In celebration of my finally managing to tie a head scarf on single-handed*, I present more soup!
Original from here: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/nov/25/winter-vegetable-soup-recipes-ribollita-squash-and-pasta-thomasina-miers, amended to sweet potato as, whilst I like squash, life is arguably too short to spend a Sunday afternoon peeling one of the frackers, even with Planet Rock’s Blues Brunch grooving on down in the background…..
*I’m sure additional arms are required somewhere.
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I’m not sure why I have a Beatles song stuck in my head, she was always more of a Rolling Stones fan.
She died in the hospice, whilst my father and I sat either side, small-talking about the sleep we’d not managed to get over the past two months. Her eyes opened, and then she just stopped breathing. It was a privilege, and horrible, and also somehow mundane. There were offers of tea, and a nurse with a stethoscope to check that she had gone. I tried to gently slide her eyelids back down.
It’s much more difficult to do than it looks in the films or TV.
I stayed with my sister that night. We both fell asleep in her bed, in the day clothes (her) and the work clothes (me) we’d been walking round in.
Yesterday we had the celebrant round (well-groomed, lovely, a firm believer that the Moon landings were fake). Then there was the funeral director, to discuss the other arrangements. Afterwards we ordered the flowers (immediate family only, donations to the hospice otherwise). Everyone was courteous and polite, but I exited feeling like I’d been beaten with a stick anyway.
I’ve cried precisely three times. The rest of the tears just lurk, and circle like sharks.
Awoke this morning to a sand-papered throat and clamping headache. Application of breakfast and black tea made with honey didn’t shift the issue noticeably, so I made a call to work, refilled my hot water bottle and went back to bed and to bizarre dreams of being a beauty products auditor*, interspersed with snatches of Radio 4.
Eventually I resurfaced in the early afternoon, to field a couple of calls about my mother. We agreed that if I’m potentially infectious I won’t visit tonight or tomorrow, barring serious deterioration on her part (at which point it won’t matter anyway).
My original plan for Monday night dinner had been Bibimbap, but I didn’t really feel up to something that complex. There are however some frozen broad-beans that need using up, so I had a shot at a version of Deena Kakaya’s Broad Bean & Paneer fritters – comfort food with minimal prep but a good dose of healthy green veg, spices and protein – ideal for the unwell….
*no resemblance whatsoever to my actual job in a technical field(!)
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I sit in the belly of a whale.
The hospital room is silent apart from the distant roar of the air conditioning and her slow breathing, the lights dimmed with only a faint green glow from an air vent. At every noise – a nurse outside, a creak of my chair, she opens her eyes again, then the lids droop. Her stomach is swollen, skin dry and itchy. It swims freely in her bloodstream now, unhindered by the chemical nets that had once tried to catch it, struggling and gasping like any other creature dragged from a world it had so gracefully adapted to.
Chemotherapy would kill her. The little dreamer of morphine, and the small kindnesses of the nurses are all that’s left. Two days ago she could still speak clearly for herself, abrasively so, but now even that last hook seems to be slowly working itself free…..
I’ve gone through ELO’s ‘Out of the Blue’, and am halfway through Elton John’s Greatest Hits, before I realised that these are both bands she introduced me to, and played on the stereo from my earliest memory. I’m back at my flat after 3 days staying with my sister in the Krayshott suburb of Tangleton – it made the logistics of shuttling back and forth from North Tangle Hospital much easier. I’ll be back up there later this evening – as the night owl of the family I suppose it makes sense I take the evening shift, sitting with her in the Oncology Ward.
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The elderly lady behind the screen, telling the young-voiced female doctor about her drinking, about her “lovely, caring” assistant Pearl who found her and called the ambulance. “How much whisky do you drink?”.
“Well I’ve only drunk three times today, once at breakfast, just a tot”,
“You know my mother came round my house, she came round my house when I was out and COMMITTED SUICIDE”.
When the screens were removed you could see the dark, dark bags under her eyes. Too old and unlovely to be softly described anymore as “circles”.
The next day, the elderly lady in the next bed along, with one of those lovely old precise, English, accents. BBC English and women in WAAF uniforms making wartime radio broadcasts. A stroke? Aphasia? She spoke so clearly, but of tumblers and weasels and other nonsensical things fitted neatly into what were clearly normal sentence lines, whilst the male doctor gently questioned her. Her daughter (?) tried to reassure, “you’ll be back to normal soon, they say”.
Leaving the Acute Assessment Unit at 8pm, 9pm (?) to look for a sandwich for my father in a darkened and mostly-asleep hospital. All the vending machines are full of processed sugar in colourful packets. He is tired and diabetic and missed his roast chicken dinner whilst a chirpy, long-haired paramedic lady tried to assess my mother. A genuine immediate trauma case (no)? Instead then someone who nevertheless needs to be admitted somehow whilst avoiding the long wait and germs of evening A&E (chemo suppresses the immune system, you know). She somehow sneaked her in to a bed via the AAU instead. Maybe she saved her life. Maybe she dragged out the inevitable. I don’t know. My sister plans to send her a thank-you card anyway.
Whatever happens now I will still happily sign that card.
I’ve gone a bit bread-mad. My day-to-day needs are generally met by buying a job-lot of pitta breads from the supermarket and freezing them, to defrost for the breakfast scrambled eggs/lunch-time salad/handy carbohydrate-dippers for a dinner-time curry, stew or casserole. But suddenly I’m buying big bags of flour, plain and self-raising, bicarbonate of soda, yeast. Testing the milk-curdling powers of lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and cider vinegar respectively, for Irish soda bread. Sidling in and out of Holland and Barratt* in a cheap rain-coat, furtively clutching a bag of brown-rice flour like I’m in a vegetarian “Trainspotting”.
I haven’t even started on the myriad forms and styles of flat-bread yet. But I intend to, oh yeessss.
I suppose it’s understandable psychologically. A cooked, grain-based carbohydrate is the backbone of so many cuisines across so much of the world. The mediaeval trencher-bread, doused in venison stew, Mexican tortillas, hard sticks of traditional French bread, wraps and pancakes and cucumber sandwiches, crusts removed. There’s something very comforting about bread, it’s adaptable, filling, keeps well, travels well, and wraps up the flavours of other foods, from the watery green cucumber, to the hottest chilli, in a smooth, easily-digestible blanket.
It doesn’t take a lot of introspection to understand why now, of all times, it seems important that I know how to make it.
*UK high-street health-food shop