Company’s coming

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.”  ~Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, Pavarotti, My Own Story

Earlier this month, a couple of dear friends phoned to invite us over for dinner. They had a big pot of turkey chili bubbling on the stove and a loaf of cornbread cooling in the oven. “Nothing fancy, just comfort food.”

The spur-of-the-moment invitation was all the more delicious because Doug and I hadn’t planned anything for dinner that evening. And the cozy company of longtime friends was exactly what we needed in the middle of a crazy-busy week. It turned out to be a perfect evening.

That night, we also revisited an earlier conversation we’d started on the topic of entertaining.

We all admitted that, in the past, we often avoided inviting friends for dinner because we thought a meal for “company” had to be fancy or labor-intensive. Which is silly, of course, but it was an easy excuse to make when we were too busy or too lazy to break bread at home with friends.

Along the same lines, anyone who reads gourmet cooking magazines on a regular basis will admit to feeling intimidated sometimes, even by featured recipes described as easy or simple. If throwing a dinner party requires performing a culinary miracle, well, we’re not likely to host very often.

One of the great gifts of midlife is that you start getting over these things. You realize that “the good life” is what’s real — not a page out of a glossy magazine. You remember that your true friends love you just as you are, and that any dish that’s good enough to serve your family is good enough for them, whether it’s your favorite mac and cheese or turkey chili.

Not that foodies shouldn’t have some creative fun in the kitchen.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to master a few healthy recipes that work for company as easily as for the two of us.

For instance, in the March issue of Prevention, I found “All-American Family Favorites,” a feature that includes several no-fuss, kid-friendly dishes that can be prepared in no time at all. The Skillet Chicken “Parm” looked fabulous, so Doug and I put the recipe to the test after shopping for a few items at the local market. The ingredients are as basic as you can get: chicken breasts, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil.

I’m very happy to report that the meal was both easy and delicious — and perfect for casual dinner guests. Topping it off, our own red skillet looked so colorful with the basil garnish that I had to share my photo with you. (I don’t have the rights to reprint the recipe, so you’ll have to pick up the March issue of Prevention, still available on newsstands.) From now on, I’ll be on the lookout for more recipes like this.

There’s nothing cozier or more satisfying than raising a glass to old friends around a dinner table. So when the mood strikes, call your best friends and invite them over for a simple midweek supper. Don’t worry if the house isn’t clean. Dim the lights, uncork a bottle of wine, light a candle, and let the conversation flow. Cheers!   — Cindy La Ferle

 

Comforts of home


There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.”  ~Jane Austen

My mother was discharged from the Woodward Hills nursing center on Friday. It’s hard to believe it’s been over a month since she was admitted to the hospital for congestive heart failure. Not surprisingly, she missed her familiar surroundings at home, and was often confused during her weeks of recovery at the hospital and nursing center.

She’s very happy to be back home in her condo, needless to add. But now that she is, my hard work begins.

I’m back to dispensing and monitoring her meds, making her follow-up doctor appointments, and driving her to all of her medical visits. Not to mention overseeing a parade of home-care nurses and therapists.

So I’ll be spending a lot more time at my mother’s place until I can determine whether it’s really OK to leave her alone for the long run. While part of me tires out at the very thought of this responsibility, I also remember how glad I was that I’d spent more time with my father in the months before he died. Caring for loved ones helps redefine my priorities.

Yesterday, the visiting nurse discovered that Mom’s blood pressure was dangerously low, prompting an emergency call to the doctor. We were told to change the dosage of Mom’s blood pressure medications. (I cut 14 tiny pills in half.) I’m hoping that the sudden drop in blood pressure explains why my mother’s dementia seemed worse than usual. She kept forgetting what day it was, and the nurse and I suspected that Mom may have overdosed on her morning medications. Earlier that morning, I had noticed an open bottle of pills on the counter, which she’d apparently retrieved from a cupboard. I’ve been advised to hide any pills that I haven’t placed in her weekly pill organizer.

She’d much rather live on coney dogs, ice cream, and chocolate-covered cherries.

Another ongoing challenge is helping her shop for heart-healthy food. After unpacking her belongings back at the condo, I took her to shop for groceries at Hollywood Market, our nearest grocery store. I’ve been trying to show Mom how to make healthy choices, but it’s not easy. Oatmeal and low-sodium foods, unfortunately, are not on her list of favorites. She’d much rather live on coney dogs, ice cream, and chocolate-covered cherries. Not exactly what Dr. Dean Ornish recommends for patients with heart disease.

For Mom’s first meal home, I made a large pot of vegetarian chili — enough to stretch for several meals and to share with a neighbor. Which brings me to the topic of this week’s Royal Oak Patch column. “Cooking for Comfort” is my tribute to simple home-cooked meals. The column recounts how I learned to appreciate kitchen work after years of avoiding it. I hope it will inspire you to make a soul-filling pot of soup or stew to warm your winter night.  Please click here to read it. –CL