A Recipe for Healing

By: Wendy Rhein

I made my mother cry today. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to make her cry but I did want her to react.

Days before her 71st birthday, Mom is cranky and taking all sorts of strange physical risks. Just this summer she had her hip replaced, making her fully bionic now with a titanium pole in her neck, and all four lower joints now made of plastic and metal. I swear I can hear the te-te-te-te of Steve Austin from the 70s television show as I watch her slowly move. Except he was jumping from building tops. She’s trying to get off the couch. I worry all the time that she will fall, or trip, or will break something. She hasn’t. And she is much, much more mobile than she was before the surgery. But my mind has a hard time moving beyond the pain and anxiety I got used to seeing on her face. As our roles are reversing I feel the same physical pain of powerlessness that I do when I can’t fix things for my kids to ease their hurts. I can’t fix hers either.

She decided to move furniture. She and my six-year-old started moving the couch and loveseat. Yes. I am in the shower or else they’d never attempt this madness. Like a kid sneaking a cookie, she’s roped Nate into helping her move things quickly to “surprise” me. Instead once I’m out and dry, I get a call from the living room. I know that tone. The furniture is all in the middle of the room. Nate is still pushing the unmoving couch with all his scrawny might. My mother is sitting to the side, grey, saying in a panting voice that she just can’t do it. She’s twisted her knee. I’m frustrated and want to throw my hands up. Instead, I bite my tongue and go about righting the room. I’m 42. I’m a single woman. I can move furniture like no one’s business.

And then she starts to help. I say no, please, I got it. Mom, wait, stop. Mom. MOM! STOP!

That got her attention. She starts to cry. She hates her body. She hates that it is failing her. She hates that she can’t keep up with me. (And I repeat what I often say – no one is asking you to keep up with me. Wrong thing to say.) She used to move furniture, she tells me. She could do anything. Someday this will happen to me and I’ll understand and hate it too.

We are each other’s mirror and it scares the crap out of both of us. I fear what I see and she envies what she sees.

I apologize. I agree to not discuss or point out what she cannot do. If she falls, she falls. If she hurts, she hurts. I have to let go a little and she has to accept the consequences of her decisions. The quandary for me is that her decisions affect my kids as well and that’s what I worry about most. I need her to be careful so we don’t lose her before she reaches her next birthday, and the one after that, and the one after that.

I try to make it up to her all day in small ways. I don’t say a word when I see her grimace in pain, or need to lie down in the early afternoon. And I make her favorite new dinner – a chicken, butternut squash, and pappardelle one plate meal that makes her smile. It heals me as much as it does her. And we both need it.

Pappardelle with Butternut Squash, Chicken and Blue Cheese
(serves 4)

1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled and cubed into 1 inch pieces (roughly)
1 shallot, diced
2T olive oil
1tsp dried thyme
1T butter
1/2c water
1 1/2c pre-cooked chicken, cut into 1 inch pieces (great use for leftover chicken or a rotisserie chicken)
1 package pappardelle or other flat pasta
5oz soft blue cheese, crumbled

1. Peel, halve, and seed the butternut and cut into roughly 1-inch pieces. This is the most time consuming part of the recipe. I promise.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook until it softens and starts to turn golden. Add the thyme. Take a minute and breathe deeply over the pan. Notice how your shoulders are coming down from your ears.

3. Add the squash and the butter to the shallot and thyme mix. Let the butter sizzle and melt, stirring while it does. Add the water. Cover and reduce the heat, simmering for about 10 minutes or until the squash is tender but not mushy.

4. While the squash is cooking, prepare the pasta according to the box/bag. Don’t drain it all. Save some of the cooking liquid for later.

5. Season the squash with salt and pepper, being mindful that the blue cheese will add a lot of saltiness later on. Add the chicken and sauté the mix to warm the pre-cooked chicken and spread the flavors. Take another deep breath. Remove the pan from the heat.

6. Take about one ladleful, or half a cup, of the pasta water and add it to the squash. Then add the drained pasta to the squash. Gently toss to combine the pasta and the chicken/squash mix. Stir in half the blue cheese and watch the sauce come together with the starchy pasta water, the orange squash, and the melting cheese. It will start looking like a watercolor painting as the starches break down in the squash and cling to the pasta and chicken.

7. Serve in big pasta bowls, topped with the remaining blue cheese.

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