Friday, August 9, 2013

Silver Linings Recipe Book: How My Mom Lifted the Clouds and Healed My Achilles Heel

My father always taught me to make lemonade out of lemons.  But when I tore my right Achilles tendon juggling a soccer ball at the Long Beach, California airport and ended up homebound and on crutches for the summer, I had to really reach to find the sugar for the lemons.

Enter my mom.  She arrived like a Jewish Mary Poppins, not floating in on an umbrella, but laden down with her own bottomless bag full of goodies. She took a measure of my adoring kids and found them both to be “practically perfect in every way.”  But, with my surgery scheduled for the following afternoon, this time, her magic was meant for me.

A recent widow at 79, my two siblings and I have been worrying about how to best take care of her.  But now, here she was, a pint-sized Florence Nightingale, ready to tend to my every need.  With my kids readying for sleep-away camp and my husband traveling for work, her special brand of TLC – mixed with smarts, wit and empathy – arrived just in the nick of time.

So what was in the bottomless bag?  Need you ask a Jewish mother?  Food of course!  And, a new recipe book, “Cook This, Not That!” with post-its noting a few tasty dinner options and stuffed with newspaper clippings of other healthy recipes.

Although post-surgery my appetite was nil, she brought me up trays with easy-to-digest peanut butter on Ritz crackers, elegantly placing a few grapes on the side, and a big bottle of water to calm my camel-like thirst.  When I was feeling better and able to do the one-legged hop down the stairs, we spent many fun hours cooking meals together, our favorites including ravioli with yellow zucchini and basil and rosemary chicken with lemon. 

As the chief chef, my mom took on the challenge of getting to know the whereabouts of all ingredients, utensils, pots and pans in my fairly large kitchen.   She was always game to try something new, whether it was the food processer, lemon juicer or Ninja blender.  One night, a towel set atop a pot of rice to keep it moist burst into flames.  On this night she learned the invaluable lesson of cooking on a gas stove as opposed to her own electric.   

Perhaps my favorite moment was a night we spent jigsaw puzzling while listening to Broadway tunes.  Could there be anything more peaceful then sitting with your mommy and working on a Van Gogh puzzle while singing along to Camelot, Carousel, Fiddler, The King and I, etc.?

Many afternoons, we spent together outside on the back porch, smelling the pine and listening to the crickets chirp while reading or napping.  Getting “Hop-a-long” (my new nickname) set up outside wasn’t easy though.  Along with schlepping out the chair cushions, my book, laptop and/or water, she had to play a game of musical doors with our cat, Dakota. Dakota is an indoor cat that yearns for the outdoors. But, with neither of us able to chase and carry him, we had to make sure he stayed an indoor cat.  There are two doorways that lead out to the back porch and watching my mom try to trick Dakota by going from one door to the next – faking him out as he meowed his head off, was highly entertaining.

The highlight of my days has been finding a letter in the mailbox from one or both of our campers.  I love sharing the kids’ heart-warming letters, reading them aloud until I get too fahklempt to continue. While early on, we did get the quintessential dreaded letter from Jakey, which started, “I’m sick,” and had a sad face with a tear on the envelope, the rest of his letters were happy and adorable, filled with the adjective, “great!” to describe his cabin mates, activities and the food. Amanda’s frequent letters all start in happy CAPS with some iteration of “I LOVE CAMP!” and are chock-full of all of her favorite activities, and proud and silly moments, and a daily log of her meals.  She truly fits her moniker, “Kid Foodie!” 

My mom has been with me to every doctor appointment, taking notes and making sure I follow the orthopedist’s orders.  She has made sure I take my medicine, wrapped my leg with ice and cajoled me to call the nurse when my toes turned purple. One night, I got a splinter in my finger from pushing off of a wicker chair.  Even though her vision is pretty terrible, she miraculously got the painful splinter out, and frankly, saved the day.

For our nighttime entertainment, Mel Brooks seemed to be watching over us. In the last three weeks, we found four televised Mel specials that kept us laughing.  Excerpts from his routine with Carl Reiner, The 2000 Year Old Man,
are particularly hysterical, along with clips from his greatest movies – my mom’s favorite being “Blazing Saddles.”  But mostly it was Mel Brooks’ way of telling a story that left us in hysterics – particularly about growing up Jewish in Brooklyn and performing in the Borcht Belt’s most famous resorts as at Tummler (master entertainer).  In one routine he talks about Jews and cholesterol.  Just thinking about it makes me laugh. Honestly, he is so relatable, I feel like he could be our relative.

In a few days, my kids come home from camp, and I can’t wait to see them, to smother them in hugs and kisses. But, for now it is “just mom and me.”  Yes, my fun-loving husband and I have spent these precious weekends together and my lovely friends have taken me out for dinner and drinks, but it strikes me that I probably haven’t spent this much time with my mom since I was a kid. 

In truth, although this Achilles injury has been agonizing, frequently bringing on tears from pain and frustration – and I still have a long road ahead, I already see the silver lining and have learned a new recipe for living.  It's called "Patience."  It just requires a few key ingredients including sleep, good food, and a sense-of-humor, and if you’re lucky, a big heaping spoonful of your mother’s powerful love.