I do all the cooking here. It’s my principal contribution to the social dynamic. I plan the meals, shop for the groceries, cook, and clean up. I like to cook, but my culinary skills, such as they are, are somewhat restricted by Nelson’s food preferences. That is to say I can’t give free rein to my creative impulses with respect to food because Nelson does not have a very adventurous palate, although he is very particular. Certain things he requires at every meal. Chief among these are crackers and desert. His other major requirement is that everything be as soft as possible because of his teeth.
He wears dentures. As if this weren’t trouble enough, his dentures don’t fit very well, and periodically they give him a lot of discomfort—if not outright pain. He went to get new dentures sometime last year. The new dentures didn’t fit any better than the set he was replacing so he’s never really worn them any length of time.
As I understand it, the fit has to be adjusted over a period of time until it is right. This requires multiple visits to the denturist. Nelson would rather suffer with ill-fitting dentures than make multiple visits anywhere remotely medical. I can’t say I blame him in this particular instance because I have been with him to the denture place, and I would rather do almost anything else. There are several problems with the denture place, each of which worsens the visit in subtle and insidious ways.
First of all it is a cut rate facility. It has the word ‘affordable’ in its name. This should give you some idea of the main focus of the services provided. If the name included some other equally friendly but elsewhere focused phrase like ‘comfort fit’ or ‘hassle free’ Nelson’s expectations about the new dentures might not have been so easily realized. As it was the dentures were cheap, and Nelson got what he paid for.
Because the place was ‘affordable’ it was also crowded. That is, pain and discomfort notwithstanding, a lot of people were queued up to buy affordable dentures because, and I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here, they are affordable. In order to keep the dentures affordable the facility dispenses with some of the more civilized amenities of modern medical care…like appointments. Presumably it takes money to install and maintain a system for taking and recording appointments. Saving money by not taking appointments means they can offer their dentures at a lower price.
Another civilized amenity of modern medical care is the comfortable waiting room furnished with a television, a good selection of reading material, and a sufficient number of padded and supportive chairs. These things too cost money, and so were largely absent in the interest of staying affordable.
What Nelson was confronted with when he went to get his new dentures was a wait of several hours duration…in a crowded room…furnished with hard plastic chairs, and nothing to do to occupy the time other than to observe the misery of one’s fellow patients—patients exhibiting the least attractive traits of their humanity owing to their own discomfort and boredom. Is it any wonder that Nelson didn’t want to go back to get the dentures adjusted. For him it was a one shot deal. If they didn’t get it right the first time he wasn’t going to subject himself to that level of torture again on the off chance they might get it right on the second or third try…or the fifth…or the ninth.
So all this brings us back to the question of what Nelson can eat. The ideal thing under the circumstances would be a smoothie, or a milkshake, or pudding. He actually likes those things, well the milkshake anyway, but he doesn’t think of them as real food so you can’t just sneak them by him and hope to get away with it. Nelson is a meat and potatoes kind of guy, and he would be happy with just that and desert provided the meat is tender.
When you give him all the stuff he likes though you risk running afoul of Anne who expends a lot of effort making sure that her dad doesn’t eat a lot of stuff that’s not good for him. That means I have to give him what he likes, but I can’t give him any salt or sugar or fat or too much red meat. As you have probably guessed that’s exactly what he likes.
Nelson’s ideal meal would be a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew pureed in a blender and served with a bendy straw followed by two ice cream bars and a cookie. Eating like this is probably what put him in the hospital last year and started all the health issues that ended up with him having to be supervised 24 hours a day. Now Anne won’t let me feed him like that. It wouldn’t be my natural inclination to do it anyway because I don’t eat like that, but as anyone who has small children knows (and Lord knows this isn’t so very different) after a while it’s just easier to give them whatever the hell they want rather than having every meal devolve into a struggle just to get them to eat something.
The effects of Nelson’s food preferences are worsened by the exigencies of his health. He can’t have salt because of his blood pressure. Because Nelson takes Coumadin for his congestive heart condition we have to regulate his intake of foods that are high in vitamin K—specifically leafy green vegetables. It’s not that he can’t eat vegetables; it’s that he has to eat the same amount on the same days of each week. If he has spinach on Tuesday this week, he has to have spinach every Tuesday. It’s more complicated than that, but I need less complicated, not more. Every new rule, regardless of the source or the logic behind it, makes it more difficult to provide meals that are at once economical, appetizing, and nutritious.
To keep Nelson engaged in the process I like to let him know what I’m planning and try to get his input. His mind doesn’t work the way it used to, so this isn’t as easy as it might seem. He remembers food from his childhood. He remembers stuff I made last week that he enjoyed. He remembers foods that are somehow attached to people or events in the past. Summer squash is one such food because he made it for himself shortly after his wife died. It was one of her favorites. Now, because he has that memory of his wife liking it as well as him making it to honor her memory, it has become one of his favorite dishes. Whenever I make summer squash he recounts the story of making it for himself to remember his wife.
Another of Nelson’s memory triggering foods is cream pie. He has a recipe for cream pie in his mother’s handwriting, and he carries a fond memory of what her cream pie was like. I tried to duplicate the recipe. It seemed very straightforward to me—eggs, sugar, and cream. It didn’t turn out anything like what he remembered, and he was hugely disappointed. I followed the recipe exactly, so I was mystified by this result. Maybe he’s remembering another pie altogether. Whatever the reason, I know better than to keep trying to duplicate his mother’s cream pie and expecting him finally to like it. Every cream pie I bake will be a betrayal of his mother’s memory. I couldn’t do that to him…or to myself.
Since Nelson likes dessert so much I decided to try my hand at some more pies. I asked him if he liked pecan pie. “Oh my, yes,” was his response, and his eyes lit up like a child’s on Christmas morning. I made several pecan pies in as many weeks, experimenting with variations on a theme until I got one I liked. It was a big hit with Nelson and everyone else who got to try it.
I put the recipe up on Triond, and it got a few hits. After several months my Triond account is up to 35 cents. When it reaches 50 cents they will pay me. I’m going to put the money in the Aston Martin fund.
Here is a copy of the pecan pie recipe. It is flavored with Cointreau liqueur. “Oh my, yes.”
COINTREAU PECAN PIE
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup dark corn syrup
- 3 tablespoons melted butter
- 3 large beaten eggs
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped pecans
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 2 tablespoons Cointreau or Triple Sec
- 1 (9-inch) deep-dish pie shell, unbaked
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Stir melted butter into sugar until thoroughly incorporated.
- Stir in corn syrup, eggs, pecans, orange zest, and Cointreau.
- Pour mixture into unbaked pie shell, and place on a substantial cookie sheet.
- Bake for 55 minutes, or until pie is set.
- Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
- Substitute ½ cup of light brown sugar for half the white sugar or use unbleached raw cane sugar for a richer more nuanced flavor.
- Most pecan pie recipes call for pecan halves. This is fine, but I prefer the chopped nuts as it makes the pie easier to cut in my opinion.
- I like nuts, and pecans are my favorite so I don’t mind loading a pie up with them—the nuttier the better. Two cups is about the most you can stuff into a 9 inch deep-dish shell without having the nuts spill over as the pie bakes. My wife thinks this is too many nuts as she grew up with pecan pies that just had the nuts floating on the top of the filling. You can certainly use fewer nuts, but I say, if you don’t like ‘em, why in the world would you bake a nut pie?
- A topping of Cointreau flavored whipped cream makes a nice addition. Just add a tablespoon of the liqueur and a tablespoon of sugar to a cup of cold heavy cream and whip until stiff peaks form.