I’d like to extend my warmest thanks and gratitude to you readers for the e-mails, comments, phone calls, cards and messages you’ve sent the past few weeks, while we struggle with the passing of my mother. So many of you knew Mama, and it’s been deeply touching to hear your personal remembrances of her. Hearing those stories, those little details and tidbits that’ve stuck with you over the years, has meant so much to me.

Other readers have said that while they’d never met Mama personally, they felt like really did know her after reading stories about her for so many years, and that felt good to hear, too. Mama was a character: feisty, boisterous, audacious. Larger-than-life, in so many ways. It makes it all the harder to accept that she’s gone. When a woman’s had nine lives, and Jesus, she certainly did, you’re almost convinced she’s immortal.

Daddy and I keep reminding ourselves that we got to keep her so much longer than we thought we would, and we need to be grateful for that. Sometimes we feel guilty about our grief because it seems almost selfish: Who are we to cry in our soup and wallow in self-pity? We, who got 37 more years (big, lovely more years) with her than we should have?

Sorry, Universe. We’re still kind of bitter, despite our luck. That’s just the way it goes.

I don’t have a road map or a compass to help me navigate through this grief thing, but boy, that’d be awfully helpful. Anyone got a guidebook they can loan me? I feel like I’m constantly lost and off-track and sort of just wandering about in a fuzzy, heavy haze.

But I guess that’s one of the nasty underbellies of the mourning process: there isn’t a right way, or one way, or a clear way to do it. And it’s different for everyone. Heck, it’s different for me moment-by-moment. One minute I’ll be stirring a big pot of steel-cut oats to store away for a week’s healthy breakfasts and the next minute I’ll be crying over said oatmeal because it has pecans and dried cherries in it (Mama’s favorite additions) and the minute after that, I’ll be hurling a wooden spoon across the kitchen in an oatmeal-fueled rage.

It’s messy, you know?

I’ve never been very comfortable with messy, so this is kind of a problem. I find myself wanting to tuck my grief away into tiny, labeled containers and then stow them somewhere quiet and far away, so nobody else can see them. So nobody else has to see them, particularly my girls.

Perhaps this desire to shield others from my messy feelings is one more trait I inherited from Mama, because I hardly ever–ever!–saw her cry. Even when Gramma Rhetta died and Wild Uncle Johnny died* (and I know those losses pained her greatly), Mama grieved neatly and quietly and personally. She was a tidy griever, if there is such a thing.

I, alas, am not tidy.

Turns out, I’m a giant, sloppy blob of a griever and I’m smearing it around everywhere I go, leaving sticky tracks in my wake.

It’s bullshit, man.

 

One big piece of bullshittery? How you never know when grief is going to sneak up on you. There are times when I expect to fall apart–times when I know things are going to be ugly and mean (you know, like verifying medical directives and removing feeding tubes and identifying bodies)–but somehow, I don’t fall apart. I keep it together. I’m calm. I’m solid. I take it like a boss. And then some puny-ass little detail, like the sight of a pair of sunglasses on a side table or an unmade bed…I lose it.

The sneaky side of grief might be the worst part, and Daddy feels the same.

 

I can’t seem to keep out of the kitchen since everything with Mama went down, which is another stupid thing, because while I feel the need to make food, I have no interest in eating it. Maybe it’s just the act of pulling out pots and futzing with ingredients and filling the kitchen with warmth and the scent of vanilla and cinnamon that’s the purpose, rather than the end result. I sure hope that’s the purpose, because I’m wasting a helluva lot of food.

The past few weeks, I’ve thrown out chicken noodle soup, bowls of butterscotch and vanilla pudding, a pan of enchiladas, a batch of cheesy scalloped potatoes, tupperwares of pasta salad and yes, a whole vat of saffron-laced Grief Risotto, Le Creuset Dutch oven and all. That risotto I just couldn’t deal with, not even the vessel I cooked it in.

It’s terribly wasteful and I need to get a grip on things soon, and it would be nice if people in this house would get their appetites back, but the last thing I really need right now is to place pressure on us about any of that.

I guess all I can focus on is that I need to be in the kitchen.

The kitchen is a weird place to be mourning my mother, and I can’t explain it. The kitchen is usually a happy place for me, not a grieving place. It’s also a damn inconvenient place to grieve, because the kitchen isn’t private or quiet and I’d prefer that my family not see me losing my shit over a pot of oatmeal. But what can I do?

I guess one thing I can do is to either a) start giving away food or b) take to the Internet and ask for help, which is what I ended up doing with that problematic batch of oatmeal last weekend. I whined and kvetched about my oatmeal problem on Facebook and pretty soon, my wonderful friend Annie sent a link for Leftover Oatmeal Muffins, which make tidy and delicious use of leftover oatmeal.

Annie is a great friend to have in a food crisis. She has an amazing memory for food and good recipes, and she knows her way around food bloggers–this recipe comes from Molly Wizenberg, founder of the wildly famous and popular blog Orangette.

It felt good to put the oatmeal to proper use, rather than trash it, and these muffins turned out to be a wonderful alternative to lunch or dinner, when grieving stomachs didn’t feel like eating anything heavy. I slathered mine with a thick layer of wild blueberry jam from Maine, Mama’s favorite breakfast spread. For a few minutes, eating didn’t feel like lonely business.

 

 

scan0003                                                                  ^y’all know what muffins look like, so here’s this^     

 

 

Leftover Oatmeal Muffins

makes 12

adapted very slightly from Orangette

 

1 cup leftover oatmeal (preferably steel-cut and with fruit/nuts in it–mine had pecans, chopped dates and dried cherries but Wizenberg swears by chunks of dark chocolate)

1 egg

1/2 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4-1/3 cup sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, stir together the oatmeal, milk, egg and melted butter, making sure to break up any clumps/lumps of oatmeal.

In another bowl, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cardamom.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing with a wooden spoon just until mixture comes together and is combined. Do not overmix.

Spoon into muffin tins and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Best eaten within a day or two, but they freeze well.

 

*A strange, eerie (and sort of wonderful) note about Wild Uncle Johnny. While Mama was being transferred to the hospice last weekend, my Daddy-o called and said, “Dana, I was looking through some papers, wills and stuff of your mother’s, and did you remember that John died on April 25th, 2007?” Nine years ago. Huh. I hadn’t remembered. And then Daddy got a call just before midnight, during the last minutes of April 25, 2016, from a hospice nurse who said that Mama had just passed peacefully.

By the time the doctor got there to sign the death certificate, the minutes had bled into April 26, officially, so that’s the official date on the paperwork for her passing.

But Daddy and I know. We know when she really decided to go, and as usual, she did it on her terms. Mama and Wild Uncle Johnny? We hope you two are having a drink together up there. Make it a good one.

{ 14 comments }

Loved

April 26, 2016

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June 24, 1937-April 25, 2016

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Grief Risotto

April 17, 2016

When I got out of the hospital last Sunday, I was so incredibly grateful to be home. I was exhausted, but just walking through that front door, hugging my Minxy girls, bearing a frontal assault from the dog and a howling greeting from the dandruff-laden, aged cat, I felt so much better. I tended to the laundry, organized the girls’ school things and lunches for the morning, threw together a pasta dinner (despite my husband’s protests) and sunk into the couch with a sigh. Home is the place I most love in the world…well, except Santorini, Greece and Capri, Italy, but those are places of dreams, not reality. So home’s a close third, okay? I’ve had times in my life where home seemed like a prison (newborn babies) or a burden (appliance Armageddon/broken pipe disaster) but for the most part, I’m with Dorothy–home is where I want to be.

This past week was crazy with doctor follow-up visits and more testing. And then more testing. Despite blood pressure medication, my blood pressure is strangely changeable and at times, frighteningly fluid. Sometimes I get headaches and sometimes I spontaneously throw up and sometimes I am finer than fine. This week, I get to pee in a big orange jug for 24 hours and keep it on ice at all times, which is sad, sad proof that I am entering into crone territory. The Cullen Family is taking a lot more blood and there’s an echocardiogram on the books. I have all of my appointments etched into the wall calendar in the kitchen, inky proof that a lot’s rotten in Denmark.

Those things on the calendar are just annoyances, though. Things I have to remember to do, promises I have to keep. Not that I couldn’t re-schedule them if something came up.

Good thing, because something did.

Mama fell this past week. Hard. She got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and her legs failed. She came crashing down, whacked her head on the side of the bathtub and landed on her back. Disoriented and scared, she tried to get her legs to work but they wouldn’t. She lay on the cold bathroom tile for two whole hours, until she found the strength to drag her body across the room, open her bedroom door and holler for Daddy.

It gets hard for me when I think about those two hours she spent on the floor. What was going through her head? How lonely did she feel there, knowing she couldn’t do anything to help herself?

She has a concussion, of course (women in this family whack their heads with annoying frequency). And bruised ribs. She spent several days in bed, not eating, sleeping 90% of the time and not moving except to pee–which she needed assistance to do.

“Is she eating yet?” I asked Daddy on the second day of bedrest.

“Dana, she’s never awake,” he said. “You know how sleepy you get with concussions.”

“She needs to eat something, though,” I said.

“She refuses. You know your mother.” I could almost hear him shaking his head through the phone. “She’s so damn stubborn.”

“She’ll eat tomorrow,” I said. “Even if I have to force-feed her myself.”

 

My father is many, many good things, but a cook he is not. If things are dire, he can make a peanut butter and pickle sandwich or a bologna roll-up. He is not even fluent in the language of takeout. My mother has always cooked dinner for him and if she hasn’t cooked it, they eat out. He had NO–absolutely no idea–how one orders food on the internet. Eventually, I had to spell it out to him.

Rules of Takeout for Daddy:

1) Get on the Google

2) Google nearby restaurants or, if you don’t have any idea, Google “food near me” and enter your zip code

3) Pick restaurant, click

4) Once there, click: website or menu

5) Find acceptable food to eat

6) Call, order, explicitly say “take-out for pick-up.”

7) Listen when they tell you what time to arrive and go pick up your shit.

 

Moments like this are so funny to me because things that seem intuitive to my generation are sometimes completely foreign to the one before it, and I forget that. Daddy can navigate easily on his computer, but he never thought of ordering food on the thing. My generation rarely eats in restaurants anymore because we’d rather pick the food up on the fly. I guess it’s kind of like my 14-year old daughter trying to explain Instagram and Snapchat to me. I seem like a total blockhead but I just can’t wrap my head around those things–the WHY or HOW or PURPOSE?

At least with takeout, there’s purpose. Like, dinner.

 

The morning of day 3, I started to get worried about Mama not eating. Daddy can survive on Smashburger and Der Weinerschnitzel for the rest of his life, but Mama has a delicate stomach. I decided that I needed to make something that she could eat off of for a few days–something comforting and easy on the belly and simple enough that Daddy could just plop some in a bowl, heat it in the microwave, and hand it to her with a big spoon.

I remember this Easter, Mama talked about a risotto I made for her last December, when she was feeling poorly.

“I loved that risotto so much,” she said, dreamy-eyed. “I’ve never dared make risotto. It seems so hard. But it was creamy and comforting and just what I wanted to eat.”

“Mom! I didn’t know you liked it that much,” I said. “Now that I know, I’ll make it again for you, okay? It’s no trouble.”

So I made it.

I made it for her this week because I needed to feed her and I desperately needed for things to be okay. I figured that if I made it, and she ate it, things would be okay.

I actually cheated a little and tried a new recipe where you make the risotto in the oven, because I had a bazillion follow-up doctor’s visits to go to and the girls had standardized testing week and things were freakazoid weird but Mama deserved risotto, and I really wanted to bring her a big pot of it and see her smile. And eat.

I made it, tasted it, and it was delicious. Toothsome, creamy, and perfumed with saffron and salty cheese–I knew she would love it. I hauled the big Dutch oven to the refrigerator, ready to deliver it to her in the morning.

 

Over that evening and into the night, she developed pneumonia. Her blood pressure dropped to 72/40 and she was laboring to breathe. Daddy called 911, although she was adamant that she didn’t want to go. She was admitted to intensive care and remains there, still. She couldn’t get enough breath on her own, so they’ve intubated her and it’s a horrible looking thing, that tube down the throat. She is not lucid often.

We don’t know what’s going to happen. Maybe it’s better that we don’t think about it too much. I have medical power of attorney, so I definitely don’t want to think about it too much.

But more than anything, I don’t want to think about that big Dutch oven of risotto in the refrigerator. I hauled it out to the refrigerator in the damn garage because I can’t look at that Dutch oven. I may never eat risotto again.

{ 22 comments }

German Potato Salad

March 25, 2016

Lemon-Blueberry Yogurt Cake

March 21, 2016