The Determined Cook

Mom preparing Thanksgiving leftovers with three eager helpers...

Mom preparing Thanksgiving leftovers with three eager helpers…

This day before Christmas Eve, my mother has already cooked an early breakfast for my brother, who stopped by with her gift, cooked two batches of pralines, and baked an apple pie. She’s up there right now doing the baking dishes and she plans to make fried eggplant for dinner.

This may not sound like much, but Mom has been at it since before Thanksgiving. Last spring, Diamondqueen and I were worried about the holidays and how we were going to pitch in to help make Thanksgiving dinner (I’m a lousy cook, Diamondqueen is a reluctant one) and whether there would be any cookie baking with the grandkids.

At the time of our worries, Mom was going through hell with her newly diagnosed spinal stenosis. Incredibly painful bouts were hitting her regularly. Even when she didn’t take to her bed, she wasn’t up to standing long enough to cook anything. So, to add punishment to pain, she had to depend on me to make eggs or warm up a can of soup.

Over the months, she made gradual improvement. One big step was her decision to stop taking strong prescription painkillers. Ever sensitive to pharmaceuticals, Mom was knocked senseless by these aids, one big reason she had to take to her bed. Then she made the momentous decision to seek chiropractic care. Mom made strides so eventually the treatments decreased to a single visit per month. She also started riding a stationery bike, building up slowly until she now faithfully completes a half hour a day broken into manageable segments. But she does them, even if she’s in discomfort. (More about Mom’s battle here.)

Mom credits her improvement to these treatments and lifestyle adjustments, but she doesn’t give herself enough credit. Her attitude changed as her pain decreased, and she became braver about not letting one of her bouts literally take her legs out from under her. She also became more adventurous outside the home. Even as recently as midsummer I wondered if she’d ever want to walk around an antique mall again. I can now report we’ve been to several throughout the fall. Yes, she paces herself, but at 81 her endurance would be impressive even without the spinal stenosis.

In early November she started preparing for Thanksgiving. We made some decisions: Large turkey breasts instead of whole (heavy) turkeys, no fried cauliflower or sauteed vegetable medley, which required careful timing or lots of prepration. Mom baked the apple pies ahead of time as well as the rolls and froze them; she cooked baked beans and sweet potatoes the day before (which we all believed improved them anyhow). Even with these precautions, Mom was on her feet all Thanksgiving morning. However, at noon we all gathered around a table laden with a feast Mom had prepared herself. If we could have looked ahead to that moment last spring, the days might not have been so dark and troubling.

Since then Mom has baked cookies for St. Nicholas (including my prized cheese-and-apricot cookies), conducted two separate cookie-baking get-togethers for her grandkids and great-grandkids, made fudge and batches of cookies for Christmas proper, and meanwhile kept up with daily cooking, including repasts on Sundays when Diamondqueen and the Hooligans visit. (Granted, these Sunday meals are slightly more modest than what she used to cook, unless she does a roast, but there’s always an interesting entree and a fabulous dessert. Yesterday it was a savory cheese riso casserole and cranberry chess tarts.)

I know these accomplishments were important to my mother. She’s tackled these last two months like a marathoner driving up the final hills in a race. Hopefully the hardest part is behind her. Christmas Eve dinner with the Hooligan family is wontons (which I actually can help prepare) and various cold cuts and chips. She does a fantastic cranberry chicken dish for just the two of us on Christmas day and is hoping to make a trifle, but even if she isn’t up to it, the triumph is already won. I’d gladly eat warmed-up wontons and leftover cookies for Christmas Day dinner, if necessary, because we’ve already feasted so richly these past weeks on Mom’s fantastic cooking. And, for me at least, that is where this holiday’s miracle truly lies.

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