By Pam Vukelic
My father was 90, as I recall, when he said, “I suppose I should quit eating butter and start eating margarine instead.” His comment was met with a resounding, “No!” from his loved ones. We couldn’t imagine why, during what would surely be the last several years of his life, he should forego the joy of butter on his toast, cream on his bread, and gravy on his potatoes. Those simple pleasures were worth far more than any nutritional benefit derived from reducing the fat content in his diet. Incidentally, all those years of eating everyone else’s fat trimmings from pork chops had not seemed to have had a deleterious effect on his health.
GOOD FOOD, HAPPY PEOPLE
Recently, I spent some time at Bismarck’s Edgewood Vista and Village. Kristie Petersen, dietary director, estimates that 75 percent of the happiness of residents is associated in some way with food.
“Some of the decisions about food are still yours to be made when many other decisions are not,” Kristie says. “This is a part of life where people feel they still have some control.”
The social aspect of joining others, those whose company you choose, might be the highlight of the day. Memories are evoked when there is conversation about the fact that, although the meatloaf is OK, it is not as good as my mom or wife used to make. (Kristie now uses the “better” recipe.) Something as simple as a cookie can spark a memory in a person with dementia and evoke a smile. It comes as no surprise that one of the favorite meals, especially at the table of former Linton area residents, consists of cheese buttons, sauerkraut, sausage, and kuchen. Lutefisk, unsurprisingly, did not garner similar accolades; however, my father could down a whole platter of the notorious cod, doused, of course, in melted butter.
In an assisted living facility, residents make many food decisions every day. These are some of the questions I would have to answer if I lived there at Edgewood, for example:
Do I want popcorn while watching a movie in the theatre?
Should I go to The Pub for green beer on St. Patrick’s Day?
Should I invite my friends to join me for the prime rib special sandwich at the Hazelnut Coffee Shop?
What shall I choose from the items available at the bake sale?
Wouldn’t the dining room like to use the parsley and basil that Mickey (a resident) has grown in her little garden?
A piece of wedding cake might top off the renewal-of-vows ceremony, right after the fashion show of wedding dresses resurrected from the dusty, tissue-lined boxes scrunched a bit after decades of storage.
Do I want to eat my tacos-in-a-bag inside or outside during the car and motorcycle show?
At the Snow Ball, do I choose wine or a sparkling beverage to drink with my shrimp and prime rib?
Employees and staff bring in items to sell at the monthly bake sale. Residents begin lining up at the doors 30 minutes before they open to snag the best treats. Items such as Kristie’s Date Cookies, made with her Grandma Shea’s recipe, go fast. In fact, many of them have been spoken for ahead of time. Lefse and other seasonal specialties are hits with the residents.
I’m reminded that the happiness associated with food flows not only to the senior population but also from it. Every holiday season, Grandma Irene’s grandchildren looked forward to the ice cream buckets full of her rolled sugar cookies (Irene is my husband’s mother). Sometimes, the girl cousins got together to decorate them. Sometimes, they were sent across the country to scattered grandchildren. Sometimes, they traveled across the world to our deployed son, Reed.
Our daughter, Meredith, took photos of her grandmother’s marked-up, grease-smudged recipe cards and created a book, copies of which were distributed to family. Grandma Irene sat at our kitchen table that year engaged in a laugh-filled book signing celebration. This year, with all the new little people at our kitchen table, we continued the cookie-decorating tradition. There was so much delight in both the decorating and the eating! As a bonus, another generation will have memories to recall and experiences to share.
Pam has an appreciation for the many contributions food makes in our lives. In addition to being a source of happiness and nutrition, food preserves traditions, enhances family celebrations, preserves ethnic ties, and is a means of showing gratitude.
Grandma Shea’s Date Cookies
(Grandma Shea is Kristie’s grandmother)
5 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoons soda
1 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup sour cream
Filling – cook until thick
1 cup water
1 tablespoon flour
½ cup sugar
2 cups dates
Mix shortening, eggs, vanilla, and sour cream. Blend in dry ingredients. Chill. Roll very thin and fill with date mixture. Bake at 425 degrees F until golden brown.
Grandma Irene’s Sugar Cookies
(Grandma Irene is Pam’s mother-in-law)
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup shortening
1 ¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix all and chill one hour before rolling. Bake 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees F.