I'll be on the road this week, and the first stop will be Tyler, Texas, where I'll be seeing my twin brother and his family, and spending some precious hours with my mother. I had hoped to bring a tote-full of magazines for our favorite pastime (as you'll learn, below), but, sadly, we won't be able to do that this trip.
“I think all of us are always five years old in the presence and absence of our parents.”
― Sherman Alexie
Twelve months since this post originally ran--a year for the elder and infirm can see significant changes in health and wellness, and this year, no different. It's during these stretches of challenges that sweet memories sustain, the way that fresh peaches this time of year, make me think of this Texas Peach, Sweet Onion & Thyme relish, and my mother's inspiration.
Last week, the postman brought me a very special package.
In somewhat faint, unsteady handwriting, it was addressed to me, from my Mother. It was a manila envelope of magazine articles she had been collecting, it appreared, for the last few years. All clipped together, individually. Some with faint notes written directly on the pictures--some legible, some, sadly, not. Perhaps if her daughter's aging eyes could strain just a little harder, the smaller words might be made out. Every word, precious. Every article, garden suggestion, relish or condiment recipe, priceless, now.
In my earlier, carefree, somewhat clueless days of youth, a package from the postman would have been fun. We all enjoy getting (bill-free) mail, naturally. But now, these kinds of packages, well they're all the more special. And isn't that the way life is. Back then, we couldn't have even imagined what life truly had in store for us. Oh, we might have been planning the big stuff-- marriages, homes, children, careers. But we truly had no clue about real life. The precious details of living. The fact they we, one day, would be older, and our parents would be older, too.
And, even with the passing of time, and the trials of aging, there are precious moments, special deliveries, that we, in our youthful, dare I say it, blithe ignorance, wouldn't have even recognized. We recognize them now.
My mother and I have always shared a love for combing through home magazines. She, for quaint country-style home decorating ideas, me, for anything food-related, naturally, both of us, garden inspiration. We share a love of vintage anything, and a knack for showcasing the imperfect, in new and lovely ways, whether in people, or things.
We'd spend hours flipping page upon page--stacks of magazines my mother and I, both, had saved for just such occasions. And, because we lived so far from one another, occasions, rare.
Even more so rare, these days. Mom has been living with Parkinson's in an assisted living facility, near my brother, who spends a great deal of his time making sure she is well-tended, and all of her needs are met. I still live quite a distance, and don't get to see her nearly as often as we'd both like. Hence, these occasional surprises become all the more special. The dementia from which my beautiful mother is suffering is unpredictable, at best. Her skills and abilities will be stable for quite some time, then, with no notice, she will suffer setbacks, and small parts of her, little by little, will be gone.
In conversation, I try to rush with words, talk over, conceal, cover-up the occasional out-of-place memory or moment or recollection, not because I care that she get it all right, but because I don't want her to notice. I don't want her to have that moment in which she thinks, 'Wait. That's not right. Did she/he/they notice that?'. I don't want her to know that I saw the stare of unrecognition the last time we visited, until I got right to where she sat, looking directly at me, and I started in with a big 'HI, MOM! You must be waiting for me!' that nudged recollection of what her adult daughter would look like. Like we all do, I want to fix things so she won't have those moments. But there is no fixing, really.
What there is, though, is fabulous; special moments-- moments that make my heart sing! And this package in the mail, this was one of those moments. I've poured over the articles, one by one, time and time again.
I had a bowlful of fresh peaches with which I intended to prepare, and photograph, a peach gallette. I wasn't pleased with the quality of pictures I'd taken of the first preparation (this, I got from my Mother, too.), so I planned to redo. But, when I came across a special article from her favorite, Southern Living Magazine that she had included, well, plans changed. For reasons I'm sure you understand, it had to be made. Several unique tweaks to the original, because that is who I am, were made, but the end product is special to me in a way that hundreds of other jars of goodies I've put by are not. Because this is directly a result from my mother's suggestion--an article she included because she knows, she still knows, who her daughter is. What her daughter loves to do. Like all of the articles in that very special delivery.
She'll be happy to know I won't let one drop of it go to waste, either.
You could use any relish, chow chow, even jam to dress up a standard piece of meat like this 'South Texas Ribeye' cut of pork from our grocer, as well as chicken, shelffish, a fish filet, sausages, and even a slab of extra firm tofu, if that's your thing. We've splurged with our Special Delivery Texas Peach, Sweet Onion & Thyme Relish we put by earlier this day. It's pretty simple.
Dredge your chosen cut with a favorite dry rub or seasoning salt and set aside, covered, for 10 minutes. Preheat a small, heavy skillet (I couldn't get buy without my cast iron), and melt about a tablespoon of butter, with 1/2 T cooking oil, until just shimmering. Place meat in hot skillet, allowing a sear to form, without moving, which should take about 5 minutes. Turn, sear opposite side. Pour off all but about 1 T drippings, top with half of a half pint jar of relish. Toss in the equivalent of 2, seeded and sliced sweet bell peppers. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and allow glaze/relish/chow chow/jam juices to thicken in skillet, and meat to cook to taste. If thickening occurs before meat is done to your taste, simply add a tablespoon of water to the pan to prevent scorching. When done (Note: Meat will continue to cook; remove from heat when just slightly underdone, say 5 degrees less than the optimal cooking time for your particular meat and cut, if using a meat thermometer.) Remove meat and peppers from pan. Splash an ounce or so of white wine in the pan, deglazing and stirring up the sticky bits, and allow to simmer for 5 minutes, until slightly thickened. Add meat and peppers back to pan, toss to glaze, and serve.
Uncover, remove from heat, and serve. Pairs perfectly with a whole-grain or wild rice, and a crisp, dry, white wine.
"More relishes for you to make & sell."