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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Christmas Caregiver Memories and "Heart Pictures"

One of my favorite Christmas caregiver memories is the "heart picture" I have of the time I prepared Christmas dinner with a 96 year old lady, who was in a wheelchair and on oxygen, for about 20 of her relatives and friends. Because she was born in 1908 she was an expert on old fashioned cooking from scratch, no mixes or frozen food. I treasured having the opportunity to share these times with her and learn her secret vintage cooking and baking recipes.

About a week before Christmas we bought several turkeys and stored them in her extra fridge. A few days before Christmas we began baking and cooking. We baked cornbread from scratch, no mixes, and made cornbread stuffing the way her mama did. For pies we made our own crusts and pie filling from fresh fruit. She didn't look in a cook book. She knew the ingredients by heart and it was "a pinch of this, a pinch of that," and then checking for texture and taste. We used fresh cranberries and fresh produce for everything.

Her special baked yam casserole with marshmellows had secret ingredients and spices that made it incredible. As we continued preparing food both of her refrigerators and freezers filled up.

I did the heavy lifting of the turkeys, of course, but we sat together at the kitchen table talking recipes and her life history while we mixed, cut up vegetables, and stirred. The house smelled so homey with the pie spices and other seasonings in the air.

On Christmas Day we loaded everything into the trunk and backseat of her car and drove about 60 miles to her relatives' house. It's warm in California on Christmas, so they had chairs and tables outdoors.

We set up all the foods on long tables and added the salads and other goodies that others brought. We wound up with enough food for 40 or 50 people and everyone was able to take leftovers home.

It was a Christmas Dinner prepared by someone with cooking skills going back to the early 19th century. You can't get that in a restaurant, or out of a mix.

But best of all, she and I had shared an experience that made a beautiful memory, a "heart picture" during the holidays.

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