHA, AU REVOIR, AUF WIEDERSEHEN & GOODBYE



Well, that was certainly a full, amazing  bittersweet year! 

Nearly a full year has passed since I first introduced this blog.  I began by telling a little about myself and my situation as caregiver.  I proposed my mission and suggested what you might expect to find in upcoming posts.  You met my mother and father and their sisters and brothers.  I offered insights into family, friendships, caregiving, amusements, electronics, diversion and recipes.  I shared some laughs and some tears and some good old-fashioned common sense.

I created this blog as a writing exercise.  I had reached that proverbial "writer's block" on some projects I was working on and thought this would be a way to keep nimble and work through the block.  I also knew I had caregiving information that was worth sharing;  hard learned information from my years of real-life experience taking care of my bed-bound mother facing the ravages of Alzheimer's disease as well has having taken care of her sister who had succumbed to cancer a few years earlier.

I have been overwhelmed by the response I have gotten since my first post.  The readership has constantly grown with dedicated fans from around the world.  Letters I have received have touched my heart in ways I never expected.  There are so many of you who are in caregiving situations, each with a personal story to share. You have been so generous with your compliments and gratitude.  I am truly humbled.  I am also grateful for the feedback you give me.

I have received notes from long-lost friends and family as well as strangers and new friends.  I have been sent wonderful anecdotes from my mother's former students.  I have gotten thank you notes from other caregivers.  I have gotten requests for topics and especially requests for recipes.  My "Foodie Friday" blogs quickly became a huge success.  My "Mini Golf Monday" blog just as quickly drew hate mail!  Who could have known that people had such visceral feelings about mini golf?  I have even gotten a couple of date proposals!

I have postponed re-visiting some of my more popular posts because they were going to be too difficult to share until some time had passed.


Last February I introduced you to my father's last surviving brother, Uncle Eddie and his wife Lena in a blog titled "THE HOUSE THAT TIME FORGOT".  This was a very popular story and one that was especially dear to me.  It was an account of my visit with my aunt and uncle and reunion with my cousin and her husband.  What a great visit we had.  At the end of the blog I wrote:

"We left as we had arrived, in a flurry of hugs and kisses and tears.  There were more tears as we were leaving than arriving.  There is no doubt that we were all having the same thoughts and wondering how many more of these wonderful visits there will be.  We promised not to let another two years pass and certainly not to let another twenty in between visits with my cousin."


which turned out to be more insightful that I had hoped.  That wonderful visit turned out to be our last visit with Uncle Eddie.  This summer he left us to join his three siblings: Mike, Joe and Pat.  The last of a generation is now gone.  The sturdy brick house still stands but it is just a little more sad.  My aunt now lives there alone with her memories and ghosts.  


In "DIARY OF A MAD CAREGIVER" I introduced you to my mother's "Munchkin Sisters".  I was on a rant about coming home to find my kitchen covered in strawberry juice and the ease with which they were always able to deny culpability.   In "TRANSITIONS, DECISIONS AND BUREAUCRACY" I told of the struggle to get the elder sister into a nursing facility because of her declining ability to care for herself.



I was able to place Theresa into a facility where she immediately made herself at home.  In the tradition of the Clemente women, she is amazing.  Her attitude is great.  She adjusted to her new life immediately.  Her demeanor is positive and healthy.  In fact, on the approaching of her 93rd birthday this summer, my sister informed her that we were going to have a little party for her at the home.  In classic Theresa style, she said to Patricia: "you don't have to make a fuss.  We'll have a big party when I turn 100.  That's the important one"!  You can't help loving this tiny dynamo.  


The youngest sister, the one I referred to as "Baby Jane", has been failing quickly.  She has always been the problem relative and that's not getting any easier.  She can barely take care of herself and her home.  Her memory is failing.  She has always been difficult but now even more so.  Getting care for her is going to be the challenge for the new year.  Unlike the graceful sister Theresa, Baby Jane refuses help and/or change.  She refuses to admit her decline.  She, also, has no children but she has not taken the legal steps to give authority to anyone.  I don't know how this is going to play out but I know it's going to be a struggle.


My mother Adelaide continues to defy her doctors.  Just before Christmas we had another round with one of the "Scaregivers".  My sister and I had been hit hard with a cold that was going around.  Despite our hand-washing and face covering, eventually mom also got sick.  This cold was an especially strong strain even for those of us blessed with good health. 


It walloped dear Addie.  I spent a few nights at her side making sure she was comfortable and safely positioned to help her breathing.  I put her on oxygen to make her breathe more easily and made sure she was getting her nutrition and fluids.  One of her doctors came for a scheduled visit.  He walked into her room, heard her cough and saw her coloring and proclaimed to me and my sister that he "wouldn't be surprised if she didn't make it through the night".  He proceeded to declare that she had pneumonia and her coloring was a sure sign that she wasn't going to make it.  He called in a prescription for antibiotics and said to keep her on the oxygen and make her as comfortable as possible.  I did notice that he was hedging his proclamation by ordering 3 refills on the medication.  Even the hardiest of the naysayers knows the determination of Adelaide.

That was 12 days ago.  It was a difficult 12 days but Adelaide never gave up the fight.  Once again she persevered  and thrived.  She is happy and comfortable and has no plans to go anywhere yet.  She is bathed in love and blessed with an awesome  temperament.  Her smile and laughs are infectious.  Even in the throes of Alzheimer's she continues to be a role model.

As we age, holidays and the passing from one year into the new one  become more precious, more steeped in nostalgia.  I like to consider the holidays as being colored a little more blue than they used to be.  The future is less uncertain than it was.  

It is nearly 70 blog entries since I that first introduction. My "writer's block" is long broken.  My life is full and rewarding and  I am a grateful man. I am constantly learning, making new friends and bonding with dear old friends.  Thank you for reading my ramblings.  Please continue to share your thoughts with me. I will continue to share with you in the new year.  

To my fellow caregivers: be strong, take care of yourselves and look for the joy.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

CAREGIVER V. SCAREGIVERS

A hospital is no place to be sick
samuel goldwyn



There are frightening  times for caregivers when quick, and potentially, life or death decisions must be made.  One of our major goals is to keep our loved ones at home where they can be comfortable, happy and relatively safe.  There are times when that is not possible and knowing when to call 911 is an acquired skill but if you are scared or unsure, it is better to be over cautious then wait until it is too late.

Not too long ago my mother had been showing some signs that she was getting another one of her frequent bouts of urinary tract infection.  Over the years I have become an expert diagnostician from sheer practice and vigilant observation.  I consulted with her doctor and we agreed to start her on her normal course of antibiotics and increased liquid intake. 

The next day when I was performing our usual morning rituals I noticed an alarming rash beneath a covered section of her body.  My mother was also lethargic and refusing food.  This is always a bad sign with her.  She has a great appetite normally.  In the past, when these signs surface I know we're in for a tougher battle.  I got some liquids into her and left her to rest for a little while.

When I returned to check on Adelaide, about 20 minutes later, she was having difficulty breathing.  This is far from normal for her.  I elevated her head, ran for the phone and called 911.  I know the signs and these were all bad.  She was going to need intravenous fluids and higher doses of antibiotics for the infection and I was scared by her breathing.

The paramedics were at my door in minutes.  They're wonderfully quick to respond and good at what they do.  They sprayed something in her mouth and put her on oxygen and whisked her to the hospital.   The trip to the hospital is always scary because I fear the worst and don't know what to expect when she arrives.  I was there waiting and now my sister had also arrived.

She was stabilized in the ER.  Her breathing was back to normal and she was immediately put on an IV of fluids in case of dehydration.  Dehydration often accompanies the urinary tract infections [UTI].  Now the tests begin.  

As always, I suggest to the doctors that she has a UTI.  As always, the doctors perform every test known to mankind before testing her urine.  I know I'm not a doctor but I know my mother and this was probably her 10th trip to the ER for the same thing in 10 years.  Up to this point I have been right 9 out of the 10 hospital visits.

As you may recall from previous blogs, my mother has a wound [bed sore] which we have been treating for quite a while with weekly doctor visits, nursing and my constant tending.  Suddenly this has become the focus of the entire ER staff.  All the "red lights" went off.  My mother was placed in isolation.  Wound specialist is called in.  Infectious disease specialist is called in.  We're all forced to  wear protective gear as they are sure my mother's infection is more than just another UTI. [of course the urine tests have not come back from the lab yet]

The wound doctor calls me in.  "You take care of the wound?" he asks.  "Yes" I answer along with the details about her doctor and nurse visits.  "I know how difficult it is to take care of these wounds" he proffers before congratulating me on the condition and health of the wounds.  "I looked you mother over from head to toe and her skin is in amazing shape for a woman in her condition" he adds. He didn't see any signs of infection from the wound!

Whew!  I was much relieved.  That's really great news but I wasn't surprised because the wound looked perfectly fine to me earlier that morning and there was no tell-tale sign of odor or pus.

Now it was the infectious disease doctor's turn to examine my mother.  I don't hear anything from her but the nurses tell me that my mother's blood tests have returned with an elevated white blood cell count which means she does indeed have an infection in her system.  I'm assuming that means it is indeed another UTI.  She is finally sent upstairs to a hospital room.  

When we go to her room, in critical care, we are met by lovely nurses who tell us she is in isolation and we still have to follow procedures and wear gowns and gloves.  This seems much for a UTI.

By the next morning my mother, the champ, is doing better.  She's alert and certainly looks better.  I'm told her white blood cell count is dropping nicely.  I'm starting to relax .....a little.

That afternoon I got a call from the infectious disease "specialist" while I was at home resting.  "This is very serious" she tells me.  "The infection is coming from the wound and has gone to her bone and when that happens there is nothing that can be done for a woman of her age."  I'm stunned.  "But the wound care specialist said the wound was fine" I offered.  "Infection can hide behind what you can see.  Normally we would begin a long course of intensive IV drugs but your mother isn't a candidate for that invasive treatment.  ...and we can't just send her home with oral meds because she can't swallow".  "She can't swallow?"  That's a new one on me.  "We'll keep her here for a few days on the IV and then send her to a nursing home [to die]".  

Now I'm devastated and confused.  I call my sister.  We cry.  We rush to the hospital knowing no matter what, she's not going into a nursing home.  Not now.  Not after all the years I've had her at home.  I'll take her back home, bring Hospice in and we'll cope.


The temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient data is the bane of our profession.
sir arthur conan doyle


We arrive at the nursing station outside my mother's door and glance into my mother's room where she is sitting up and looking pretty good.  The nurse looks up and asks us what's wrong so I tell her about the call from the wound "specialist".  "We just gave your mother the swallow test and she did fine.  She ate a cup of applesauce".  Now I'm confused even more.  Then she says "she said the infection was from the wound and it was to the bone?  We haven't even swabbed for a culture yet".  Now I'm angry.  "What the hell [I may have said something more colorful] is going on around here?"    

We go into my mom's room and I call the nurse so that I can take a look at the wound to see if there has been any change.  The nurse is great and obliges.  "DR. Lanni" is now on call.  The wound looks great.  They have been taking wonderful care of her.  We ask for some baby food.  They bring it and my mother ate it all!
Later I went out and got her a McDonald's vanilla shake.  Kill or cure.  I mixed in some Ensure powder and she ate at least a cup of the mixture.  Again, I'm feeling better.

Our strength is often composed of the weakness that we're damned if we are going to show
mignon mclaughlin 


The next day is a milestone.  A wonderful occasion.  It is Adelaide's 90th birthday!  There are better places to spend a birthday but my feeling is that any place you can celebrate being 90 is a good one!  We bring ice cream.  Family gathers.  A dear friend shows up with a beautiful orchid.  Mom is doing well.  Her numbers are normal.  She's off her IV.  She's eating.  We have been at the precipice and backed away once more.

The following day we arrive at the hospital to find that my mother has been moved out of critical care to a normal wing.  My sister is delighted.  I'm cautious.  We find my mother and introduce ourselves to the nursing staff at this station, which is around the corner and down the hall from her room, and they seem fine.  There is an aide feeding my mother and he is kind and gentle with her so that's a relief.

Now the staff doctor has appeared on scene and summons me to the nursing station while sporting a dour look on his face.  He begins to reiterate what the infectious "specialist" had told me a few days before.  My suspicions were founded and they had indeed moved her to this room to die.  Once again he suggests transfer to a nursing home and kissing her goodbye.  

"What about her wound culture?" I ask, grasping at hope.  "It came back negative but.." he explained.  "Infections hide.  We could have tested a spot that was clean".  "What about her white blood cell count?" I challenged.  "It was 25000 when she arrived in the ER."  "And now?" I asked.  "7000".  "What is 'normal'?" I wanted to know.  I was told that was within the "normal" range.  "What about the urine culture, what did that show?"  He told me that had shown positive for "unspecified" infection.  

Now let's recap:  the wound culture was negative. The urine culture was positive. The white cell count is normal.  She's eating and drinking.  She's not on oxygen.  All indicators are good so that means she's going to die?  Am I hearing this wrong or am I once again faced with a doctor who looks at the checklist, puts them all together, factors in her age and her Alzheimer's and offers an opinion without factoring in the individual patient?

I go home and call a physician friend of mine for advice.  I tell him all of her indicators and condition and test results at which point he stops me and tells me to get her home immediately before she does actually catch some hospital infection!  Now I'm feeling better.  I speak with my mother's weekly wound care doctor who also tells me to bring her home.

I listened to my instincts and the professionals who actually know her and brought Adelaide back home to her comfy bed, familiar surroundings, dog and people who love her.  She brightened up as soon as she was placed in her bed.  She was on antibiotics for another 10 days [orally, of course].

That was in August.  She returned home to us August 10 which was 2 days after her grand 90th birthday celebration.  She has been fine and happy.  She continues to thrive, amaze and confound doctors.

I am fully aware that one day she will not return from that precipice.  I try to be as prepared as one can possibly be.  Each time we are faced with one of these situations I kiss Adelaide on the forehead and tell her over and over again:  "I know you're scared.  I'm here with you.  I am going to make sure you have all the help you need if you want to hang on but I completely understand, with all of my heart, if you're tired of fighting and want to let go.  It is your choice."  I'm delighted that once again Adelaide chose life.




Friday, November 12, 2010

FOODIE FRIDAY RECIPE - GLAZED CHESTNUTS, FENNEL AND CARROTS

Here is a English vegetable side dish recipe given to me about 20 years ago by a friend from London after he served it at a dinner party.  I have adapted it by adding carrots and pearl onions and by adjusting the proportions of the ingredients.  I have found this to be perfect holiday fare.  I don't usually like fennel but it is wonderful prepared this way. Sweet & sour, rich and decadent, this is truly worth preparing for your Thanksgiving or Christmas guests! 


Ingredients:

4 heads of fennel, quartered and washed
I jar or can of chestnuts
4 carrots, peeled, quartered and cut into 2 inch lengths
1/2 cup peeled pearl onions [frozen/thawed]
1/2 teaspoon dry fennel seed
1 stick butter
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup muscavado sugar*


Method:
Cut the fennel lengthwise into quarters or sixths, wash and set aside in a large bowl with drained chestnuts and onions. Parboil carrots, drain and add to the other vegetables.


Spray a 9 x12 pyrex pan with cooking spray.

Pre-heat oven to 400*

In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the sugar and melt until syrupy and then add the vinegar and the fennel seeds.  Let cook for 1 minute, stirring.

Pour the syrup into the bowl with the vegetables and toss to coat.  Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes or until everything is soft and nicely glazed.


*A specialty brown sugar sometimes called "raw" sugar, Muscovado sugar is less processed than regular brown sugar.  Smoky, spicy and complex, this sugar has a nice fine texture.  If it is unavailable you can substitute regular dark brown sugar for the Muscavado.

Friday, November 5, 2010

FOODIE FRIDAY RECIPE - FRENCH ONION SOUP


Classic French Onion Soup
[gratinee]

Messieurs et mesdames accueillir. Aujourd'hui nous cuisinons la soupe d'oignon. Welcome ladies and gentlemen.  Today we are cooking onion soup.

This is my personal adaptation of the French classic.  Simmered slowly, topped with cheese and baked.  The aroma of the onions, the look of strings of melted cheese from bowl to mouth and the incredibly rich taste transport me back to 1970.  

I was 10 years old when my mother [the French teacher] brought me to Paris for the first time.  I lived on onion soup, croque madame and stuffed artichokes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  

  
Ingredients:

4 cups white onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon herbs de province
6 cups beef stock
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/2 tablespoon flour
1 cup shredded gruyere cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 loaf French bread
2 teaspoons salt [to taste]
1 teaspoon ground black pepper


Method:
In a heavy 4 or 6 quart sauce pan heat the butter and oil over medium-low heat until bubbly and then add the onions, shallots and garlic. Sprinkle with the salt as this helps to break down the onions. Sautee slowly while frequently stirring until soft textured and nut-colored.  This is a long process. Allow a good 15 minutes for the onions to develop their richness and caramelize but be careful not to let them burn.  If they seem to dry during the process you can add more oil or butter as necessary.


When the onions have reached their desired stage, remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle with the flour, stirring well.  Add the liquids and return to the stove.  Stir well to remove any particles from the bottom of the pan.  Add the herbs.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and then lower just to the simmer temperature.  Cover and simmer for 40 minutes.


While the soup is simmering, slice the bread into 1/2 inch slices and place the slices on a baking sheet and bake in a pre-heated 400* oven for 10 minutes or until lightly toasted.  Be careful not to burn the bread!  


While the bread is in the oven, it is time to shred and grate your cheeses and then mix them together.  Gruyere is recommended but you can substitute  mozzarella or even Monterrey Jack. When the bread is toasted, remove from the oven, raise the oven temperature to 425* and allow to heat to temperature.

Prepare oven-safe bowls such as ramekins by spraying with cooking   spray and place them on a cookie sheet lined with foil.  Remove the bay leaves from the soup and ladle the soup into the bowls 3/4 full.  Lay 2 or 3 pieces of the toast onto each of the filled soup bowls and then generously cover each with the cheese mixture.  

Bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and slightly browned.




Place the soup bowls on serving plates and serve with the remaining toasted bread and additional grated Parmesan cheese.  Be sure to let the soup cool for a few minutes before enjoying or you are sure to scorch the inside of your mouth!


Friday, October 29, 2010

FOODIE FRIDAY RECIPE - ITALIAN BREAD


This is my favorite yeast dough recipe because it is straight-forward and very versatile.  I use it for Italian bread, rolls, pizza, stromboli and calzones.  If I'm using the recipe for one of the pizza type recipes I cut the measurements in half and only let it rise once.  I make the dough in my KitchenAid mixer but you can do it in a large food processor and , heaven forbid, by hand.  I use all purpose unbleached flour but you can also use bread flour or substitute half the white flour for wheat.  I suggest you begin with the original recipe and save the experiments for later.  

This recipe is basic and easy but it is not quick.  Good bread-making takes time.  The mixer eliminates most of the strenuous, back-breaking work but you can't rush the rising process.  


A few tips help assure a perfect product:
Make sure liquids are luke-warm at about 90*.
Be sure to use a glass container for proofing the yeast.
Be careful not to deflate the bread after the final rise.
Let the dough rise away from drafts.
Make sure the oven has been pre-heated for and additional 10 minutes before baking.
Have a good book or a DVD to watch in between risings.


Ingredients:
2 packages active dry yeast
7.5 cups flour
3 cups room temperature water
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1/4 cup corn meal or bread crumbs

Method:
In a small glass bowl or measuring cup add 1/2 cup warm water and the sugar.  Sprinkle the yeast over the sugar-water and set aside for 5 minutes or until you see bubbles form.

In the mixer bowl combine flour and salt and mix with a whisk briefly to combine.  Place the bowl on the mixer and install the dough hook.


 Now add the oil, 2 cups of the water and the yeast mixture.  Lower the hook into the bowl and start on lowest setting to combine ingredients and then raise the speed to medium for 5 minutes.  Turn off the mixer and walk away for 10 minutes for the dough to rest.

After the dough has rested and you have finished your cup of coffee, restart the mixer and allow to knead at medium to medium high speed for a full 15 minutes.  Make sure you have the mixer on the back of your counter and keep an eye on it so it doesn't dance off and onto the floor.  If the dough seems much too stiff you can add up to another half cup of water but add slowly and only as needed.


While the dough is kneading, lightly flower a bread board or clean dry counter surface with 1/4 cup flower.  After the kneading, turn off your mixer and turn the dough out onto the floured surface.  Knead by hand for about 10 turns of the dough. Form the dough into a ball.  Lightly oil the mixing bowl and return the dough to the bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel.  Set the dough in a warm place.  The oven works fine so long as it is not turned on!  Now the dough must rise for about 1.5 hours to what is called "doubled in bulk" stage.


Uncover the dough and press your fist right down into the middle of the risen dough and press the air out.  Re-shape the dough into a ball, cover and set it back to rise again for about 1 hour this time..  

During this rising time prepare a baking sheet by sprinkling with a thin layer of the corn meal.

After the second rising, turn the dough back out onto the floured surface.  Divide the dough in half and form each half into a ball and place each on the baking sheet a few inches apart. Loosely cover with a damp cloth by draping the cloth of 4 large drinking glasses to keep it off the dough.

Allow to rise again for another 1 to 1.5 hours until doubled.  

Preheat the oven to 375*

When the dough has finished the final rise, carefully remove the cloth and the glasses.  Do not touch the risen dough!  This is very important.  Place the baking sheet in the middle of the preheated oven.  Bake for 40 minutes or until nicely browned.  

Remove the pan from the oven and allow the breads to cool.



Tuesday, October 26, 2010

EMPATHY - A VISIT FROM A VETERAN CAREGIVER

Empathy:
"The capacity to, through consciousness rather than physically, share the sadness or happiness of another sentient being."
wikipedia



No matter how long you have been a caregiver or how confident you are in your choice to be a caregiver, reassurance and re-evaluation are always appreciated.  Sometimes that "attitude adjustment" comes most unexpectedly and at a much needed time. 


"Between our birth and death we may touch understanding as a moth brushes a window with its wing."
christopher fry



Last week I was having a small internal struggle with self pity.  It happens.  I'm sure it happens to everyone and it doesn't happen to me very often but there are triggers.  There happened to be a "perfect storm" of triggers and while I wasn't dwelling or wallowing, I was preoccupied .  

Firstly, it's Fall.  Yes it is beautiful.  Yes the leaves are pretty.  Yes I like the crispness in the air.  But.  I have been known to get "seasonal affective disorder" or "SAD" when the days start getting shorter and summer is slipping away.  I know winter is coming and I get "the blues".  I have my self-help tricks to lessen the symptoms and I'm usually pretty good at picking myself up.

Secondly, I had just returned from a very nice brief trip to visit friends in New England.  {if you can't avioid Fall, plunge into it head on}  It was a terrific trip.  I had a lot of alone or "me" time which is rare for an at-home caregiver.  It was just enough of a taste of freedom to remind me of how restricted and structured my life has become.

Thirdly, and this may seem petty but, a dear, much younger friend got a wonderful job promotion.  I'm very happy for him and I'm not jealous but it did contribute to my thinking about how my life might have taken a different path.

"Once we discover how to appreciate the timeless values in our daily experiences, we can enjoy the best things in life."
harry hepner



It was a nice afternoon and I had gone outside to wrangle the trash cans that had been so thoughtfully tossed into the middle of the street by the "sanitation workers" when a car pulled to the curb, horn honking and driver waiving and smiling.  I was busily swearing at the cans and muttering my usual litany about my tax dollars at work when the lovely woman emerged from her car.

"Christopher" I heard as I looked up from my wandering trash cans.  I was in a daze but the face was familiar.  "It's Eileen"  she said effervescently. "Yes, of course" I said as I came into focus.  It had been years since we'd seen one another but I knew that we had a common bond.

Eileen told me how glad she was to catch me outside and that she had recently had a dream about my mother.  She asked how Adelaide was doing and told me a familiar tale of how my mother had so positively effected her own life and how fondly she remembered her.  She regaled me with anecdotes of my mother as teacher and human being.  I always love those stories.  I've been so fortunate to hear so many of them from people responding to this blog.

I knew that Eileen had lost her mother who was also an Alzheimer's patient.  I didn't know that Eileen had been her caregiver.  We immediately understood one another with that special shorthand that only caregivers understand.  Eileen told me about her experience as caregiver.  I didn't even have to talk about mine.

Eileen is so upbeat and positive and caring.  She spoke of the joys of caregiving as if it were a gift.  She expressed my usual thoughts of not wanting to trade the bonding and shared time spent with our mothers for any other life path.  

I told her that my mother had been having a really great day and asked if she'd like to visit with her.  I knew that she understood my definition of  "having a great day" and she quickly accepted the invitation .  When she approached my mother they both lit up.  Eileen looked like and angel and immediately began speaking to my mother in French [the language my mother had taught her some 40 years earlier] and my mother beamed.  

"Cherish your human connections: your relationships with friends and family"
barbara bush

As Eileen was getting into her car she said "what I wouldn't give for one more hour of taking care of my mother". 

Thank you Eileen for helping me to regain my perspective and to center myself.  At the end of every "perfect storm" there is a beautiful ray of sunshine and all is right with the world once more.



Friday, October 22, 2010

FOODIE FRIDAY RECIPE - PINEAPPLE CHEESECAKE

No Bake Pineapple Cheesecake

This recipe was handed down to me from an old cousin of my mother's.  She made this confection for all sorts of special occasions and it has always been a crowd pleaser.  I've served it myself for a few dinner parties to "ooohs and ahs" from my guests.

This is not a heavy New York style cheesecake and it's also a nice diversion from my Italian Ricotta cake.  This is a refrigerator cake with no baking involved so there is no worry of turning out a cake with a split top. It is light and soft and full of pineapple which gives it a certain sweetness without being sickeningly sweet.

I like to garnish my dessert plates with a few stripes of raspberry puree from a squeeze bottle just to add a little color because the cake is pale

Ingredients:

For the crust:
1.25 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
hot water as needed

For the filling:
1/2 pint heavy cream
milk as needed
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg whites
2 eight ounce packages of cream cheese, softened
1 one pound can crushed pineapple
1 regular box cook and serve vanilla pudding


Method:

Prepare the crust in a 10" spring form pan and allow to chill for at least one hour.  

Crust:
Combine crumbs and sugar in a medium bowl to combine.  Stir in melted butter until thoroughly blended.  Test the mixture between 2 fingers to see if it holds shape.  If not then add a couple drops of hot water.  Press the mixture into the bottom of the pan  with a spoon or juice glass.  Chill for at least 1 hour before filling.


Filling
Strain the pineapple over a bowl and reserve the liquid.  Add enough milk to the pineapple liquid to make 2 cups.  Transfer the milk/pineapple liquid to a small pan and sprinkle with gelatin powder.  Stir in pudding mix and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened and begins to boil.

Remove pudding mixture from heat.  Add cream cheese and beat with hand mixer until smooth.  Stir in drained pineapple and mix well by hand.  Allow mixture to cool to room temperature.

In a separate bowl beat egg whites until stiff while gradually adding 1/4 cup sugar.

In yet another bowl whip the cream with 1/4 cup sugar until soft peaks form.

Fold the egg whites into the cooled pudding mixture and then incorporate the whipped cream.  Do not over mix!  

Pour the mixture into the prepared, crumb lined pan.  Refrigerate for at least 8 hours.  Unmold* before serving and sprinkle with a tablespoon of graham cracker crumbs.


*to unmold: run a table knife around the edge of cake.  Place the cake on a bowl and release the spring latch.  Loosen the outer ring from the cake and slide it down, freeing the cake.  Do not remove the cake from the bottom pan circle!  Move the cake, with the bottom intact, to a serving plate.

Friday, October 8, 2010

FOODIE FRIDAY RECIPE - OSSO BUCCO

Osso Bucco is a wonderful, melt in your mouth, braised shank in the traditional Milanese style.  Literally, Osso Bucco means "bone with a hole" because these are marrow bones.  I cook mine in my slow cooker for simplicity but you can certainly cook yours in a heavy pot in the oven.  Traditionally served over risotto, I like mine with pasta.  It is also tradition to use veal shank but you can easily use beef or pork.  When I'm cooking for a casual dinner I use beef because of the price.  Veal shank can be very pricey and pork shank is difficult to find unless you have a good butcher.


Ingredients:

4 veal shanks
1 medium white onion, diced
1/2 cup grated carrot
2 stalks celery, diced
3 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
8 ounces beef or veal stock
16 ounces canned crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
6 small cloves garlic, minced
1 cup good white wine
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup flour for dredging


Method:

Heat butter and oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat.  
While the oil is heating, combine flour and 1 teaspoon of the salt in a bowl and dredge the meat in the flour.  
Lightly brown the meat on both sides and place the browned meat in the slow cooker. 
Add the vegetables to the skillet and cook to soften, stirring frequently.  Add spices and tomato paste and stir.  Add the wine and pour over the meat.
Add the tomatoes and the stock.



Cover and cook on medium for 5 hours.  The meat will be "fall of the bone" tender.  Carefully ladle the meat to a platter.  Use the sauce over your favorite pasta or rice.


Friday, October 1, 2010

FOODIE FRIDAY RECIPE - SUPER SIMPLE STROMBOLI


Stromboli is a rolled up cousin to pizza and calzones.  Delicious meat and cheese rolled up in bread dough is easy to make and guaranteed to please.  Casual and versatile peasant fare, they make a hearty meal or can even be used as hors d'oeuvres when sliced thin. This is even good cold or at room temperature.  The filling choices are unlimited so I just going to give you the basics of my favorite and then you can use your favorite combination. Add genoa salami or sliced pepperoni for a little spice.  You can even add some drained roasted peppers or drained, cooked chopped spinach.


INGREDIENTS:

1 prepared pizza dough from grocery refrigerated section or local bakery
1 eight ounce fresh or Buffalo Mozzarella
8-10 slices deli ham [boiled style]
2 tablespoons grated romano or parmesan cheese
fresh cracked black pepper
flour for dusting
1/2 tsp. sesame seeds [optional]


METHOD:

Let the dough come to room temperature for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 425*
Thinly slice the mozzarella.
Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to an 8 x 12 rectangle.  Grind the black pepper over the surface of the dough.  Just a light coat is enough.  Sprinkle the grated cheese over the surface.  Lay the slices of cheese over the grated cheese, leaving 1/2" bare border.  Arrange the ham in two layers over the cheeses.  Starting at one of the shorter edges, carefully roll the layered dough away from you forming a log.  Pinch the two sides to seal and press the seam.  Lay the log, seam side down, on a baking sheet lightly sprayed with cooking spray.  Sprinkle sesame seeds on the top of the roll and lightly press to the surface.  
Bake at 425* for 25 minutes until golden brown.
Be sure to allow this to cool for 5 minutes before trying to cut.  If cutting into thin pinwheels allow to cool a full 10 minutes.


It is customary to serve with marinara sauce on the side.  I find the sauce unnecessary.  

Friday, September 24, 2010

FOODIE FRIDAY RECIPE - LOBSTER POT PIE

Lobster Pot Pie


One evening this summer I had the pleasure of dining waterfront in Connecticut overlooking the Long Island Sound.  One of the specials being offered was Lobster Pot Pie.  Who could resist?  It was a perfect meal which immediately shot to the top of my list of favorite foods.  I wish the restauranteurs would make this a permanent feature on their menu.  I deconstructed the entree and have come up with my version for you.  Although I first had the pot pie in the heat of summer I think it is even more perfectly suited to a crisp fall evening.  You could even make smaller portions to serve as a very elegant first course for Thanksgiving.  That would surely give your family and guests something to be thankful for!


INGREDIENTS:

meat from 2 steamed lobsters [each kept separate]
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 small potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups half & half cream
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons instant [Wondra] flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons frozen green peas
1 teaspoon dry sherry
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted



METHOD:

Preheat oven to 400*
Parboil the peeled and diced carrots and potatoes until just fork-tender, drain and place in a mixing bowl.  In a small sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter but do not let it get any color.  Remove from heat and stir in the flour and the whisk in the half & half.  Return to low heat and add the salt, pepper, sherry and nutmeg.  Heat to just before simmer temperature while stirring,  but do not simmer or boil.  Remove from heat and add peas, potatoes and carrots.

Unfold the defrosted pastry sheet and cut two circles about 2 inches bigger than the rim of your [cereal-sized] bowls.

Place the meat from each lobster into each bowl and divide the cream/vegetable mixture over the lobster.  Cover each bowl with puff pastry and cut a small [1/2 inch] X vent in the center.  Place on a baking sheet and into the preheated oven on center rack for 20 minutes or until golden and flaky.



Serve in front of your fireplace* with a green salad and your favorite white wine. 
*if you don't have a fireplace, this dish calls for candles as the very least! 

Friday, September 17, 2010

FOODIE FRIDAY: CHICKEN PAPRIKASH

This is a close and delicious relative of beef goulash but with a few tasty additions and of course the obvious use of chicken instead of beef.  A robust and flavor-rich dish just perfect for fall and winter yet it is light and subtle.  I like to serve this over wide egg noodles or with potato pancakes.  Warm, sweet pickled red cabbage is an obvious accompaniment to balance the zip of the spices.


INGREDIENTS:

1 frying chicken cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup a.p. flour
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 sweet red bell pepper diced
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup quality sweet paprika
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 clove garlic, smashed
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper [optional]
12 ounces fresh sliced mushrooms
1/3 cup oil for frying
1/2 cup good red wine


METHOD:

Lightly brown the onions, bell pepper and garlic and move to a casserole dish.* While the onions are browning, dredge the chicken in flour. Add the chicken pieces to the oil and lightly brown on both sides over medium high heat.  Move the chicken to the casserole dish.  Now saute the mushrooms just until wilted and then add the paprika, salt and black pepper.  Transfer the seasoned mushroom mixture [with the liquid] to the casserole.  Add the remaining ingredients to the casserole dish.  Cover and bake in a 350* oven for 2 hours.  

Remove from oven, remove chicken to a platter.  Stir the sauce and serve over noodles.




*can be made in your slow cooker on high for 4 hours.