Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dress up cole slaw with apples

I'm not a big fan of cole slaw. No offense to our local barbecue establishments, but I really don't like the yellow side dish that so many people, including my husband, team with pork barbecue.

But for some strange reason, I decided to try apple cole slaw at a seafood restaurant in Wrightsville Beach several years ago, and I loved it. I made sure I got it on a return trip to the restaurant a year later.

I looked on the Internet for a recipe for apple cole slaw, and I found many, but I never made it at home until last week.

I had been craving seafood, so I planned a shrimp dinner for my husband and me. We had eaten so many green salads in recent weeks, and I really didn't want another one. But the apple cole slaw came to mind as a good side dish for our meal.

I went back online and looked at many recipes. One looked vaguely familiar, using a similar dressing to the one I mix into a broccoli and apple salad. We love that salad, so I decided to go the easy route and use that dressing recipe.

I also had no intention of grating cabbage, so I bought a bag of broccoli slaw mix that contained shredded cabbage, broccoli and carrots. The mix is a good source of both Vitamin A and Vitamin C.

Making the slaw couldn't be simpler. To the slaw mix, which I washed first, I added a chopped Red Delicious apple. Then I mixed in my dressing of mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar. It was ready in less than 10 minutes.

I really enjoyed this simple side dish. The different textures of the fruit and vegetables made a nice combination, and the slightly sweet dressing was a good complement. I didn't think it would be good the next day, but it was very tasty and the apple and vegetables were still crunchy.

Next time I make it, I'll probably add in some celery. It's certainly a recipe that can be added to easily.

Apple Cole Slaw
  • 1 12 oz. package broccoli slaw mix
  • 1 large Red Delicious apple, diced
  • 3/8 cup mayonnaise (I use reduced fat.)
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
Toss slaw mix with apple.
Mix dressing ingredients and stir into slaw mixture.
Chill until ready to serve.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Shared lives

It's over.
That's what I told my sister when I called her Friday afternoon with news that Mama had died.
It was over: the pain, the breathing difficulties, the skin breakdowns of recent days. But beyond that, the evils of Alzheimer's were also over: her yearnings for home, struggles remembering, frustration with failure, loss of appetite, anger and tears.
But the tears are not over for us, neither is the sadness. No, on the contrary, we still have quite a battle to fight. We have to learn how to live without our dear, dear mother.
Susan and I were blessed with one of the sweetest mamas anyone could ask for. She was our biggest supporter, our cheerleader, our hand-holder, our confidante, our friend.
When Reggie and I bought a house soon after our marriage, we chose to live on the same street as my parents, just five doors between us, I've said many times. So, in effect, we lived shared lives.
We went to the same church; ate together on Saturday nights; saw each other daily when I dropped off the kids on the way to work or picked them up in the evening. We went on day trips together, traveled in my van to family birthday parties, and went out to dinner at favorite restaurants. We watched basketball games together and made snow cream together. We spent many long summer evenings on their front porch or under our carport, watching the kids play in the yard, eating ice cream and just chatting. We got excited whenever Susan and the girls came to spend a week in the summer.
Each night before bedtime, I'd call Mama to say goodnight. She said it made her feel good to know I was OK. Truth is, it made me feel good knowing she and Daddy were at home and OK.
As they began to age and forgetfulness that turned out to be Alzheimer's set in, the phone was often off the hook when I'd call at night. We'd worry, and Reggie would put his coat on over his pajamas and walk down the street to make sure everything was OK.
As the years went by, Mama couldn't answer the phone anymore, so Daddy would answer and hand it over to her. We'd have a brief, happy chat, and I'd try to convince myself that everything was OK. It helped me sleep, pretending everything was OK. But as the years went by, I didn't even bother trying to make myself feel better. Of course Mama was sick, and she'd just get sicker.
She couldn't remember which end of the phone to talk into, and eventually she didn't really understand the concept of talking on the phone. And by the time overnight sitters were staying, I gave up on our nightly calls.
Our shared lives were ending.
There are so many things I will miss about my mother. Some were lost even before her death. I haven't tasted her fried chicken, meatloaf or banana nut bread in many years. And I don't remember our last meaningful conversation or the last Valentine's card she gave me or the last time she bought me a birthday present. But I do remember the first time she forgot my wedding anniversary.
I will miss cooking for Mama, buying her pretty clothes, taking her to visit her sister, Margaret, on Sunday afternoons.
I will miss her beautiful smile, her clear blue eyes, her laugh.
I will miss our walks around her yard, looking for crocus, or the first bloom on the miniature rose bush she got when I was born, or the first bud on the tulip tree.
I will miss holding Mama's hand, and I will miss her hugs. Oh God, I will miss her hugs. How will I get through these next hard weeks without my Mama's hugs?
But you know what I'll miss most of all? I'll miss the happiness, the fulfillment we all felt when we were truly living shared lives.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

An Italian-style dinner

It's going to be awhile before Wilson's Olive Garden opens, but there's no reason why you can't enjoy one of the restaurant's signature soups before then.

A simple Internet search of copycat Olive Garden menu items yields a treasure trove of recipes, including many for Pasta E Fagiola. (The Americanized pronunciation of this recipe is pasta fazool.) This hearty Italian vegetable soup features pasta and beans, as its name suggests.

At first thought, I'd never imagine that beans and pasta would go well together. The textures are too similar. But I was wrong. The combination is, in fact, a tasty one, and the textures actually complement each other. But this soup has more going for it than the pasta and beans. It's packed with tomatoes, ground beef, carrots, onion and celery -- all favorite ingredients of mine.

I made this soup recipe in my slow cooker because of time constraints, but it could very easily be cooked on the stove.

This is another easy soup recipe that takes very little time to put together. While the ground beef was browning, I chopped the vegetables and added them to the beef while it cooked to give them a jump start. Then I poured the ingredients into the slow cooker. I was thankful I had a slow cooker liner for this messy recipe!

Beware: If you make the full recipe, you will need a large slow cooker. My 5-quart cooker was brimming with soup by the time everything was added. I really though it was going to overflow, but it didn't!

I don't have a lot of tips for this straight-forward recipe. I do recommend finely chopping the vegetables so they will be tender after cooking, and I drained and rinsed my beans before adding them to the mixture.

But the biggest tip involves the pasta. The original recipe suggests cooking the pasta in the soup in the last 30 minutes of cooking time. Don't do it. The pasta will absorb much of the soup's moisture and lose it's "bite." Also, when you have leftovers (Unless you're entertaining a crowd, you will have leftovers!) you don't have to worry about swollen pasta in your soup.

Instead, cook the pasta separately and stir it into individual soup bowls when you're ready to eat. I chose ditalini (a small tube pasta) and loved the way it looked in the soup. Ditalini's size is also perfect for this soup. Elbows would work well, too.

My family sprinkled Parmesan cheese over the hot soup in our bowls, creating a wonderful, stringy, cheesy treat.

I didn't have time to make bread sticks to go with our soup, but they sure would have made a wonderful addition!

Pasta E Fagiola
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped carrots
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 (16 ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (16 ounce) can white kidney beans or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 (14 ounce) cans reduced fat, reduced sodium beef broth
  • 3 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 (26 ounce) jar spaghetti sauce (I use Ragu Parmesan and Romano.)
  • 8 ounces pasta (I use ditalini.)
  • Parmesan cheese
Brown beef in a skillet. While beef browns, chop vegetables and add to meat.

Drain fat and rinse.

Add all ingredients, except pasta and Parmesan cheese, to 5-quart slow cooker.

Cook on low 7-8 hours or high 5-6 hours.

When soup is ready, cook pasta and drain. Pour soup into serving bowls and stir in desired amount of pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Serves 12-14.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


As I sat by Mama's bedside Sunday evening, I noticed a tear rolling down her left cheek. Was it really a tear? Was she crying? Had she heard me crying just moments before?
Oh how I wished I could comfort her, could put my arms around her and give her a big hug, and we could sob in each other arms to release the tension of three weeks in a palliative care unit. But I hesitate to even hold her hand now because when I do, her breathing pattern changes, and the look on her face indicates she's in pain.
I wiped away the single tear and sobbed some more. I'd give anything if I could comfort Mama right now. If I could lessen her pain. If I could make it all better.
How many times has she comforted me? Of course she was there when I was a baby and needed my mama's touch to go to sleep or to make a fever all better. But she was also there to hold me when someone made fun of the way I ran. She said the right things when my kindergarten friend moved away. She listened to me cry when I got frustrated over homework, and she held me tight when my cat Bootsie died.
Throughout my adulthood, she was there as well. She offered comfort with soothing words after a long night with a crying baby. She gave a tight hug when I was sad.
Comfort comes in many forms, and sometimes it was a pot of rice for me or one of my children who had been sick. Other times, it was a lemon cake to cheer me up or a Saturday night dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes.
All comforting. All from Mama.
Over the last dozen or so years, Mama has needed a lot of comfort. Alzheimer's is not an easy diagnosis to accept, and its many attributes are anything but comforting. Many times I reassured Mama that we would take care of her. Many times I told her we'd do all we could to make her feel better, to make things easier for her. Many times I just held her and we cried.
When Daddy died in March, Mama needed much comfort. She needed someone to sit beside her and just hold her hand, just like Daddy used to. So we sat on her couch and held her hand. Family members, neighbors, caregivers. The simple touch of joined hands brought her some comfort through her grief.
But now, I can't even do that. I don't want to hurt her, and to be honest, I don't like the feel of her swollen hand, the strange clamminess of her skin, the totally lack of movement in her fingers. It's not my Mama's hand anymore.
How sad that in the moment Mama and I need comfort the most, we cannot give it to each other. How terribly sad.