My father died 5 1/2 years ago at age 94. My mother, who turned 92 on August 6, has been living alone since then in a retirement center on the outskirts of Brainerd. She hasn't found much incentive to prepare meals on her own and the one meal she receives in the dining room each day doesn't thrill her much. She generally eats her dessert and picks at the rest. During the day she has been drinking a diet cranberry juice drink that only contains 7% juice, is sweetened with Splenda, colored with Red #40, and contains "Acesulfame"... whatever the ding dang that is, and several other ingredients. How about just plain 'ol 100% juice with absolutely nothing added? I made her some POM pomegranate juice ice cubes to add to glasses of filtered water instead. For supper she normally has a slice of bread spread with butter and jelly or a bowl of peach or strawberry yogurt sprinkled with walnuts. Yogurt... well, that should be fine... if it didn't contain sugar, high fructose corn syrup, a preservative, food coloring... My mother has diabetes and her blood sugar numbers were up... not dangerously high, but there was room for improvement. What worried me, though, were her legs and feet. From her knees down to her toes, they had swelled to the point where they looked like they could explode if pricked with a needle. O.K., time for a diet overhaul.
I began to plan a daily menu for her that included breakfast, dinner, supper, as well as a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. I used what I could from the meal prepared in the main dining room and supplemented with food that I prepared at home and packed to bring in to her each day. I encouraged increased water intake. 24 hours into the program, she called to say that she had experienced a stomach ache all night then vomited in the morning but was feeling fine presently. She thought that the split pea soup I had made for her the evening before was maybe "tainted". I explained that Dick and I had eaten the same soup and hadn't gotten sick. It made me sad that she didn't completely trust my plan, but I couldn't blame her. It was too early to see any improvement. In fact, she only felt worse since I had stepped in. I explained that the stomach ache and vomiting was her body adjusting to the different food. Three days into the program, the skin on her legs began to wrinkle and loosen which meant that she was retaining less water and the swelling was going down. Four days into the program, she called to tell me that she had diarrhea. I told her that I felt badly that she had to endure these unpleasant episodes, but the diarrhea meant that the addition of fiber into her diet was naturally regulating her so she could cut back on her stool softeners. She had been taking 4 in the morning and 4 at night, so I suggested she take 2 in the morning and 2 at night instead which has proven to be just right.
O.K., that bring us up to today... only one week into my plan. Each day throughout the week, I saw additional shrinkage in her legs and her blood sugar numbers were now averaging 101 and 102 in the morning and weren't varying far from those number at night which means that proper meals and snacks are helping to maintain a consistent level throughout the day. As importantly, my mom has seen rapid improvement, so she is fully trusting my judgement. She is eager to do whatever I feel is best for her and she looks forward in anticipation to foods like "Ultimate Energy Bars" (made with pureed navy beans), heirloom red quinoa for a hot breakfast cereal, "ants on a log" (she loved them!), hummus, sweet potato scones, all of the wonderful fresh summer fruits, and cottage cheese with unsweetened applesauce. She said that previously she sprinkled sugar on top of her cottage cheese but liked it with applesauce. She thought it sweetened it just enough.
When I was a teacher, I would reward my students with a popcorn party for especially good behavior, a job well done on an assignment or test... or just because. I decided to throw my mom a similar party by making maple caramel corn, attaching a ribbon streamer to a balloon, and giving her a card with a message that read "Congratulations. It's wonderful to see how successful you've been. " I scrawled a note inside telling her how proud I was of her progress and how it made me so very happy. Here's the maple caramel popcorn recipe I used for our one-week celebration popcorn party. It's from a spring 2009 edition of Edible Twin Cities. For 1/3 cup uncooked popcorn, I cut all of the syrup ingredients in half because I felt it would be way too much coating making it way too sweet. I also chose to cook the syrup to 250° instead of 300° so my mom wouldn't break her dentures. I wanted it more chewy. Good decision... I think. Would the chewy caramel suck the dentures right out of her mouth?
Maple Caramel Corn
1 tbsp oil
1/3 cup uncooked popcorn kernels
3 tbsp unsalted butter, plus additional for greasing bowl
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans or other nuts, optional
¾ cup pure maple syrup
¼ tsp salt
Grease a large mixing bowl with butter; set aside. Pop the popcorn using 1 tbsp oil. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the maple syrup and salt. Boil until syrup reaches 250° on a candy thermometer. It takes about 15 minutes. (To get it to 250° in 15 minutes, turn the heat to nearly the medium setting. If you use a low setting, it will take an hour or more and by then the syrup will be burnt and rock hard when cooled.) Do not stir or the syrup will crystallize and turn sugary. I learned this firsthand and also Alton Brown explained the science behind why this happens on one of his Food Network "Good Eats" segments. Pour syrup over popcorn and nuts. Stir with a wooden spoon that has been coated with oil to prevent sticking.