Clearing Out Your Parents’ Kitchen
With the new year, there’s the feeling of needing to clear out the clutter and have a fresh start. The same goes for getting the kitchen in order to begin everything on a good note. Of course, I’d like to say that I did that for myself, especially when I opened up the freezer today and saw all the things I’ve crammed into the slots in the door, remnants of various cooking projects. Nope, instead, I tackled my parent’s fridge, cupboards, and downstairs freezer unit when I was in Virginia during the holidays.
My excuse is that my parents really do need to get a new computer and set up wi-fi, which would keep me occupied with my laptop and all the work that I’d planned to do when I was at their house during the Christmas weekend. Waiting for pages to load on their creaky desktop (an antique by modern standards) is worse than watching paint dry or timing the races of the centipedes that invade the basement, so I end up searching for other things to do to keep busy while waiting for the other members of my family to show up so that I have nieces and nephews to play with.
To be clear, I did sort of have my dad’s permission when I did this. At least, he kind of supervised me. I would say things like, “Really, you will use this frozen buttermilk that has been here for four years?” “Well, now that you mention it, probably not,” he’d reply. I also like to throw words in there such as “food poisoning” and remind him that he now has grandchildren to consider when hanging on to old food. By contrast, he feels I’m too hung up on things like expiry dates, which he thinks companies just put there to make you buy more goods.
When was allspice 69 cents? Made in Baltimore, yeah it’s way over 15 years old.
The real reason behind all of this cleaning and reorganization is actually a very sad one. My mom suffered a series of strokes a little over two years ago. She is now fed via a tube in her stomach and can’t really talk anymore. She has round-the-clock care and is confined to a bed, although she is at home where we can all see her and try to interact with her. My father has gone back to his bachelor eating patterns: toast and omelet for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, grilled chicken and salad for dinner, with the occasional can of soup thrown in there for a bit of variety.
When I visit them, I’m usually the one who fixes dinner, which was also one of my chores when I was in high school. One of my younger sisters told me a few years ago that her main memory of me from that time before I left for college was that of me preparing the evening meal almost every day. I don’t recall that, but I do know that I learned to make large batches of lots of things to feed everyone, which became a challenge when I moved out on my own. All my recipes were scaled for a family of 8!
So, I do consider the kitchen as part of my domain when I am back home for a visit. I take pleasure in planning menus that everyone in the family will enjoy eating, no small challenge with a group as large as ours. It also gives me a chance to pull out cards from my mother’s recipe box and attempt to decipher her instructions. When I’m there, I like to give my dad a break from his usual menu rotation so I fix things like the big pan of lasagna or a large batch of spaghetti and meatballs which make enough to feed the assembled crowd and give him some leftovers.
That Giant Food logo is pretty old.
My mom had been an adventurous cook, something I think she passed on to her children. It’s no wonder, then, that I found a vial of rose water, a jar of saffron, and a canister of tandoori spice shoved in the back of one of the cabinets. She was always trying out new cuisines and flavors which, although the dishes weren’t always winners, I have come to admire. From her, I learned about the basics as well as the thrill of trying something new, whether or not the results came out exactly right. She knew how to make hearty, filling meals to satisfy a passel of hungry kids.
I guess this extra care, as intrusive as it can be, is part of the rite of transition when we start to look after our parents, but I certainly wasn’t ready for it when it happened. About four extra bags of trash later, my father had had enough of my little cleaning project and forbade me from pulling anything else out of the food storage units in the house. I think he might have been afraid that I was going to declare that his beer had “expired” as a way of explaining the extra empty bottles that appeared when my brother and I were left to our own devices when he’d already gone to bed. At the same time I’m really glad that I don’t have to second-guess the last time the oatmeal was refreshed.
Does anyone want a cup of tea?