My Favorite Critic and I (along with the Tasters) just returned from a month long adventure in Michigan. Clearly my definition of “adventure” has changed over the decades, nonetheless it was quite fantastic on many levels. We found a new restaurant just in the nick of time (we have a Summer Solstice deal between us that can’t be broken) and spent an evening dining by the marina, watching boats lazily tacking in the Bay’s evening breeze and sharing a champagne toast as a little duck family watched from afar.
The month was filled with family, laughter, solving more phone issues than a person should ever have to navigate, and (as always) mouth-watering meals paired with cocktails and strolls with the Tasters to the ice cream stand after dinner. I feel so lucky to have been able to spend an entire month of 2020 making meals for my mom and dad, and sitting with my mom on her front porch as she watched the dog-walkers and bicyclists pass by. My mom has been battling Lewy Body Dementia for around 8 years now. Even though she sometimes wasn’t clear who I am, she was so happy to sit and tell stories of things she does remember.
Every time my mother tasted a new meal I made for her, she was so thrilled. So thankful. She kept telling me what a wonderful cook I am, to which I would say “You are the one who taught me.” And she’d smile and shake her head rather inquisitively. “No kidding?” she’d reply, “huh. Amazing.”
My dad is doing his best; he is challenged to take care of things in ways he never even dreamed would be necessary. And he’s doing a good job, though even he would admit that his cooking is somewhat lacking when compared to the food my mother made over the course of 60 years of marriage. Until the past couple of years, my dad hadn’t lifted a finger in the kitchen (with the exception of his Sunday Morning French Toast and Sausage). Learning to cook at 83 wasn’t necessarily in my dad’s master plan for life.
After I cleaned out the pantry, I found my mother staring into the garbage can where I’d thrown out some horridly outdated lasagne noodles. She pointed at them and said, “We could make tacos with those.” Although it seemed as if she was reverting to a confused state, I knew that she wasn’t. She was remembering something she once loved to make, but she couldn’t quite stretch her memory far enough to figure out what it was. My dad, not understanding, said, “Not tacos, we make lasagne with those. But Hillary says we have to get new ones because these are too old.”
My mother looked at me imploringly, unable to figure out the words for what she was trying to tell him.
“Mexican Lasagne,” I said to her, and her face brightened like the sun shining on the Bay. She nodded and smiled, and then turned to my dad.
“I can help make dinner tonight,” she told him. And she did.
I found my mother’s recipe box amid the four shelves of cookbooks and she quickly began filing through it. She pulled out a recipe she’d kept since before my kids were born, before college…before I’d even gone into junior high. “From the kitchen of Hillary and Susan Lang” she read from the title lines, and she smiled so broadly and waved the card toward me. “Mexican Lasagne!” she announced, then frowned when looking down at the card because it actually said “Peanut Brittle” across the top, printed carefully in my elementary school handwriting. “Hmmm…” She put the card back and kept looking.
We found the right recipe (which was actually from a friend of mine and in a different place altogether), made a grocery list and I hurried to the store, then we spent the afternoon cooking together as we used to so long ago. Mom browned the ground beef and remembered that we should leave out the black olives so my dad wouldn’t complain. She spread the sour cream and added extra cheese, clicking her tongue at the mess we’d made and dancing to Neil Diamond all the while.
And when we sat down at the dinner table that evening, she pointed to the meal on her plate. She smiled and exclaimed, “It’s delicious!” Then Mom turned to me and raised her wine glass in approval. “Cheers to the kitchen of Hillary and Susan Lang!”