When I was a kid and thought about adult problems, near the top of my list was quicksand. If I learned nothing else from watching Scooby Doo, it was that quicksand was real and it could wreck your plans. Much later I discovered that quicksand likely didn’t even make it on the list of adult problems. What did make the list, and was near the top, was dealing with the aging of loved ones and the fear that accompanies each year and the declining probability they will be here for their next birthday.
On Sunday, June 5 at 2 a.m, we lost Momma. She waited for me to get there, held my hand and went to sleep. If you’ve read my columns in the past, you might remember that she is featured prominently in the stories I tell. As I have mentioned here before, Momma was in long-term care with dementia. I have been exceptionally privileged on many fronts that I’ve been able to help financially, travel to her every few months and be there to see the Momma I know change, but in many ways retain some of her most beloved traits. Did she stop recognizing people? Yes. Was I among the people she didn’t know? Blessedly, no. In her world the last few years, the timeline of her life compressed. Loved ones long-dead were alive alongside the loved ones of today. The stories she told were complicated and detailed. Our days were spent on the lake fishing, swimming, and laughing with big family meals and bonfires in the evening. She was both the narrator and an active participant walking me through how to prepare a certain food or schooling me how to get a fish off my hook. Every time I was leaving to fly back to Maine she would ask when would I be back? Once out the door, the gift of her dementia was that when I wasn’t there, she always thought I was just “downstairs” in the kitchen.
I’ve had people ask if she was still the Momma I knew from before her diagnosis? My best answer is not completely. The Momma of before was loving and incredibly generous, but could also be challenging and sometimes overly critical. What remained constant throughout is that she loved her family above all else. She ate an astronomical amount of chocolate and other sweets, but remained petit. She had PJs she slept in and other PJs she wore during the day if she wasn’t going out. She called them sleeping pajamas and lounging pajamas and kept them in separate drawers of her dresser. Before she lost her sight to macular degeneration, she would read multiple newspapers in the morning with many cups of coffee. She always did the word scramble and crossword, but never the sudoku. She had big dramatic feelings, was hardest on herself and always told me she loved me something ugly.
Now that I’m back home and thinking about how I want to celebrate her life, I turn to the place where we were at our best together, the kitchen. From the time I was able to balance on a stool, I was in the kitchen helping Momma. In my teen years I might have wished to be anywhere else, but now I am thankful that I have those shared experiences to refer back to and recreate the meals we made together.
Momma’s Sunday Chicken and Dumplings
NOTE: There are two schools of thought with chicken and dumplings. Puffy and chewy. I am from the chewy school. Our ideal dumplings are like thick egg noodles with a bit of a chew.
½ teaspoons of oregano
½ teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Chicken stock , enough to bind well
2 cups flour
4 tablespoons butter
3 carrots, cut up
3 celery stalks, cut up
2 onions, cut up
½ cup flour
8 cups chicken stock- Momma always used store-bought chicken stock, but I like to make my own.
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 bay leaves
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
Chicken (I either poach a whole chicken in the chicken stock I will be using in this recipe or I use a rotisserie chicken from the store)
For the dumplings, mix dry ingredients, add enough cool stock to bind. It should still be a bit sticky. Roll out on a floured surface to ¼ inch thick and cut into 4-inch strips, place on a cookie sheet and freeze until you are ready to use it.
Melt butter in a large pot over medium high heat. Add carrots, celery and onion. Add flour and make roux. Add chicken stock and cream of chicken soup. Break off chunks of the frozen dough strips and simmer for 30-45 minutes. Add chicken & adjust salt & pepper as needed. When serving, top with more pepper. The bite of pepper cuts through the richness of this recipe.
Country Green Beans
Warning: If you only want to eat crisp green beans, this is not the recipe for you.
1 pound smoked ham hocks (or smoked turkey wings/ turkey legs)
3 pounds fresh green beans washed, trimmed and cut in 2” pieces
2 teaspoons salt
Optional: If you aren’t making these beans to serve with chicken and dumplings and want to make them a more substantial side dish add 6 – 8 red potatoes, halved and 1/2 onion, sliced.
Place the ham hocks in a large pot with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 1 hour.
While the ham hock simmers, prepare the green beans by removing the “tips and tails.” Snap the beans into approximately 2″ pieces or leave whole if desired.bAdd the beans and salt to the pot. Bring the contents to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.
Cover and cook for 1 hour or until the beans are tender.
Remove the ham hocks to a plate and allow to cool for a few minutes. Remove and shred the meat from the ham hock, discarding the skin and bones. Add the shredded meat back to the pot and stir it into the beans.
Better Than Sex Cake
This cake was Momma’s absolute FAVORITE. She got a great giggle whenever anyone asked what kind of cake it was.
1 box chocolate cake mix
½ cup butterscotch chips
½ cup chocolate chips
1 14- ounce can sweetened condensed milk
16- ounce jar caramel sauce
11 oz hot fudge topping
1 8- ounce tub of Cool Whip
4 Heath bars chopped
Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare a 9×13 dish by spraying with nonstick spray.
Mix the cake according to the package directions. Add butterscotch & chocolate chips. Bake according to box directions for a 9×13 cake.
When the cake is done baking use the round handle end of a wooden spoon and poke holes all throughout the cake. Pour the sweetened condensed milk all over the top of the cake and spread it out. Then drizzle ½ of the caramel sauce & hot fudge topping over the top of the cake.
Refrigerate the cake for at least two hours. Spread the Cool Whip on top of the cooled cake and sprinkle with chopped Heath bars. Drizzle with remaining caramel and fudge sauce when serving.