Saturday, December 15, 2012

Turning the Tables on Elderly Mom

Mom's handiwork.
See this? My MOM made it! In 1992! 

 I was flitting from table to table in the dining room at my mom's assisted living place, inviting residents to admire her handiwork, which they did. Politely. This is just a tiny piece of her work, I gushed. She was never without a project! 

I spoke as if the residents weren't facing the same issues of loss and diminishment. As if they all hadn't accomplished wonderful things and didn't have boatloads of great tales to tell and mementos to show and memories to share.

You can see at the bottom where she embroidered her initials and the date. I blathered on. She was YOUNG then. Only 76. 

Then I went to work on the staff. After the housekeeping director expressed the proper admiration, she said: You're very proud of your mother, aren't you?

I hooted. I've never thought of myself as being "proud of my mother." But it became clear at that moment, that yes, I am. Proud of my mother. I laughed at myself for boasting about her accomplishments.  Why laugh? Because this is what she used to do to me! Except I was painfully aware (as she isn't) and so embarrassed by all those incidents of what I knew to be overblown praise and admiration.

Now I'm getting her back. I guess it's OK that she's not really aware that I'm tearing around the dining room with her counted cross stitch Santa Claus practically grabbing innocent old people by the throat as if to say, Don't dismiss her! She's still in there! 

My mom is three weeks from turning 97. She is unable to hear or see much, and her hands long ago lost the dexterity for intricate handwork. She nods off a lot during the day, requires assistance for "tasks of daily living," uses a wheelchair, and recently was identified as someone who needs "plate guards" to keep her food from ending up in her lap.

It is difficult to watch, this mother who grows so old before my eyes and diminishes every day. But I'll tell you what I'm proud of, in addition to needlework she accomplished decades earlier: her continuing spark. She can't see, can't hear, and still she can't stand to miss anything.

The other day, I mentioned to her that bingo was scheduled for that afternoon. But as we both know, bingo (her favorite now that her brain/hands/eyes don't work well enough to play bridge), often doesn't occur because people fail to show up. Here's what she says about that: They complain there's nothing to do, but when there is something, they can't get out of their apartments. That's old people for you!
A recent photo of mom playing bingo, with the help of her friend.

Then I took her in to have her maddening ears cleaned. They were clogged with wax, stuffed back in there by those big almost useless hearing aids. In conversation, she'd forgotten something important we'd talked about last week—the death of a relative. When I reminded her she said, Not even all that ear wax can keep things in my head! See how smart she is? How funny?

 For about 12 years I wrote a weekly newspaper column, and one piece was devoted to the mother/daughter relationship. I couldn't help but think of it when I figured out the tables have turned. An excerpt from the old column follows.

But first, one more thing. I realize now that her unearned praise made me stronger. I didn't understand until much later that some mothers neglect to pile positive adjectives on their kids, or look at them with such admiration and love that the kid can just about get knocked over. In my teens, this was excruciating. Even into my 40s, as described below, her "pride" in me was embarrassing. But I think now I need to say, thanks mom, for believing I was more than OK .

Grants Pass Daily Courier, Second Thoughts column, early 1980s (excerpt)
Mother/daughter dynamic still sparkles, sparks

My mother and I were browsing in an antique store close to where I live. She'd come from South Dakota for a visit. The proprietress was minding her own business, or trying to, when my mother spoke up."This is your neighbor!" she said, referring to me. "You do know who she is, don't you?"
My father, Floyd, and mom, LaVone when they were about the age I am now.
She was still bragging up a storm about her "wonderful daughter." My father died in 2006 at 93.
"Mother!" I hissed, my face flooding with color. I knew what she was up to. She was going to brag about me to a stranger who could care less who I was. What's more, she was going to feel no remorse even though my discomfort was immediate and acute.

My mother seemed displeased that the antique store lady didn't know me.
"Well!" she said "This is Mary Korbulic. She writes for the Daily Courier!"

She delivered this information as if I was a Pulitzer Prize winner from the New York Times. She smirked and awaited a response, which she expected to be genuflection or an autograph request.
The woman smiled politely and said, "How nice. I think I have seen your name." She cast me a sympathetic look.

I am a middle-aged woman, but at that moment I squirmed like I did as a child when my mother launched into her bragging-about-nothing routine. When I was a senior in high school, she was still begging me to dance for company. That's right Dance For Company. I finally figured out how to get out of doing the "frug", if you can remember what that is.

When I brought home one A, mostly Bs and one C on my first college report card, she became the town crier. It was unsafe to go with her anywhere as she carried a copy of my grade report in her purse and would whip it out for anyone who made eye contact. She really did this.

"How nice," people would say.

 Privately I admonished her, as I had countless times. It is good at any age to have at least one person who thinks everything you do is wonderful and you are the most clever person ever, not to mention the best looking, but could she please stop sharing her  opinion?

No, she said. She could not stop. "You might as well get used to it," she said, turning away. She did not stop, and I did not get used to it.

(Being a parent now of two fantastic, brilliant, daring, and gorgeous sons, plus the grandmother of the cutest, smartest, funniest grandson who ever toddled on the earth, I kinda get it now.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pain in the ass Turkey Soup and an Epiphany

A rich turkey broth with broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, and red bell peppers. 
Before writing this post, I searched my freezer for the carcass of one of our two Thanksgiving turkeys. Yes, TWO.  That's what happens when you're feeding 22 people for four days.
I was going to take a photo, but the freezer is way too full and somehow, the remaining carcass got buried. But I think you know what a turkey carcass looks like, plus all the bits and pieces that get left on the carving platter.

For the cook, a turkey carcass is not joy-inspiring. It means work. Worthwhile work, to be sure, but through the years, I know that making stock from a turkey carcass is a pain in the ass despite the lovely outcome. 

It's the outcome, of course, that keeps me coming back. Plus the fact that I am unable to throw a turkey carcass out. Who can toss all that great flavor into the trash?

Opening a box or (gasp!) a can of poultry broth doesn't even come close. If you have a turkey or chicken carcass, here's how to make a wonderful stock, which is the basis for all great soup. 

Turkey Stock Ingredients (same goes for chicken)
  • Turkey carcass, stripped of most of its meat. Save the meat for casseroles, sandwiches, or to add to the soup.
  • 1 large  onion or 2 medium onions, cut into quarters
  • 5-6 celery stalks, cut into 4-inch pieces (More or less.)
  • 5 or 6 cloves of smashed garlic
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 3-inch pieces (Optional. Most stock recipes call for carrots, but why? They don't add flavor, that I  can tell. But they probably add vitamins. Carrots are carby, so if you use them to pump up nutrition in the stock, sieve them out in the end.) 
  • Fresh or dried thyme, 3 sprigs. Optional.
  • Fresh or dried oregano, a small fistful if fresh, a tablespoon if dry. Optional
  • Fresh parsley, a handful. Optional.
  • Leftover gravy. If you have it, use it all!
  • Boxed chicken broth 
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Stock Directions
  1. Dump the turkey carcass into a large stock pot, breaking it up to fit. Add onions, celery, garlic, and carrots and herbs, if using.
  2. Add boxed chicken broth, water, gravy, whatever you have. It isn't necessary to cover the carcass, but it should be at least half-way covered. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, for a couple hours. Stir occasionally so that all of the carcass gets boiled. The turkey meat should be coming off the bones and the veggies should be soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool, but not completely. 
  3. Here comes the major pain in the ass part. Get another large pot or bowl, place colander or sieve over it, and dump the turkey carcass and cooked veggies in to drain.
  4. Allow the liquid to drain into the second stockpot. That's the good stuff, the bona fide STOCK dribbling into that pot.
  5. Allow the stock to cool so that the fat solidifies enough to spoon most of it off. 
  6. In the meantime, you get to separate the meat from the carcass. Unless you want to just dispense with this step entirely. You already have the stock, which is the most important thing.
EPIPHANY! Dang. I never considered this! Until now! Next time, I may just strip the carcass super clean in the first place and not bother with this step. Because separating the bits and pieces of meat from the boiled bones and now-slimy veggies is such a pain. In yes, the ASS. Those boiled soft and slimy veggies do not make their way into the actual soup. Ok. I'm talking to myself now.
I will never again sift through a boiled turkey carcass to salvage bits and pieces of protein, even though I did it for 30 some years, and you can if you want. But not me. Wow, am I liberated or what? Old dog learning new tricks here! 

How is it that writing something down can make you realize the stupidity of doing what you've always done?!? I admit that not even the cat likes the boiled turkey. I am feeling SO liberated! Remove the meat from the boiled turkey carcass only if you're feeling particularly guilty about having too much food when so many in the world are starving. Otherwise, boil the carcass with the veggies and herbs, drain the stock, and say good riddance as you dump the bones and boiled veggies into the trash. Whooop!

Turkey Soup 
  • 6-8 cups of turkey stock
  • 2 cups of turkey meat (Approximate. Preferably not boiled)
  • (1 hot Italian sausage cut into the soup is a flavor bonus) 
  • 1 cup broccoli florets, cut into same-size pieces
  • 1 cup cauliflower florets, cut into same-size pieces
  • 1 cup dried or fresh mushrooms
  • 1 large sweet red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cut into strips
  • smoked or regular salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • hot stuff (pepper flakes, garlic-chili sauce, serrano sauce) to taste

Soup Directions
  1. Prepare stock (have fun!)
  2. Set aside bite-sized pieces of turkey, preferably not boiled but those that were stripped from the carcass before the bird got boiled.
  3. Slice raw or pre-cooked sausage into bite-sized pieces, if using
  4. Cut up veggies into similar-sized pieces
  5. Heat stock and add cut-up sausage. Bring to a boil for a few minutes. 
  6. Add raw cut-up mushrooms or dried mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms are rehydrated or soft. 
  7. Add broccoli. Cook on medium for a couple minutes. 
  8. Add cauliflower. Cook a few more minutes. 
  9. Shortly before serving, add the turkey and peppers. You want the broccoli, cauliflower, and peppers to be tender but not limp. The broccoli should still be bright green. Adjust seasonings. I like smoked salt. 
Options: As a low-carb person, I avoid lentils, rice, beans potatoes, pasta and so on. If you don't care about carbs, then add any of these, or other starchy ingredients, to the soup.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream, chipotle or Sriracha chili sauce.