Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Blueberry Memories

We've come to the beginning a new month and things in my household are slowly becoming a bit more stable.  Mom and Dad are settling into a routine made up mostly of eating and napping and watching television, which is pretty much what they did when they lived in Florida.  There are fewer walks with the dog since it's so cold out, but even the dog seems satisfied to snooze most of the day away.

Mom napping with the dog on
a lazy Saturday afternoon.
Days are a constant vigil to pick up after them and ensure that they are safe.  Mom went through a short phase of leaving empty pots or pots with water on the stove, but that seems to have dissipated.  So far we've lost a teapot and a saucepan that way.  It's in the back of my head that removing the knobs from the stove may be in our near future just to keep them from setting fire to the kitchen.

One night last week I came home from work to find that she had emptied most of the cabinets and pantry of baking supplies trying to find what she needed to make applesauce muffins (lesson learned....never leave out a recipe where she can find it or she will try to make it on her own).  In a large mixing bowl she had put the flour, salt and a packet of Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate mix (why the cocoa mix, I'm not sure, and neither was she) and since she couldn't find the other ingredients she just went "shopping" in the kitchen. 

After a slow count to 10 to calm myself from the first glimpse of the wreckage in the kitchen, we cleaned up, made supper and later I finished the muffins, since by then she'd lost interest.  Which, but the way turned out OK even with the extemporary addition of the cocoa mix.  Except for the extra salt. 

Mom still knows how to use a knife
so here she is cutting up a fresh
pineapple for a cake we'll bake
this week sometime.
We've discovered the Mom is a real fan of salt.  Her new theory is that if a little salt is good, then a LOT of salt will be better.  She puts salt in Dad's coffee instead of sugar, salt by the handfuls onto salads and by the tablespoons into potatoes while they're cooking.  My salt box is depleted almost every other day and I've had to hide all my fancy salts (she found the pickling salt and the sausage salts the other day).  Most things in the pantry are foreign to her so she leaves them alone, but I'm now trying to make a strategy that allows her to bake and cook with me and yet keeps her out of trouble on her own. 

I write all of this with no intentions of laughing at her efforts.  I know she cannot help what she's doing and it deeply saddens me to realize that the woman that used to make German Chocolate Cakes for my birthday and loved to make and eat apple butter, no longer knows what those things are.  If I cannot make light of these times, I'll be crying most of the days away.  As it is, crying myself to sleep most nights is the norm.

I brought home fresh blueberries the other day to make muffins (one of her favorite things to do in days past) and when I told her what they were and what for, she said she "didn't think she'd ever had those but it sounded good".  Bless her heart.  I made them, she ate them.  It's all good.

When you live with someone with dementia or Alzheimer's, or two someones in my case, I think it tends to spur on your own memories when you come to the realization that things have slipped from their minds.  My own memories become more cherished when I stop to consider that I may be the one forgetting in the future. 

These blueberries are one of those examples. 

Uncle Don taking us for a ride with
his tractor.  We might have been
over to pick berries this day and
then enjoyed a little extra fun time!
Mom's brother Don had a lovely patch of blueberry bushes on his property and he was very proud of them.  When the berries began to come onto the bushes, Uncle Don carefully covered the entire bushes with nets to keep the birds from eating them.  Every summer we'd await the time that the berries were ready to be picked and he would allow Mom and I to go get our fill.  We'd find our way under the nets with a couple of buckets and it was our custom to pick several quarts of berries to take home and prepare for the freezer.

The three of us don't really like anything blueberry except muffins, so that was our blueberry stash for muffin baking for the entire coming year.  In point of fact, I have one package of Don's berries in the back of my freezer.  I cannot bring myself to use the last of those that were so lovingly cared for by him and picked by Mom and me. 

Uncle Don has been gone now for over four years and the blueberry bushes are no longer available to us, but the memories live on - at least for me.  Blueberry muffins are still one of my favorites and here is the recipe I use most often. 

Like so many recipes we use, blueberry muffins come in varying degrees of decadence.  From simply flavored plain muffins to crumb topped to lemony cornmeal muffins, recipes abound for these morning quick breads. 

Today I used a recipe supposedly from the famous Jordan Marsh department stores.  I like this recipe but it needed just a bit of crunch so I added the sprinkling of turbinado suger.  This comes from King Arthur Flour's website (one of the best baking sources available).  The original recipe calls for the addition of nuts, but I leave these out since Dad doesn't like them.  These are terrific cake-like muffins for breakfast or an anytime treat.

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
Turbinado sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, berries and nuts. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter or margarine with sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat well. Blend dry ingredients into wet alternately with milk.

Because these muffins will rise up and over the edge of your muffin tin, you’ll want to grease the top of the pan as well as the cups. Fill the cups almost full and sprinkle with the sugar.

Tip from the bakers at King Arthur Flour - before baking, tuck all the blueberries under some of the batter.  This prevents the berries from bursting and leaking all over the muffin and prevents the exposed berry from drying out.

Bake muffins 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove muffins from oven.  As soon as you can handle them, remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.  If muffins are left in the pans to cool, they will steam and become tough. 

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