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Thursday, September 12, 2024

Comfort Food – Grandma’s Cooking

I always reserve the month of January to cleanse my body of any junk food I’ve had from the previous year. It’s a great way to start the New Year with a good food schedule, and following this plan instills a feeling of empowerment and confidence. The 28 day cleanse consists of lots of water, green tea, fresh fruits, vegetables, and beans, and it eliminates any refined sugars, meats, dairy, eggs, gluten, alcohol, breads, and processed foods. It’s tough and socially isolating, but it’s always worth it because you feel so amazing on the inside.

To celebrate the completion of my cleanse this year, I decided to bake a chocolate cake. Not just any old chocolate cake, but the same chocolate cake that delighted my taste buds as a child. THE chocolate cake that required a glass of milk just to wash down the rich-thick icing; THE chocolate cake that forced me to literally lick my plate clean on several occasions; THE chocolate cake that was exclusively available for me to receive its wondrous delights over the years when I visited my Mamma. It was her chocolate cake that I craved every day for 28 long and arduous days. It was her chocolate cake that I was determined to replicate.

I fumbled through cookbooks searching for my Mamma’s famous chocolate cake recipe. I felt as though I had found the golden ticket hidden in the chocolate bar when I finally caught a glimpse of her cursive written index card. It had been hidden amongst the torn-out crumpled magazine pages and oil spotted recipes shoved between the pages of my various cookbooks. I felt my mouth watering just reading the directions listed on the card. As I gathered the ingredients at the store and embarked on the journey of recreating this decadent treat, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness. My Mamma has essentially given up cooking due to her dementia. I know I will never again have the pleasure of tasting her comforting creations. Part of me wishes the last meal she decided to cook would’ve been announced so I could have savored it, but the other part of me realizes it might have been too hard to handle for both of us. Instead, I focus on the fact that I documented my favorite dishes years ago; when I am craving comfort or feeling sentimental, I can pay tribute to her by attempting to create her dishes on my own.

With everything set to bake, I noticed that there was an oven temperature on the recipe, but not a set time for how long the cakes should bake. Perplexed, I phoned my Dad, hoping he might have this important information. “Bake it until it’s done,” he responded. “Um, well of course that is the obvious answer, but am I supposed to do the tooth pick check in 30 minutes or an hour?” I quipped. I could hear his smile as he told me to hold on. His voice trailed off as he posed the question to my Mamma, who happened to be sitting next to him. He chuckled and said, “She said to bake it until it’s done.” We both laughed, and I joked, “I guess I should add a pinch of salt and a dash of vanilla extract as well, huh?”

A few hours later, the cakes were cooled and the icing….well….the sugar just refused to dissolve. I found myself on the phone again with my Dad, trying to figure out what I had done wrong. Turns out you shouldn’t get fancy and healthy by using raw sugar, you should just stick with the bad stuff when it comes to baking. The bad news – crunchy, hard icing doesn’t spread well, nor does it emulate THE chocolate cake I had been dreaming of the last 28 days. The good news – I have the recipe, so I can try again and again until I am able to imitate the wavy knife patterns my Mamma made to sculpt each cake.

I’m sure we all have favorite dishes our grandmothers’ have cooked for us. Whether it’s cake, pie, or meatloaf and mashed potatoes….somehow certain foods conjure up memories that last a lifetime. If we are lucky enough, someone in our family has inquired and learned how to cook these meals so that the secret family recipes can live on and be passed from generation to generation.

So I ask, “What’s your favorite dish your grandmother makes or made for you? Do you have the recipe?”

Carrie Robertson
Research & Community Education

Chicago Skilled Nursing
Chicago Senior Living


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