Saturday, August 20, 2011

Crying and Cooking

On Wednesday night, my grandmother finally finished her agonizing 5-month battle with bronchoalveolar carcinoma, (a rare and rapidly spreading form of lung cancer).  I was her main caretaker for the last 3 months.  I gave up my summer to care for her and my grandfather and to help my family.  At the beginning, I thought it would be a slow, easy summer at home before my last busy year of college.  I could never have been more wrong.  Every day was a new challenge, both mentally and physically, for everyone involved.  I cooked, cleaned, gave meds, ran errands, did laundry, mowed the lawn, helped Hospice, and changed diapers.  I was there seven days a week, 14 hours a day.  The days ran into one another, and then so did the weeks.  All of a sudden it's the end of summer, I go back to school in two weeks, and I can't figure out where summer went.

Well, I think I have an idea.  My summer was spent caring for the woman that raised me while my mother worked long hours.  It was spent being there for the people that loved me most when they most needed me.  This summer, I learned things I never knew about my grandparents' marriage, my family's past, and myself.  I discovered that there was so much more to these two people than just being "Gram and Grampie".  I became my grandmother's best friend.  She would refuse to talk to other members of my family, and wouldn't trust another soul with her medications.  Whenever I would try to sneak away for a day, she would sob hysterically and yell, "I want my Hannah."  I always was "her Hannah".  I was a grandma's girl from day one.

This summer definitely tested our relationship and my sanity.  As the cancer filled her lungs, it also strangled her spirit.  She became mean, ornery, and anxious.  She wanted it over with, and she was angry with us for not making it end faster.  As the cancer spread to her brain, she hallucinated bees in her room, thinking we were trying to kill her, and would cry about how she just wanted to go home.  I wasn't always strong enough to swallow her emotional outbursts.  I cried on the phone to my friends, called her some pretty strong names, and ran miles a day to release my frustrations.

I was there almost every single day for three months.  Then on Wednesday night, I left for ten minutes to get a toothbrush and a change of clothes, and she passed.  Her passing was something out of a romance movie.  Before I left she opened her eyes for the first time all day and looked at me.  When I left, she opened them again and stared at my mother for the first time probably all summer.  Then she started moving her eyes to the side as if she were looking for someone.  My mom told my grandfather to come to the other side of the bed.  He hobbled over, they locked eyes for a few seconds, he kissed her, and she went peacefully to sleep.

I am ok with death.  I do not fear it nor resent it.  I accept death as an end to peoples' suffering.  Death does not make me cry.  It is seeing other people cry that I cannot handle.  If someone dies in a movie, I am fine until I see another character mourning.  If I'm watching a sad movie, I won't blink until the person I'm watching it with starts to cry.  I didn't cry when I got the phone call from my mom, or when I went up to her room and we all sat silently around her bed.  It was when my stoic grandfather, who rarely smiled or spoke for the 21 years I'd known him, broke down into tears that did me in.  The look on his face was that of his heart shattering as he stared into the face of the woman he fell in love with 61 years ago.  All I could think of was my grandma retelling the story of how they met.  "I was 13 and he was 17..."

The past two days have been spent reminiscing and looking through old photos, listening to my grandfather tell the stories that go along with them.  Not all our memories of Gram are happy ones, but this time together remembering those times has been.  I leave tomorrow to lock myself up in my friend's apartment to study for the GRE, Rochelle leaves to go back home to Rochester, and our cousin, Cy, leaves for another cow show.  Yesterday Rochelle and I decided to cook and bake to leave enough food for everyone for a while after we're gone.  We made "squash stuff", stuffed zucchini, and Gram's famous saucepan brownies.  In order to spread her memory, I'd like to share her recipe with all of you. 

Patricia Conard's Saucepan Brownies

1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
Handful of chopped walnuts

Melt butter and cocoa together in a large saucepan over low heat.
When mixture is smooth, remove from heat.
Add sugar.  Don't worry.  It will look crystallized and gross.
Add eggs and vanilla.
Stir in flour.
Fold in walnuts.
Pour into a greased 9x13" pan and bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes.
Top with a semi-sweet chocolate buttercream.
They didn't turn out exactly like Gram's, but I'm going to make them again and again until I get them right.  My grandmother was a phenomenal baker, known especially for her pies and brownies.  I seem to be the only one in the family to have inherited her baking gene, so it is up to me to carry on her legacy in the kitchen.

We'll eat our brownies, raise our glasses of milk, and cheer, "here's to you, Gram".

Love and cookies,

Monday, August 15, 2011

Build Me Up Brownies

I know I've been saying for a while now that we think my grandmother will go at anytime, but unfortunately it just still hasn't happened.  Now, before you go thinking about what an awful person I am for saying that, hear me out.  I have been imprisoned on this farm in this suffocating town for 3 whole months.  I have had no social life, no time to study or choreograph my Zumba routines, and no time to just sit and think.  I have lost my sanity, my pleasant disposition, and my sense of self.  Each day I am either incredibly depressed or overwhelmed with rage.  I am exhausted, I cry a lot, I curse in every other sentence, and I eat hot fudge out of the jar.  I have become so inured to living solely for other people that when I get the chance to do something for myself, (aka- my own laundry), I feel like I hit the jackpot.

Now you must be thinking that I am incredibly selfish for thinking of myself when my grandmother is dying.  Well, stop.  You have to understand that the woman that was my grandmother is gone and she has been for a long time.  She has been replaced with a moaning, yelling, delirious, frustrating, vacant shell of the woman I used to know and love.  She wanted it all to end the minute she heard the diagnosis, and I'm starting to wish we'd just let her do it.  This is not living.  Not for her, not for me, nor my mother or grandfather.  Gram isn't the only one dying this summer.  We've all lost our livelihoods.

Unfortunately, I'm the only one with a light at the end of the tunnel.  Friday is my last day at the farm, regardless of what happens here.  I need time to study for the GRE, which I take in just 11 short days, and then get everything ready to go back to school in a little over two weeks.  I will be stressed and extremely pressed for time, but at this point, I'll take whatever I can get.  I am going to get some form of a life back.

Even though I'm still at the farm and doing way more than I should, I'm trying to buckle down and study this week.  I have finally put my foot down on doing random, extra farm and housework.  I have a test to take that determines the rest of my life, and I'll be damned if anyone is going to deny me entrance to grad school because someone needed the barn swept or a cobweb dusted. 

Normally when I stress over an exam, I stress-eat.  I've really been working hard at breaking my habit of eating to soothe my emotions, and I can't afford to let this test throw me off track again.  I have been really careful about monitoring the grocery shopping to keep dangerous snack foods out of the house this week.  Of course, my hormones have really bad timing, and I've been CRAVING a brownie for over a week.  I don't want to bring unhealthy foods into the house at this point in time, so I decided I'd make a batch of (cover your ears) HEALTHY brownies!  I know, I know, my family thinks it's blasphemy too.  But trust me, they're awesome.

Whenever I am looking for a healthy or vegan sweets recipe, I always turn to (never home)maker first.  (Even though I've never met them, Ashley and Stephen are my inspiration for blogging.)  I wanted to use canned pumpkin in the brownies, but all the recipes you can find using that are just with a box mix.  I found this awesome recipe, and just made a few changes according to my personal preferences and what I had on hand.  So, without further ado: my healthy study-snack brownies.

Healthy Brownies
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup rolled oats (uncooked)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbs melted coconut oil (or other oil of your choice)
2/3 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 prepared Egg Replacer egg
chocolate chips (to your liking)
walnuts (to your liking)

Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix together wet ingredients in separate bowl.
Pour wet ingredients into the dry, stir until moist, then fold in chocolate chips and nuts.
Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes.
I know, they don't look super appetizing, but trust me on this one.
 My family hates them, and asked why I don't make them real food, but I don't care at this point.  I am done living to please them.  I am on a journey back to my own life.  I am going to make (and eat!) the foods I like, study as much as I can, and rediscover what it means to smile.  In the mean time, I am going to bake, run, dance, and listen to this song, attempting to survive the next four days.
My GRE study cave

Here's to living.
Love and cookies,

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Garden Glory

We must have had the right mix of weather in the last week because our garden is overflowing with vegetables.  We have so many beans, squash, and zucchini that we have to give them away so they don't go to waste.  Blackberries have also come into season, and they are dark and plump and perfect.  As nice as it sounds to just be bombarded with fresh (and free!) fruits and veggies, there is always a downside.  It means extra work for me and my mom.  Everything has to be picked and then eaten, cooked, canned or frozen.  Every day there is always a new produce-related project. 
Mother and daughter pre-blackberry picking
As wonderful and supportive as my friends have been the last few days, I can't help but feel drained and knocked down by my family.  My grandma has been a real piece of work, my grandfather increasingly demanding with his food and dessert orders, and my uncle and cousin never have one positive thing to say to me.  No matter how hard I work, nothing is ever good enough for these people. 

The Blackberry Peach pie from Monday is already gone (the one my uncle scoffed at for looking like a "vegetarian pie" and then proceeded to eat nearly half).  Everyone keeps dropping their not-so-subtle hints that the desserts are gone.  "There's no more blueberry pudding left, huh?" and "Oh, the pie's gone," or my personal favorite, "Hannah, there's nothin' to eat in this house, what've you been doin', layin' around all day?

I am sick of making pie crusts and am sick of eating blueberry pudding, so I decided that it was time to make effective use of all this pesky zucchini and make zucchini bars.  I can't seem to find my favorite recipe for it, so I tried out this one here, with a few adaptations (less sugar, more cinnamon, adding nutmeg, and a different frosting).  It's not quite what I normally make, but there's plenty of zucchini left so I'll keep trying.

Zucchini Bars

1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 cups fresh zucchini, peeled, shredded, and squeezed
1/2 cup raisins (soaked)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Peel and grate one extremely large or several small zucchinis (this can get messy)
Beat together oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until well combined.
In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients.
Mix wet and dry ingredients together.
Fold in zucchini, nuts, and raisins.  Then pour into a well-greased baking pan.
Bake at 350°F for 25-30 minutes until golden brown on top.
Allow to cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
Beat together 8 oz cream cheese, 3 cups confectioners' sugar and 1 tsp vanilla.  Spread on bars.
Store pan in refrigerator.  Cut into triangles before serving.
The official countdown for going back to Wesleyan is now under one month, (I go back September 3rd), and the days can't possibly go fast enough.  Don't get me wrong, I do love my family, and am glad I was able to help out this summer, but this is not my life.  I miss my friends, my routine, and being productive.  One month left.  I can do this.

Wishing you a better summer,
Love and cookies,

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pie Pandemonium

Well, the blueberry pie is gone and, unfortunately, so is gram's quiet, relaxed state.  Things are a mess here once again.  Gram is back to moaning and sobbing and being hysterical.  It seems like every time I think that things are calm enough to sneak away to the pool for a few minutes, she starts up again.  I can't win. 

Luckily things haven't been all bad.  On Saturday I got to ride out to my friend Alyssa's roommate's grad party out in Marathon, NY.  We got lost, argued with the GPS, but the good company, margaritas, and cake made it all worth it.  On Sunday I got to sleep in a little, go for a run and do a little yard Zumba with Alyssa, and do my laundry.  My younger sister also came home for a few days.  This afternoon, after all the Hospice people left, we got to have a little girls' time at the pool.  Tonight, we're planning on some wine in the hot tub and a fire.  We're just trying for a little normalcy here.

Yesterday, my grandfather said to me with a sad look in his eye, "that pie's just about gone already, isn't it?"  That is his subtle way of saying, "Hannah, make me another pie."  My family really misses my grandma's pies, and they have been disappearing at an unprecedented rate (about one pie every three days).  I personally don't even really like fruit pies.  My raisin-hating roommate last semester always said, "Don't put fruit in my dessert."  Well, I sort of agree, but for the opposite reason.  Don't put dessert in my fruit.  I love pure, raw fruit.  I think added a ton of butter and sugar to it ruins it.  

I was getting kind of sick of blueberry pie, so I decided to switch it up a bit.  We still have to use up the frozen blackberries before they come into season again, so I thought I'd mix those with some of the peaches that are practically overflowing in our fruit basket.  I present to you:

Peach Blackberry Pie w/ Crumb Topping:

One-Crust Pie Shell:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup + 1 Tbs vegetable shortening
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbs cold water

For step by step photos, see this post.  Sift together flour and salt, cut in shortening until it forms small peas.  Sprinkle water over top.  Mix together with your hands, form into a ball.  Roll out on a well floured surface, fold it in half, then in half again.  Transfer to pie plate and unfold.

My grandmother always fluted the edges of her pies with a fork, so I decided to carry on her mark.

Ingredients for Filling:
3-4 cups frozen blackberries (mostly thawed, drained)
1 cup sliced and skinned fresh peaches
7/8 cup granulated sugar
5 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 Tbs butter

Gently mix together all ingredients except butter.  Pour into pie shell and dot with butter.
Make crumb topping: equal parts brown sugar and flour, with enough butter cut in to form small peas throughout.
VERY generously cover pie with topping.
Bake at 425°F for 25-35 minutes, until filling is bubbly and the crumb topping and pie shell are golden brown.

For not loving pie, this one is certainly amazing.  I fell in love with this pie.  The filling is not overly sweet, and the crumb topping adds just the correct amount of sugar and lightly crunchy texture.  After an hour at the pool, delicious pie and wine in my belly, and being surrounded by friends, I will go to sleep one happy girl tonight.

Here's hoping you're finding your sunshine too.
Love and cookies,