Monthly Archives: February 2010

Crispy Broccoli Delight

I will be leaving soon from working at my Assisted Living home. It has only been 6 months but it feels like ages in terms of what I have learned about myself and about caring for others. It feels wonderful that I will be leaving here for something that will permit me to build on the skills that I barely touched upon by working in assisted living, but I am actually quite sad that I will never be working with people in quite the same way again. Insofar as I can surmise about the role of nurse practitioner, I will be able to develop relationships, but never again with the depth that I have now, where my residents kiss me on the cheek and tell me how much they love me before they fall asleep. I will not have the luxury of spending hours upon hours caring for my new patients, instead our encounters will be condensed into 15-minute snippets in sterile examination rooms. Sometimes I think it would be better if exam rooms looked more like my mom’s therapy office – cozy and inviting, with couches and carpet, replete with comforting pastel watercolors on the walls.  Wouldn’t that make you more open to sharing intimate details of your life with a perfect stranger? But beginning nursing school, I am sure I will learn the tricks of the trade to help someone grow comfortable with me very quickly.

Focusing on the present, I have approximately 2 weeks left working with my residents. I will cherish these days, and my goal is to write about every single one of them, so that I accumulate as many memories to cherish as possible. I feel like I am hoarding acorns, squirreling them away for a time that I can yet only imagine: I am sitting in front of my textbooks, far removed from people, and feeling slightly despondent. Then, maybe, I can just pull up these memories, and recall why I am doing all the studying and testing and rote memorization. It is for a much greater good. And it is one that I still get to experience, firsthand, every day I go to work, for the next two weeks.

For the meantime, a recipe for thought:

The Best Broccoli of Your Life

found in: The Amateur Gourmet

Broccoli is my favorite cooked veggie. Hands-down. It absorbs sauces in stir-fries, picks up the main flavor in any dish, and gets delightfully juicy. Broccoli is not ashamed to be less than flamboyantly bold in flavor and it never minds taking a supporting actor’s role to the main dish. Yet this recipe celebrates broccoli for being just broccoli. It has the starring role, and it gets fabulous reviews by me. Perfect in texture, crispiness and flavor…you’ll never want to eat another vegetable for a side dish. My singular mistake in making this was not doubling the recipe. I could have devoured the end product entirely on my own, but I managed to save a few pieces for my lovely boyfriend.

And it is so simple:

Preheat the oven to 425.

Take 4 to 5 pounds of broccoli (I just got two large bunches), cut into florets (but relatively big ones.) Here’s the key that she doesn’t mention in the recipe: dry them THOROUGHLY. That is, if you wash them. (which I’ll admit, I did not).

Now, it’s easy. Put the broccoli on a cookie sheet.

Toss with roughly 5 T olive oil, 1 ½ tsp kosher salt and 1 ½ tsp freshly ground pepper. (I eyeballed the measurements, and also threw in some red chili flakes.) Now add 4 garlic cloves that are peeled and sliced and toss them in too.

Roast in the oven 20 to 25 minutes, until “crisp-tender and the tips of some of the florets are browned.”

When it’s done, take it out of the oven:

–        Zest a lemon over the broccoli, squeeze the lemon juice over the broccoli

–        Add 1.5 Tbs more olive oil,

–        3 Tbs toasted pine nuts (I left those out),

–        1/3 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese

–        Original recipe also has you add 2 Tbs julienned fresh basil, but I left that out too.

Go gaga over broccoli.

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Posted by on February 28, 2010 in Vegetables and Sides


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Zucchini Loaves & Legs

I only work three days a week at my assisted living facility. The upside of this is: I only work three days a week! The downside is: I never know what to expect when I come in for a new week of work. Much can change in the four days that I am off. Assisted living is full of surprises. To catch up, I read the Daily Logs from the past few days (like reading a novel) and cross over pertinent information with the last shift. But, there’s nothing like actually working with your residents that truly catches you up to the week’s events. This week, a care manager informed me that one of my residents, Marlene*, had fallen a few days ago and fractured her pelvis. Marlene is an 80-pound waif, still brimming with vigor and vim, and I was devastated to hear about her fall. Until then, she had been fairly independent, walking around with only a “scooter” and bringing herself to meals and socials. I helped her prepare for bed and gave her a hydro once a week. Needless to say, with a fractured pelvis, she was about to lose much of this independence.

That same day, I found out that one of my other residents, Addie*, was given a quite different piece of news: she was cleared by the doctor to start walking again. Due to a blood clot in her leg (deep vein thrombosis) she had been told that she could no longer walk because the doctors feared that the clot would travel upwards. Her leg became swollen, red and hot to the touch, the hallmarks of inflammation. We talked about it nearly every night while getting ready for bed. Addie felt understandably distressed about her “fat” leg and didn’t completely understand why it had just appeared one day, and why she couldn’t just go “buy another one.” We looked at it mostly with humor, but I also understood that she was frustrated. The fact that she had been cleared to walk again most likely meant that some of her edema would dissipate, but more importantly, she would regain some of the freedom that the wheelchair had stolen. We relegated the chair to a dark corner of her room, and relinquished control of her walker. It was a happy day for Addie. Despite feeling weakness in her knees, she powered through walking to social and dinner, all without asking for the wheelchair even once. It took some delicate huffing and puffing to make it there, but we did it. I was so proud of Addie.

That night, while caring for Marlene, I struggled with these two tales. I celebrated Addie’s recent achievement, but wondered about her regained independence. Was it Marlene’s independence that had brought on this truly unfortunate accident? There are statistics that they tell us about Falls when we start working as care managers. One of the most striking stats is that “The average resident will die 5 years after his/her first fall.” Clearly, statistics can be manipulated, and I certainly hope this one is not entirely accurate, but it has staying power. I think about it as I help grimacing Marlene stand up in the bathroom. I think about it when she tells me that she is in too much pain to have a hydro that evening. They say that all falls are avoidable (which makes you feel terrible if you are ever present for a fall). Yet, they also say that you must help your residents maintain as much independence as possible. How can both statements be true? I understand that the ISPs (individualized service plans) serve the purpose of evaluating every resident’s unique needs and tailoring a care plan specifically to that individual, but it only takes one accident for that care plan to become null. As I mulled it over, I helped Marlene put on the two legs of her pajamas. She bit her lip while trying to lift the “Bad” leg. Then, she looked up at me and grinned. She said, “I guess this is why God gives us two legs.” I looked at her curiously. She continued, “So that when you screw one of them up, at least you still have the other one to be happy about.” We laughed together and I felt better. Marlene will recover. She has plenty of life left in her. And I will help her to regain the independence that she is so proud to have.

*Names changed


We are going to the Olympics today! Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We are staying in Vancouver and Whistler, in the homes of family friends. Since these friends have made clear to us that they could easily rent out our room for a royal sum if we weren’t staying with them I wanted to bring them a little something to make us more valuable as house guests. Clearly, my famous zucchini bread is the answer.

This recipe is my own. It was modified from another one, found a few years ago (I don’t know where) when I was living a summer drowning in zucchini. We had planted 3 or 4 zucchini plants in our P-Patch garden. Being novices, we did not understand that a singular zucchini plant will feed a family of 12…and 4 zucchini plants will make you feel like your entire body will turn to zucchini shreds if you have even just one more bite! The only thing to do with so much zucchini (literally grown to the size of baseball bats) was to turn it into beautiful, tan, and chewy-crunchy loaves of zucchini bread. I made enough for our entire neighborhood of friends, twice, and then froze as much of it as I possibly could in perfectly proportioned batches of shredded zucchini for to make two loaves of bread. Now, 2 1/2 years later, I am finally down to my last bagful of frozen zucchini delight. And it is traveling to the Olympics!

Drowning in Zucchini Bread

Rachel Deutsch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


3 C. Flour (I prefer equal parts whole wheat and all-purpose)

3 C. Grated Zucchini (I use a food processor to grate it coarsely)

2 C. Sugar

1 tsp. Salt

1 tsp. Baking Soda

1/4 tsp. Baking Powder

3 tsp. Ground Cinnamon

3 tsp. Vanilla

3 Eggs

3/4 C. Vegetable Oil (downsized from the original recipe which called for a full cup. Sometimes I even use 1/2 a cup)

1-2 C. Walnuts or Chocolate Chips (optional, but delightful)


This is one of the easiest recipes to whip up. Mix it all together. That’s it! Truly. Grease two loaf pans WELL. I put in the chocolate chips (if I am using them) very last, only seconds before I pour the batter into two greased loaf pans. Otherwise, they have a tendency to fall to the bottom.

Bake ~1 hour at 350. Times may vary. Check with a toothpick when the top is a beautiful golden brown.

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Posted by on February 17, 2010 in Breads & Muffins, Healing Spoonful


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Rearranging the Planets

Some days at work it feels like the planets are aligned either 100% for me, or 200% against me. I almost always love working in assisted living, but I have to admit, the rough days are tough. On these days, every resident seems to have some sort of problem that needs solving, I’m up to my ears in dirty laundry, bowel movements are, (ahem), flowing faster than normal…all combined up in a grand mess that makes me wish that it was a few hours later and I could finally just crawl into bed and curl into a little ball. Two days ago, this was the case. To make matters even more interesting, I had decided to take a run before work (bad idea, Rachel) which somehow managed to zap the energy right out of me. In a nutshell, I came in to work ready to go home.

Despite my best intentions, however, the day did not slip away but dragged on through dinner time. And it was at this moment, as I was staring down at my leaden feet while clearing tables, that I overheard a conversation between two residents. One woman, a nearly deaf Midwesterner with a deliciously unique gravely voice, was trying to tell another resident about her observations of a Valentine’s Day ornament that was hanging near the window. The decoration in question is one that I had barely noticed: a two-colored spiral hanging from the ceiling that twists and spins delicately as a breeze catches it, displaying first one side’s color and the other side’s color. She said, “Isn’t it interesting how it twists and turns and when it does, it changes color? Do you notice? It’s so beautiful! I can’t stop looking at it.” (Remember, this lovely woman speaks in a deep gravely voice which made her particular comment all the more delightful.)

At that moment, I stopped feeling sorry for myself. What I realized was this: I had been busy wishing the day away when really, there was still plenty to be grateful for and enraptured by. This old woman, nearly 100 years old, probably has many more reason than I do to feel sorry for herself, and yet, here she was, beaming childish wonder and delight at a silly ornament hanging from the ceiling. Quite suddenly, my entire perspective changed, and so did the day. Nothing seemed as important, and I was able to focus on the funny and cute things my residents were sharing with me. Granted, my feel still felt heavy – but that was my fault for going running before an 8-hour shift!

As I cleared more plates, I noticed another resident staring mournfully down at her dessert plate. I asked her, “Is there something wrong, Sherry?*” She sighed and looked up at me from her plate of icing-drizzled brownie and cornbread muffin. “No, nothing’s wrong but I am just sad that I feel so full. Both of these are just so eat-able!” I laughed and then said, “But Sherry, I think your age has certainly earned you the right to eat dessert if you want it!” She replied, “No, not tonight, but if there is a certain person in the kitchen who is hungry, you can just tell her that I haven’t touched this!” And she winked at me.

Later that night, after spending an hour helping Addie get ready for bed, I was finally close to being able to go home. I could almost taste my bed. It no longer felt as important anymore, but I was still quite tired. Addie called to me as I was turning off the lights in her room and collecting the bags of trash. I sighed, unable to help myself from hoping she didn’t need to use the bathroom again and said, “Yes, Addie?”

She peered up at me from her carefully tucked-in covers and said sweetly, “I can’t wait until I can see you again.” – a pause – “Because you’re kind and gentle and you always do as I want you to do.” She nodded once, resolutely, and then laid her hairnet-covered head back down on her pillow and finished quietly, “And I love you.”

My heart filled up so much in that moment, it felt like it would truly burst, and I replied, “I love you too, Addie. Sweet dreams.”

The bad days really aren’t that bad, after all.

* Names changed


Posted by on February 10, 2010 in Comic Quotes, Healing Spoonful


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Uff Da!

Nelly*, one of my residents, regularly disarms me with her dry wit. For example, her daughter gave her a calendar for Christmas. You know those calendars that you can made at a photo shop or online? Well, it is one of those. And every single month features the same little blonde girl, striking various poses, participating in a multitude of activities…you get the idea. So, after flipping through the calendar one day while chatting with Nelly, I asked her about the girl. “Nelly, who’s the cute little girl in all these pictures?” She looked at me, rolled her eyes, and said, “Oh God, doesn’t it just make you sick? Poor girl’s going to grow up thinking that everyone wants to look at her, be her friend, give her anything she wants. It just makes me sick to think how her parents are raising her.” I stutter for a second, “Oh, well, um isn’t she your granddaughter?” “Oh of course she is, and she’s a real sweetie, and she sure is pretty,” Nelly replies, “But that doesn’t mean I have to want to look at her 365 days a year!” I crack up because, I mean, well isn’t that the plain Jane truth without all the candy coating?

Nelly’s also easy to care for. She pages to use the bathroom at least once an hour (and that’s a conservative estimate) which certainly makes my legs tired from all the jogging up and down the stairs, but it’s not difficult. When I walk into her room she says, “Yup, need to use the toilet again,” I position her wheelchair, lock it, and firmly plant my arm in the crook of her armpit and, on the count of three, we heave up together from her recliner chair. I barely have time to help her plant her feet on the floor, before she plops down in the wheelchair, crooked, cockeyed, and without any pretense of grace. I look at her, slightly exasperated, and say, “Nelly, if you don’t wait for me to help you pivot, one day you’re going to end up on the floor!” She just laughs and replies, “I’m a dumper.  I dump in my recliner and I dump in my wheelchair; I just gotta get there!” I shake my head, but I am smiling. All I can do is be there to make sure she transfers safely. I can’t always control whether it looks pretty or not. Once we’re in the bathroom, I wait just outside for her to finish, staring at the magnets on her fridge, proudly declaring that she is a “Ballard Norwegian” and “uff da!” The other day, the med tech knocked on the door just as Nelly was finishing. I ask Nelly if it’s okay if she comes in, and she says, “Oh, why not.” When the med tech offers her the small cocktail of pills and a cup of water, she chuckles, looks up at both of us and says, “There really is nothing like taking your medicine on the pot!”

*Names changed

In honor of Nelly’s refreshingly simple attitude, I am including this no-nonsense, ridiculously easy, recipe for bread.

No Knead Bread

From: Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes via Honey and Jam

Perfect for simple butter toast, sandwiches, pizza dough, bread bowls, naan…the list goes on, and on…
3 C. of lukewarm water
1 1/2 T. active dry yeast
1 1/2 T. coarse salt
6 1/2 C. all-purpose flour

Grab a very large mixing bowl, or a big container that you can cover. In it, mix the water, yeast, and salt. You don’t have to heat up the water to a precise optimal temperature for the yeast. Even regular tap water works. Just let that sit together for a while, then dump the flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon. You don’t need to knead this, and you’re not looking to make it come together into a dough ball. You just want everything mixed well, with no streaks of flour left, and you’re done.

Leave it in your container, covered (but not airtight, or it’ll pop), for a few hours (1-2 worked for me). When it has risen and then deflated a bit, your dough is done. It’s ready to be used or stored in the refrigerator.

To bake the bread, just grab a chunk of dough (any size, the recipe suggests the size of a grapefruit). Dust your hands with flour to help prevent sticking, and gently pull the sides of the dough toward the bottom, rotating the dough, until you get a roundish shape with a smooth surface. It should only take you about a minute or less to do this. Don’t worry about bunching near the bottom. It will look rustic.

Put it on a cutting board that’s been dusted with cornmeal to prevent sticking, and let it rest for at least 40 minutes. No need to cover it. If the dough has been refrigerated, it helps to let it rest a little more, until it’s no longer chilled.

Twenty minutes before you are ready to bake, put a cast iron skillet (or a pizza stone) in the middle rack of your oven, and put a broiler pan (I used a cookie sheet) in the bottom rack. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Dust some flour on the top of your loaf, and slash the top, about 1/4-inch deep.

After twenty minutes of preheating, it’s time to bake. (You can put the bread in after 20 minutes, even if your oven hasn’t reached 450 degrees yet.) Slide the loaf onto the baking stone, and then quickly pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler pan. Then quickly shut the oven door to keep the steam inside.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until you get a nice brown crust. Remove and let cool completely, if you can wait that long.

Recipe notes: It might seem difficult to incorporate all of the flour into the yeast mixture, but just keep mixing. You can add just a little bit of water at a time to help, if needed. The recipe calls for a pizza stone, but Honey and Jam suggested a cast iron skillet, which worked perfectly for me. Also, The Ivory Hut suggests that you let the dough sit longer during the rest period to encourage a nice sourdough flavor. I will try that next time! You can also mix your next batch together in the same bowl with the remnants of your last batch and get the same sexy sourdough effect.

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Posted by on February 5, 2010 in Breads & Muffins, Healing Spoonful


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“That bottle just lost its feet”

The above quote was stated in reference to a tipsy nail polish bottle that almost fell over, and was rescued with these words, deadpan, by possibly the most accidentally-hilarious resident that I take care of.

Addie* is a delightful conundrum. Quite religious, she sometimes takes to praying at random moments. For example, when I offer her a tube of lipstick to freshen up before going out of her room for Social, she looks at me quite seriously and says, “Let me pray to see if God thinks I should put on this lipstick.” She then proceeds to whisper “God, should I let this nice young lady help me put on some lipstick before we go out together?” (Some mumbling follow, a response from God, I imagine…) And then, “Yes. I will put on some lipstick,” she says simply with a peaceful look on her face. And while I usually enjoy being privy to these pleasant interactions with God, Addie is also quite slow at getting ready…for just about anything. Applying lipstick: 2 minutes. Washing & drying her hands = 5 minutes. Brushing her teeth: 15-20 minutes, depending on the circumstances of her last meal. Not only can it be tedious to watch her get ready (she is a fall risk, so we can’t leave her alone) but I also must plan ahead so that I have time to assist Addie, while still being able to help all my other residents in a timely manner. In the beginning, this was frustrating to me. But now, we have established a routine, and I enjoy my time spent with Addie enormously.

I imagine that I will write about Miss Addie quite often, given her propensity for creating fabulous story fodder, so I wanted to start painting a picture for you by giving you this background.

Addie is one of the most well-dressed women of all the residents that I work with. She enjoys looking pretty and well-kept (cleanliness is next to godliness, right?) and her ensembles are always perfectly matched with appropriate earrings, bracelets and necklace. She is quite adorable. When I first met her, she watched an evangelical preacher on TV, but I realized that it was making her want to give all her money to “God” so I helped her find another channel to watch that was a little less demanding on her pocketbook. Soon, we discovered America’s Funniest Home Videos and now there are times when I walk in the door to see a few perfectly formed tears of mirth falling delicately down her cheeks. She reaches out for my hands and says, “Watch this little boy…he’s going to fall down now.” And she cracks up. Hilarious.

I’ll end on one last Addie quote for the day. After I finished polishing Addie’s nails (on the same day that she came up with the fabulous quote that I used for my title) I left her in her big blue cushy chair to admire her shiny fingernails. Before leaving, I carefully tucked in a throw blanket over her legs and feet. I asked, “How does that feel, Addie?” In response, she looked up at me with her big blue eyes and said, “Mo’ better!” (Yes, she is 86-years old and 100% Caucasian. And yes, she said it in the ghetto gangster accent that you are imagining.)

*Names are always changed for privacy protection.


Posted by on February 2, 2010 in Comic Quotes, Healing Spoonful


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