Sunday, 30 June 2013

Getting Back to Basics & Healing a Broken Heart

Jordy and Naomi (2013)

Every now and then my journey as a daughter of Alzheimer's Disease takes an unexpected turn.

Slowly, over time, the dramatic roller coaster of emotions comes to a stop, and you find yourself gliding, almost coasting through your new normal.  New routines develop, and you begin to breathe again, relaxing and going on with life.  And then, out of the blue, the shocking reality hits you, and you realize that everything has changed, and you can never go back.  That's the kind of week I am having...I find myself suddenly drowning in an abyss of grief.  I know it's all part of the journey, but it doesn't make the experience any easier to bear.

I miss my Mom so much it hurts.  I feel the tears, welling up in the back of my throat, just waiting for any opportunity to escape.  She was my very best friend.  Granted, she was quite smothering, and it drove me crazy (probably everything I am with my girls now), but if I could just have one more day with her, I would spend it in her arms, cocooned in my mother's loving embrace.  It was the most comforting feeling I have ever known, and now it's forever lost to me.  Sometimes, when the hurt and longing overwhelm me, I take myself back to specific memories of her holding me, cuddling me, and I can almost feel her.  Eventually, like a form of meditation, it brings me some serenity. 

It's at these times that I replay a moment in time, over and over in my head:  when Mom was in the early stages of Alzheimer's she would spend Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other Friday with Becca and me, and then with Sara when she was finished her school day.  On one of those days, as I busily rushed around my kitchen, preparing snacks or dinner, my mother looked at me and said "Nomi, remember how much I love you.  I need you to know this because there will come a time when I will no longer be able to communicate, and I need you to always know how much I love you.".  Time stopped and we quietly looked at each other, tears in our eyes and our hearts breaking.  At that moment I couldn't know how much pain and anguish was to follow.  I could not know how, in years to come, I would cling to those words and the image of that memory.  Oh Mama, I know you love me, and I love you too.  More than I ever knew was possible.  More than I can put into mere words.  And I miss you so so much.  

I try not to dwell on the sadness, it doesn't help to wallow in pity parties, and I am thankful to be blessed with a compliment of family, friends and acquaintances, who are loving, and supportive, and make my life wonderful.  And most days, these connections are all I need.  

Which leads me to my theory of why I am suddenly back on the roller coaster again. 

One of my dearest friends, Aviva, moved to Calgary yesterday.  She has walked every step of this journey with me, living similar experiences to mine, as dementia has ravaged my mother and her mother-in-law.  Last November her husband, our friend Joel, received the job offer of a lifetime...the only catch (for me) was that it was in Calgary.  He moved there at the end of January, while Aviva stayed on in Toronto give her son the opportunity to finish off his school year, and herself the opportunity to prepare for the cross-country move.  It was all surreal, though, and life went on.  And then, on Friday (2 days ago), it hit me.  I didn't know what was wrong at first, but tears kept surfacing at the oddest moments, and I felt like I was walking under a rain cloud all day.  And then it dawned on me, even though my brain wasn't letting me think about her leaving, my heart was fighting to be heard, and took the lead in this struggle....ergo the tears.  
Aviva and Naomi (2013)
I know this is just another chapter in our friendship, and that we will meet up with them in Banff, Vegas, etc.. I know that we always have Skype, Facebook, unlimited texting and great long distance plans to keep us going between trips and visits.  But that is all logical.  Doesn't change the fact that my heart is a little broken.  

We went for one last breakfast yesterday, before they got on a plane bound for Calgary.  Becca and Ross came, and thank goodness our friend Trish came too.  She can lighten the darkest situation, and she did.  We laughed and visited for an hour and a half, no tears, no sadness.  As we bid one another adieu, Aviva and I held it together.  Almost no tears (we choked them back), and we were out the door of the restaurant.  And then Joel hugged me goodbye and said something that opened the floodgates.  Tears started pouring, literally pouring out of my eyes!  I hugged my friend, told her to make it good, and walked to our car, not looking back for fear of completely breaking down.   This is how we closed a chapter that started some 10 years ago, when we first met at Hebrew School and I dragged her to a parent council meeting.  While my heart is a little heavy right now, I am excited for what the new chapter will bring and for the amazing life ahead of them in Alberta.  
Our final, farewell breakfast

In the meantime, I think my matriarchs were "up there", anticipating how hard this parting would be, and made some magic...

Weeks ago, long before I knew the exact date that Joel and Aviva would be flying out to Calgary, Jordy - my best best friend from high school, who remains a dear friend of mine to this day - insisted that we nail down a date to get our families together for dinner.  We settled on June 29th.  Jordy was my rock throughout my teenage years.  Whether it was an academic crisis or a social one, he was the one person who could cheer me up and make it better.  And believe me, being the drama queen I was, he had his work cut out for him!  I could not think of a better way to spend an evening than with Jordy, his beautiful wife Deb (and I mean beautiful - she is the nicest, sweetest and most gracious person, much like her husband) and their adorable kids.  

As I was preparing some baking to take to Deb and Jordy's, I got a text that my cousin Connie (Michael's sister, Jack's aunt) was in town for a couple of days and was next door visiting, inviting me to pop over.  So I left Sara and her friend to keep decorating cookies (bless them, they are gorgeous - check out the photo below) and I went over for a visit.  

I think I keep myself busy and always running because it helps me to avoid stopping, and thinking, and feeling.  It is emotionally easier for me to keep running a never-ending marathon.  But I stopped, for a while, and just visited.  And it felt good.  I looked around me at my family...Paul's kids and grandkids and Louise's granddaughter.  Together, laughing and visiting.  Connie and my mother grew up together, cousins in a close-knit family.  She is vibrant, bright and beautiful...everything Mom would be if the Alzheimer's didn't consume  her.  And it hit me...this is the circle of life.  I thought about how happy Bubbie Lou, Uncle Paul, Bubbie Gertie and Mom would be to see the closeness and connection continuing into the next generation, and a sense of serenity and peacefulness washed over me.  My heavy heart started to lighten. 

Then we went to Jordy and Deb's.  The stories kept coming, and the laughter never subsided.  But it never does with Jordy.  He is the most fun-loving, optimistic, kind person.  My parents love him...always did.  My mother especially adored him.  Really, truly, she did...he could do no wrong in her eyes.  They loved the same things - steak, gin & tonics (once he was older, of course!), House of Chan....the list goes on.  He even came on family vacations with us, and I with his family.  

Mom and Jordy on my 19th birthday
He went to see Mom at Baycrest a few weeks ago, and even though she could not open her eyes, she responded to his voice, trying to speak and moving her leg (one way she still has to let us know she's there).  And what was Jordy's reaction?  Ever the positive-thinking sweetheart, he told me that she looked good, and he was so happy to have had the opportunity to see her.  I think I can still learn a thing or two from Jords.

But back to our visit...we talked about how he taught me to drive - and almost got ejected from the car (he never told me to brake before throwing it into park!); how his older brother still blames me, to this day, for their car dying on Old Forest Hill Road in the dead of winter - I wasn't even driving, but he could not be convinced of that; and how this same brother insisted I was the mastermind behind their car ending up on the top of a 6 foot high snowbank (really, do you think I was strong enough or smart enough for that?!?).  Through it all back then, we laughed and never took life too seriously. 

Jordy and Naomi ...25 years ago
Jordy and Naomi (2013)

I looked around the my dear friend, his wonderful wife, my beloved husband and these 4 incredible, funny, sweet kids of ours and my heart started to heal.  I listened to his kids tell funny stories, and while it was momentarily weird to watch my past and present collide, I was amazed to see my 16-year-old bonding with my high school best friend much like my mother used to.'s that circle of life...
Sara and Jordy (2013)
Suffice it to say, an evening with good friends and a long shared history together was exactly what the doctor ordered.  We spent the night laughing and reminiscing and before I knew it we were all yawning and it was way past my bedtime.  

And the moral of this story?  Life hurts sometimes, there are bumps in the road, and heartache around some corners, but life does go on.  Cherish every minute, live in the moment, and hold on to those special people in your life...they make it all worthwhile.  

And  now, I plan to peruse my Golden Recipes and find the Jello Mold dessert (yes, I have mangia cake roots) for Connie - a favourite of hers from years ago.  We figure no-one but she and I will eat this dish, but what the's just another cobblestone on my culinary trip down memory lane.

Until next time, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends, fantastic food and a little peace and serenity too.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Louise's Lemon Pie...Isn't it Lovely?

My mother always made wonderful pies, with whole wheat flour, no less!  Her pastry dough was always light and flaky and delicious...the perfect vessel to house her Bubbie Gertie's delicious strawberry rhubarb compote/filling.

I have not been so lucky with pastry's always hit and miss with me.  One of my regrets is that I never took advantage of the opportunity to learn at my mother's side.  I always figured there was time, and one day I would sit down with her and learn her secrets.  Now...well, it's too late.  

Over the past 2 years of experimenting with family recipes and blogging about Mom and the matriarchs,  and I have grown more confident in my abilities to hold my own in a kitchen.  I have decided that this is the summer when I will finally face my baking nemesis - the pie - head on.  

I decided to start off with a simple pie - (my) Aunt Adele's Lemon Pie.  As far back as I can remember, Carlo has loved lemon meringue pie.  His Aunt Jessie is a wonderful baker who used to make him lemon meringue pies to his heart's content, so there was no need for me to learn.  Truth be told, I was too intimidated to try and bake anything, never dreaming it could measure up to Aunt Jessie's creations.  

Now, I just needed an occasion.  This past weekend we had a farewell dinner for our friends - Joel and Aviva and their son, Ross - who are moving to Calgary tomorrow (gasp!).  I wanted to make it a special meal, and I knew that I would write about it, so I wanted to try a new dessert and feature the recipe in my post.  But time was an issue, as it turns out this was also the weekend of Rebecca's soccer tournament; which meant games on Friday evening, Saturday morning and afternoon, and Sunday morning and afternoon.  In between all that I needed to prepare a "from scratch" meal.  Why "from scratch"?  Because I wanted to and we know that I am stubborn (wink). 

As I flipped through Mom's recipes, I came across "Lemon Pie".  It was perfect!  Carlo loves it, it seems to be a relatively simple recipe (not a lot of time or effort) and who doesn't like Lemon Meringue Pie?  Joel doesn't...I found that out as I served the mini pies!  Luckily I also made a Cherry Cheesecake (thanks for the suggestion Sara!).  

So, on Saturday night, after a long day of soccer (watching and cheering is hard work!), I made 18 mini lemon pies.  

Bubbie Lou's recipe card was not as clear as I would have liked, but I was able to wing it and apparently they were delicious!  Would you believe that I did not even try one?!  Not that I don't like them, I just plain forgot, and before I knew it, they were gone

From my family to yours, I hope you enjoy this recipe for Lemon Pie.  Until my next post, I wish you a wonderful day, filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon & Buon Appetito!

Bubbie Lou & Aunt Adele's Lemon Pie 

Crust Ingredients:
  • 1¼C graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼C melted butter

Filling Ingredients:

  • Sheriff's Lemon Pie Filling (told you it was easy!)

Meringue Ingredients:

  • 3 egg whites
  • 6 tbsp granulated sugar
  • pinch of cream of tartar


Preheat oven to 300˚.  

First, prepare the crust: Melt butter.  In medium-sized bowl, blend graham cracker crumbs and cinnamon.  Mix with melted butter.  Press into greased pie plate or, if you're making tarts/mini pies, into aluminum muffin cups. (Press crust mixture as you would for a cheesecake, along the bottom and slightly up the sides).  Bake crust(s) for approximately 15 minutes, then leave to cool.  

While the crust is cooling, lower the oven temperature to 250˚, and make the filling - it's easy (just follow the directions on the box)!  Remember to reserve the whites from the yolks that you're using in the filling!

Lastly, beat the egg whites, slowly adding sugar and cream of tartar, until the meringue peaks hold.  

Layer the filling over the crust, and top with meringue peaks. Bake until golden (approximately 20 minutes) and cool.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Prackus (Cabbage Rolls)

Prackus (cabbage rolls in sweet tomato sauce)

If I close my eyes and let my mind drift, I find myself floating back to my mother's kitchen in my childhood home...we are standing together at the table, rolling prackus.

I can see the grape leaves that she was carefully laying out, and recall my horror when I realized that she expected me to eat leaves!  In my young mind there was no difference between the leaves that fell from the maple tree in our front yard, and the "delicacy" she was using to roll up my beloved cabbage rolls!

She tried to explain that the lettuce we ate in our salads was a form of a leaf...but that only exacerbated an already deteriorating situation...I simply decided not to eat salad anymore!

Well, she left me to my "Sara Barnyard" melodramatic moment, and we began rolling prackus for Yom Tov.  I don't think I ate the leaves.  Rather, I think I unwrapped my portion and ate the sweet and sour filling, delighting in yet another marvellous morsel from the Matriarchs.

To this day, when I stroll through the grocery store and come across the jars of marinated grape leaves, I think back to that day and smile at the memory.

Prackus (stuffed cabbage rolls) were always a treat in our house, and Mom and Bubbie Lou often served them on the Jewish Holidays.  It's funny how we pass on information and ideas to our kids without even realizing it. For me, one such notion was that making cabbage rolls was a laborious task to be dreaded.

Consequently, every time I would think to make this dish I quickly talked myself out of the idea, reasoning that I would need hours to make them.

And then, in late April I met up with a group of  foodies that I met in Norene's kitchen for an impromptu lunch, and my Facebook friendships were instantly transformed into real friendships.  As we  shared stories and recipes, I thought of my mother, and how much she would have loved to have been a part of such an afternoon.  SHE was the reason I was here...losing her to Alzheimer's propelled me into a world of food, cooking and discovery...oh, how I wish she could have been with me to enjoy these amazing ladies.

As I sat with Norene, Aviva, Michal, Miriam, Robin, Shayla and Helene, I was inspired to get back to cooking, and wanted to find a traditional Jewish family recipe for my next culinary adventure.  So, after we said our goodbyes, Aviva and I went off to Kosher Longos, where I picked up a cabbage and some kosher ground beef.

The following day (Monday) I cut away the cabbage core, boiled the head of cabbage, drained it and refrigerated it.  Maybe the whole boiling process took an hour, but I really didn't notice, because I was making cannelloni (from scratch!) the whole time.

My boiled, cored head of cabbage 

On Tuesday, after we cleaned up from dinner, I set about making the cabbage rolls, bracing myself for hours of labouring at my kitchen counter.  I (foolishly) veered away from the family recipe (big mistake! I think this is why they weren't a hit with my family - follow the recipe below, I will next time!) sauteed some chopped onions, browned the ground beef and cooked some basmati rice.  At the same time, I cooked a tin of diced tomatoes with some brown sugar.  While everything browned and cooked, I gently peeled the cabbage leaves, cutting away the tougher centre of each leave and reserving these pieces for another of Mom's recipes.  Sounds like a lot of work, no?  No!  This process took no more than half an hour from start to finish!

I browned the ground beef - big mistake!
LEAVE IT RAW!! I will next time...

Boil basmati rice - you can still do this,
I think it would add a little filler to your roll

Mix eggs, basmati rice and RAW ground beef
(along with salt, pepper and garlic salt/powder)

Add bread crumbs or matzo meal

"Mixie Mixie a la Pixie, Diddly Dum and Diddly Dixie"
(click here for the post with the back story for this phrase)

Cabbage head ready to roll! Boiled & cored.

Single cabbage leaf

Then I started to roll the prackus, thinking this must be the challenging and time consuming part.  The first roll  took all of 30 I was perplexed!  Thirty seconds?!  I figured that it must take a long time to roll them all.  But it didn't...the entire process was done and my kitchen cleaned by 7:30!

Place meat mixture at bottom (core) end of leaf

Fold bottom of leaf upward over mixture,
 then start rolling from one side

And roll from the other side...

Place roll seam-down in your Pyrex dish

I used two Pyrexes so I could make both sauces

So the moral of my story - a moral that I keep reminding myself of - is that these recipes do not take so long, and they are worth the time and effort to make.

I made 2 types of cabbage rolls - the sweet and sour version from my youth, and a peppery sauerkraut version similar to a dish  my sister-in-law Renate makes.

Sauerkraut Cabbage Rolls

Our family's traditional tomato cabbage rolls

They were all delicious, if I say so myself.  But, I discovered that they are also an acquired taste, and one that I may have introduced to my family a little too late.  While this dish will not be a regular feature in my weekly menu, I will continue Mom's tradition and prepare them for Jewish Holidays.

From my family to yours, here is an "old country" recipe that I treasure and hope you will too.  Whatever you're having, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito!

Bubbie Lou's original recipe card


Cabbage Roll Ingredients:
1 head of cabbage
3 lbs of ground beef
2 eggs
salt, pepper & garlic salt to taste
1 small onion, grated (drain any liquid)
small handful of breadcrumbs or matzo meal (maybe ¼C)

Sweet Tomato Sauce Ingredients:
1 tin of diced tomatoes
3 tbsp brown sugar
dash of lemon juice (to taste, if too sweet)

Sauerkraut Topping Ingredients:
1 jar sauerkraut
salt and black pepper to taste

Cabbage Roll Method:
Place cabbage in pot of boiling water.  Boil gently for about 30 minutes to loosen leaves, making cuts around  core first.  Separate leaves on towel/paper towel.  Combine meat mixture ingredients and roll up in the cabbage leaves. Line cabbage rolls in a Pyrex dish (use 2 dishes if you want to try both sauces).

Sweet Tomato Sauce Method:
Fry onions in canola oil until golden brown in medium sauce pan.  Add diced tomatoes (with juice), brown sugar and lemon juice.  Bring to boil and remove from heat.  

Baking Instructions for either type of cabbage roll:
Preheat oven to  to 350˚.  Cover cabbage rolls (lined in Pyrex) with either sweet tomato mixture OR sauerkraut mixture (topped with a healthy dose of black pepper).  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 1½ to 2 hours.  Then serve.