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My mother, having fallen down the stairs and broken her leg on June 8, has left the hospital and moved to something called a Sub-Acute Rehab Facility. I believe, based on keen observation, that that means “not as bad as being in the hospital but we will still wake you in the night to take your vitals and you will still have a roommate who watches game shows all day long at a volume calculated to shatter Plexiglas.” It also means that the food is still bad.

My mother, as I believe I have mentioned many times, is a superb cook, and even in these days of waning appetite and dietary restrictions she still appreciates and desires sophisticated and well-prepared food. At the rehab facility, I joined her for lunch yesterday and witnessed both menu choices: roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy or Chicken a la King and mashed potatoes. Cubes of carrots were served as a side, and dessert was a gelatinous apple filling sered in tiny pie shells. It was not inspiring. I watched my mother pick at her food, keenly aware that she needs to eat, particularly to eat protein, in order to build and keep her strength up so that she can participate in physical therapy and go home. It wasn’t looking good.

Today, I decided that I should cook for her at home, and take her nutritious, familiar dishes that will be impossible for her to resist. This is not the time to experiment with Indian curries or authentic empanadas; it is a situation that requires salt of the earth, comforting recipes taken into the sterile institutional atmosphere in baskets lined with pretty napkins. My choices are somewhat complicated by the fact that the facility is some miles away, and things like grilled cheese sandwiches, omelettes, souffles or asparagus risotto will tend to arrive in a condition indistinguishable from the unappetizing dining room offerings.

I have some standards in my repertoire that will serve me well, including chicken salad and muffins, and macaroni and cheese, and small, glazed individual meatloaves with homemade mashed potatoes. There is also great potential value in chocolate – delicate, frosted brownies, slender wedges of chocolate cake and containers of homemade chocolate mousse  are definitely in order. Over the course of six weeks, though, I will need to try some recipes that are new to me. At the moment, I am relying on the 1960 Ladies Home Journal Cook Book. I am considering Stuffed Green Peppers, Creamy Beef Stroganoff, Dixie Ham-and-Chicken Potpie Chicken Tetrazzini, Almond Chicken Croquettes, Cheese and Onion Tart, Creamed Chipped Beef and Tuna Noodle Casserole.

Admittedly, these are not the dishes that will land me a spot on “Top Chef” or win me a book contract. They are old-fashioned, fairly bland, low-tech and the diametric opposite from all things molecular gastronomy. This project is not about my excitement or toe-curling gratification as a cook; it is about using my cooking skills to comfort and nurture someone who cooked for me for the first 18 years of my life (more, if you count vacations from college and law school). It is food as life support, and love in tangible form. In this case, rehab has to mean more than gaining physical strength and learning to transfer from a wheelchair to a bed. It must also mean a restoration of all things lost through pain, fatigue, loss of privacy, and living in unfamiliar surroundings.

Perhaps Amy Winehouse is just in need of some croquettes.


About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

9 responses »

  1. We did the same thing when my dad was in Sub Acute care at Vanderbilt. Broiled Chicken and rice, lamb chops..all his favorite protein centered meals. I think it worked like a charm.
    I know this will work well for your mom. Good luck!

  2. Ann,

    You have me thinking……..Why did I spend so much time teaching my Megan to cook all the junk she liked to eat? Duh, should have been getting her ready to look after me.

    Its not too late, will you teach her to make YOUR Mac+Cheese? She can bring it to me in a ziplock and just cut the corner off to feed me, I wont care.

    Seriously, should we all be as lucky (after being so unlucky) as your Mom.

  3. Sorry to hear about your mom, Annie. I recommend soup — I’m sure her facility has a microwave and soup stays pretty much the same after being nuked. I have a good Wedding Soup on my blog — it’s good for all ills. There’s a Hearty Beef Stew, too, that is good, but palatable if you’re not up for lots of flavor. I’ll offer up a prayer for her recovery.

  4. Ann,
    If I’m ever laid up in the hospital, I’m demanding to be transfered near you. I’ve got watery eyes seeing how sweet and loving you are (naturally) to your mom. I feel sorry for any of her roommates who don’t have such a talented daughter bringing them love-in-the-form-of-food. Oh, did I mention, I’m hungry now?

  5. Annie ~ I am sorry that your mom is in the sub-acute care facility. I think you are a wonderful daughter to recognize her need for comforting food and to want to be the provider of these meals, even though the facility sounds like a far piece from your home.

    Aging can be a daunting ordeal at times that’s for sure and we can only hope that we will be loved and cherished in the ways that you treasure your mom.

    I am sending speedy recovery wishes to your mom and caring fondness to you. junemoon

  6. Comfort foods, well prepared, are just what we all need sometimes. My mother, 70 yo, lives alone and will not cook for herself. If it is not instant or frozed ready to microwave, she doesn’t cook it. (except for lemon pudding–then she eats lemon pudding for breakfast – lunch – dinner until it is gone.) She really loves to visit or me visit her– I cook real food! Unfortunately she is 800 miles away and the visits don’t happen often enough! Congratulations on being able to give back to your Mom in her time of need! Take care to you and Mom!

  7. dear annie,
    i’m so sorry to hear about your mom! we are sending her all our best wishes! is it okay with you, if I cross-post this terribly moving blog!
    remind me to tell you how I fell out of the raised garden bed two months ago, I bet I could make your mom laugh, but it wasn’t really funny as I managed to fall up the stairs and as a final insult my head smashed into the side of the house, it was sort of like the way a kid falls (or is tossed) in the playground….
    And it all happens in a second and you can’t even believe that there’s nothing you can do to stop it once it’s started.
    Anyway, give her my best and ask her if she wants us to send her something from California.

  8. She’s lucky to have a daughter like you. I hope she has a speedy recovery.

  9. Mary, lamb chops are such a brilliant idea – dainty, palatable…perfect. Its also nice, in a wierd sort of way, to know that other people have been through this and that I’m not alone.

    Barbara, we need all the prayers we can get, and I thank you. I also think the soup is a genius idea, particularly the Wedding Soup which is light. Thank you!!

    Eric, if (God forbid) you are in the hospital, I am so there! And now i am bringing, in addition to various other delicacies, lamb chops and Italian Wedding Soup.

    junemoon, thanks so much for the kind thoughts. I am learning a lot about how we treat people as they age and/or become less healthy and mobile, and (seriously) thinking that i might have had a good run as a counselor for that population. At the very least, I can show interest and compassion towards the folks I meet at the rehab facility.

    Christina, the lemon pudding diet actually sounds kind of good to me. Is that a problem?!

    Amy, I am so sorry about your poor head! I do know exactly the feeling you describe (having fallen down the stairs once myself, years ago) and it is both terrifying and fascinating. Of course something from California would always be welcome – I wish you could come yourself, and tell her stories.

    Katie, thank so much. The luck is a mutual situation. 🙂


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