Nana’s Cabbage Soup

IMG_0261.jpgBy Em Jacoby. Part of our series on food and discipleship

Nana is incomprehensible these days. We can laugh together, and occasionally a name will come from her lips that connects to a person in her long life, but most of the time we are laughing because she talks as much as ever and it is beyond recognition. Last time I visited her, I laughed until I wept. I pray for her to leave this earth, but Alzheimers has its cruel course and I must witness it.

When I think of Nana in the kitchen, I see her filling a plastic wine goblet from a box of pink Franzia as she preheats the oven for a frozen pizza. On a special occasion, take-and-bake pizza was the extravagant choice and the paper plates might have had designs instead of being the ones so thin that two were necessary to manage the grease. Just brush the crumbs off and save the plate for later, whenever you could. Oh salad might be offered, the bagged pale iceberg lettuce with shreds of carrots and purple cabbage and ranch dressing. But always optional. My favorite was waking up in the morning to find her sipping coffee at the glass kitchen table and waiting for the cinnamon rolls (cracked open from a store-bought tube) to bake. She’d always bake a second tube if we were hungry enough.

My kitchen contrasts incredibly, locally grown arugula and balsamic dressing whipped up minutes before dinner, dough rising in the mixer to roll out for pizza crust and garlic and onion, grown my sister’s farm, ready for peeling (don’t forget to compost). But the more I reflect on my experience in the kitchen, the more I realize she has indeed made significant influences on me.

Nana was an absolute extrovert. If home without company, she was on the phone – drinking coffee or wine. Water, hell no. She was soft and sweet to strangers, and snappy and sassy to those who were close. “I’ll rip your face off!” was one of her sayings that my siblings and I repeated most. But always, I remember that conversation was a reason to sit and sip. And I do that now. When I visit my sister, we often find ourselves sitting and sipping and realizing how little we sit and how rarely coffee or tea is hot by the time we drink it in our routine lives. When I have a friend over during the day, I rest on the couch talking and sipping.

One of Nana’s sayings was that one should always eat dessert first, to avoid being too full to miss it. Dessert is my specialty. I love to bake and experiment with anything sweet. Even as I type this, I am eating a pastry and dinner is about an hour away.

Finally, the idea that motivates me constantly in the kitchen, Nana always exhibited that food has to taste good, not look pretty. If it is both, then you are lucky. When eating out, Nana always ordered soup. The greener and lumpier, the better. One of the few things she cooked regularly was soup and a hilarious recipe in her handwriting is included here. Such a good example, Nana includes V-8 and Lipton soup in a “recipe”.

I love her and I miss her and who she was before Alzheimers. I hope I can continue in my children the appreciation for shared sips, dessert and food that tastes good (though ugly) that Nana helped develop in me. Thank you, Nana.

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