Grist for the Mill
Early September, and nights have turned cool, skies have cleared of smoke, and daytime temperatures only flirt with 90 degrees. September will no doubt bring more 100 degree days, and yet the one autumn note still missing, that irrefutable scent of fall, will come to our nostrils.
Fall conjures harvest, even in this clime where— blessed us—each month of the year allows some harvest or another. Since my husband Earl and I started this magazine twelve plus years ago, we have eaten the local harvest. Right now, as summer-ripened tomatoes make my eyes vibrate with their deep colors and my mind immerses in magazine production, it’s hard to recall eating any other way.
And yet, truth is, Alzheimer’s disease has fashioned a different relationship with food. One way the trajectory of Earl’s disease can be marked is by his food choices and our behaviors around food.
First, bananas. He’s always liked bananas. He’s finished countless multi-mile runs by peeling a banana and downing it. Now bananas mark and sooth many an agitated expression of the disease. His record is eating seven bananas in an hour. I worried about overconsumption, his doctor reassured me. Eventually, as his trousers went up one size and then two, I came to leave just a couple of bananas in the fruit bowl and hid the rest of the bunch in the pantry. When the contagion of his agitation swooped me up too, I often reached into the pantry and pulled out a banana in hopes of calming us.
The same with milk. He drank it like an adolescent athlete, some days a whole gallon. Once he drank a glass of milk that was half maple syrup, a clear demarcation line half way up the glass. His face never revealed when the one flavor gave way to the other.
As for meals, one night I prepared a fulsome dinner, spatchcocking a chicken and grilling it, roasting a bounty of vegetables that had taken an hour to wash and chop. We sat down and ate, talking about each bite. I had no sooner gotten our plates in the dishwasher and scrubbed the roasting pan when Earl asked, perfectly innocently, “What are we having for dinner?” I came to rely on the one-pot approach, everything seasonal into a crock or soup pot or into a salad. We visited Bacio’s to-go counter or OM Foods to bring home the healthful meals those expert cooks prepared.
Now that Earl lives in a memory care community, the texture of his meals is soft, the portions measured. You couldn’t say the meals use local, or real, or even seasonal ingredients. He enjoys them. So I have come to appreciate the many impediments, logistical and personal, to eating real food, locally and seasonally sourced. Alzheimer’s is a relentless and ruthless thief, a wracking and humbling disease. But there are moments: as Earl’s teeth crunch into a just-picked apple, and in chewing it, he releases the full measure of this fall’s juice, his pleasure makes me see that here and now are all there is.
These pages are a way to share that here and now: meat, almonds, apples, beets harvested in fall. We hope you savor them.
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