After the Fall Casserole (Revisited)
November 15, 2012
Alice misses Celia, and I miss her too. I decided to reread last year’s Thanksgiving blog post to remind myself of the fun they had together. Here’s the post again, updated to include the recipe for our friend Julia’s amazing apple cake.
After the Fall Casserole
Last Monday, at lunch time, Alice (age 96) and Celia (age 95) sat at their table scanning the coming week’s menu. “What is ‘Fall Casserole’?” Alice asked when she came to Friday’s fare.
Celia, who is disdainful of the cooking at The Place, didn’t bother to look up. “It’s probably made with leaves,” she said.
Alice pretended to scold. “Celia! It can’t be leaves.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me.”
Celia misses her own kitchen. Her house sits a mere three blocks away (not yet sold), and she longs for the home cooking and baking that made her plump and happy.
This new menu, titled as always “Carrie’s Cafe” after the cook, offered little to look forward to. Instead of the usual photograph of a resident on its cover, Carrie had substituted a piece of clip art: a tipsy looking turkey holding a large fork and knife, a napkin tied around his neck. He looks as if he’s hoping to turn the tables when he shows up for dinner.
Other than the curiosity of Fall Casserole, the menu listed things Alice and Celia had been served a hundred times before at The Place: pot roast, spaghetti and (turkey) meatballs, pizza, baked cod, fried chicken, etc.
Carrie’s kitchen has produced some oddities in the past that neither of them had ever heard of (Potato Triangles, Avocado and Grapefruit Salad, Chef’s Salad with “warmed” carrots, etc.). These proved to disappoint, as did over-cooked pot roast, rubbery asparagus, soggy pizza, and “steamed fresh vegetables,” which is usually broccoli. Broccoli bores Alice and threatens to embarrass her.
“Buy more Beano,” she demands of me from September through June. “I need more Beano!”
An alternative to any meal is a sandwich (with a pickle), and Alice and Celia debated whether or not to order one when the day came for the Fall Casserole.
They took their time mulling it over. Friday was a long way off. In the meanwhile, I received an e-mail message from Alice, telling me about a lunch of Salisbury steak, aka hamburger in a steakish sort of shape. In case you’ve forgotten that meal (from high school cafeterias), it looks like this:
“I had just pushed some of it that I did not eat away from me,” Alice wrote. “I jotted a note to Celia to the effect that I did not think it very good. Celia looked at me sort of strange and so I could tell that someone was behind me and she did not dare hand me what she had written back. Well, it was Carrie, so when she asked me how I liked the meal I told her I did not think the meat very tasty, that it needed flavoring and Celia told her the same.”
“So brave!” I wrote back.
We wondered if Salisbury steak will ever show up on the menu again.
Serving sizes for breakfast and lunch at The Place are normal to generous, but dinner servings are small.
“We had an itsy-bitsy piece of salmon tonight,” Alice might tell me during one of our evening phone calls. Or “the skinniest slice of pizza.” Or “two carrots the size of my little finger and a dab of mashed potatoes to go with the roast beef and gravy.”
“Maybe they think you should eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper,” I once said in response to some such description, thinking the work of Adelle Davis might be the basis for the nutritional philosophy of The Place.
She squashed this notion right away. “What are you talking about? How are the men supposed to survive on so little food?”
“The men?” I asked her. “I thought you were concerned about you and Celia.”
“We keep gaining weight no matter what,” she said. “I’m worried about the men.”
“That’s nice of you, but it’s not like they’re going out to plow a field.”
“Good thing,” she said.
I supplement Alice’s dining room dinners with a variety of foods from the grocery store, and others at The Place do the same. I knew she wasn’t really worried about anyone going hungry. Sometimes Alice likes to fret.
Finally the night arrived for Fall Casserole. Alice and Celia had vetoed sandwiches in favor of this daring experiment.
When Alice called before bedtime, I asked her about it. “Did Fall Casserole turn out to be made of leaves after all?”
“No,” she said, “but it was so tasteless it might as well have been.”
She thought that she and Celia ought to run The Place. “We’ve discussed it,” she said. “But we came to the conclusion it would be like Lucy and Ethel running things.”
“If Celia cooked, at least the food would be better. I always hated cooking.”
True. She has said that often in the past. So, even though Carrie’s Cafe is not all she wants it to be, I hung up feeling happy that Alice is now liberated from the burden of kitchen responsibilities, as well as all other housework, for that matter. She never liked any of it, and yet she spent a good part of her days engaged in keeping six people fed, their clothes faultlessly pressed, their shoes polished, their hair combed, their attitudes adjusted, etc.
At Thanksgiving, she always set before us a meal fit for royalty. We barely noticed or acknowledged all the work it took, except, possibly, for my brother Michael, who, the story goes, once joined her in the kitchen early in the day and found her crying as she tried to make a pie crust for the pumpkin pie from scratch. He was only eight, but he offered to help. The challenge defeated him and soon he was crying, too.
Since she’s been at The Place and freed from domestic tasks, Alice’s own natural interests have had a chance to emerge: science, politics, reading, exercise, nature, family history and, most important of all, friendship.
Luckily, just in time to replace the tastelessness of Fall Casserole with something crazily delicious, my neighbor Julia (from Minnesota) gave me a generous piece of her apple cake to take to Alice, whom she’s never even met.
Alice is impressed by Julia’s baking skills and touched by her generosity. “How can people be so kind?” she asked me.
And here’s Julia’s Norwegian version of Jewish Apple Cake:
3 teaspoon cinnamon
5 Tablespoons sugar
Peel and chunk apples, place in bowl with cinnamon and sugar
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
1/4 cup orange juice
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
350 Bundt pan, greased
Whisk together oil, juice, sugar and vanilla
Add dry ingredients
Add eggs, one at a time
Layer batter, apples, batter, apples
Bake for 1 1/2 hours.