I was chomping on carrots the other day – and not the baby carrots neatly trimmed to uniform size and packaged in plastic - but long irregular carrots that are slim on one end and grow to an inch thickness at the top where the greens have been sliced off. Normally I shred these for salad and give the slim ends to my pup, but in an effort to curb my appetite for cookies, I grabbed a few of these to chomp on instead.
Halfway through the second one, I realized my mouth was tired. Chewing was hard work. It wasn’t my teeth that hurt – my teeth are fine. But my jaw was exhausted.
A memory filled me with shame and remorse. If only I had understood the fatigue of chewing thirty years ago.
In 1990, my father was 56 years old – only about a year older than I am now – and I had returned to Chicago to take care of him during the last months of his life.
Every morning I prepared my father breakfast, something soft and light. Mostly he enjoyed grapefruit, sliced, with each segment carefully cut from the membrane, topped with just a bit of honey. Other times, he ate yogurt or a soft-boiled egg. Together we would drink gunpowder tea and discuss the activities for the day. What calls needed to be made, appointments to be had, errands to run, people to visit, and more. Then I would make lunch. Often in the afternoons, we took a nap. Finally, I would prepare dinner and when my stepmom returned from the office, we would eat together and share the events or our days. Then I was free to enjoy the evening on my own.
This worked well. I’ve always enjoyed cooking. Nothing fancy really, with the exception of Coq Au Vin, which honestly is pretty easy. It was my father who had taught me years earlier how to dress up Campbell’s Cream of Celery soup with canned tuna fish. Though I had certainly progressed beyond that, I still cooked fairly simple meals.
This day, I decided to make potato cheddar soup. I LOVED this recipe. Potatoes, cheese, onion, and milk - no bacon. I don’t remember exactly and sadly I no longer have the recipe. But it was easy and filled with flavor. Hugely satisfying comfort food. Cooked correctly, the potatoes were soft enough to melt in your mouth.
I was excited to share this with my father. The weather was turning cooler and soup felt warm and nurturing. My father had once regularly enjoyed seven course meals paired with wines at every course. He would return home five pounds heavier and the next morning after visiting the bathroom, be back at his normal weight. But now food was about comfort and sustenance, that’s all.
I prepared the soup with anticipation. It had been a while since I had made it and, perhaps, I was looking forward to it more than he was. Finally on the stove simmering, I left to run an errand.
When I returned and checked on the soup, I let out a shriek. “What the hell happened to the potatoes?” I screamed. In my absence, my father had pureed it. Using one of those long-nosed hand blenders, he had buzzed away until it was a cream. I was bereft. I was angry. “You destroyed it,” I wailed.
This man used to cook the most mouth-watering Beef Bourguignon. Anytime there was a turkey, he turned the carcass into a magnificent soup filled with fresh vegetables. Sure, he also ate Campbell’s, but never without adding to it and making it better. Same with macaroni and cheese. Poor food dressed up. My father knew how to cook.
So he pureed my potato soup. He knew what he was doing. He knew creamed soup would be yummy and it would also be easier for him to eat.
I understand that now. Chewing can be exhausting.
If anyone has a really great potato cheese soup recipe they can share, I’d appreciate that.
In the meantime, I’ll stick to cookies.