Archive for August, 2011

Life’s A Passing Parade

Posted on: August 18th, 2011 by Donna

Peach Crisp

Once I had one hundred parents. Not literally, of course, but that’s how I chose to look at the residents of the assisted living community where I served as administrator. I loved singing to them as I joined the rest of the staff serving meals in the dining room. Some sang along, some requested favorite songs, and even those losing a grasp on life’s reality mouthed every verse of the old hymns. And when things went well, the challenges of being administrator balanced with reward and satisfaction.

Sometimes, however, a simple promise to your parents can get you into hot water. Before leaving on a much-needed weekend at our lake house, I announced to everyone that I’d bring back East Texas peaches. Confident of my culinary skills and wanting to give our kitchen staff a break, I announced, “Next Monday, I’m making Peach Crisp for everyone.”

Trouble is, by the time we left church and headed toward the produce stand at the orchard, the only ripe peaches left were the size of plums. The clerk gave me the peeling secret, “Put ‘em in boilin’ water a coupla minutes an’ the skins will slip right off.” I bought a full bushel and lovingly placed it on the floor of the back seat.

The car smelled like heaven. It was 102°.

I snoozed while my husband drove south. Somewhere around Lufkin our air conditioning blew noticeably warmer air. It got muggy and close. I adjusted the vents and fiddled with the controls, but the car became progressively hotter. Peaches like heat. They ripen and send out waves of perfume. People do too.

By the time we got back to Lake Jackson the car interior sizzled. Even with the windows open, the peach smell was so sweet I could barely breathe.

Humming, the next day I started rummaging around in the facility kitchen about one o’clock. I figured an hour prep time, about the same time in the oven, and no more than fifteen minutes to scoop servings into our small dessert bowls. I still had plenty of time left to chill the bowls in the walk in cooler.

Dinner was scheduled for 5:00 pm, and I was going to make it grand—provided I could get all those peaches ready. Feeling just a tad superior, I gave the peeling secret away to our cook and asked for something to boil them in.

Cook grinned and pointed to a pot large enough to park a Volkswagen in.

Smiling back, I carried the heavy pot over to the stainless steel sink and turned on the tap. It took lots of water to fill it.

I couldn’t lift the pot out of the sink.

Cook smiled, dumped out half the water and hefted the pot to the stove. “Sure glad you volunteered to make dessert today.” She cranked up the gas under the big burner, sat on a stool, and folded her arms. “Looks like a heap a work to me. You ever use canned peaches?”

“Oh, no,” I gushed, “fresh fruit makes the best crisps.”

It didn’t take long to find that peeling small peaches isn’t a great deal of fun, even if they’ve been treated to a few minutes in a hot bath. First off, the skins weren’t slipping anywhere except out from under the knife. The main thing slipping was the peaches. Popping out of my hands, they slithered around on the stainless work table, and then rolled right off onto the floor. Now Cook kept a clean kitchen, but you really shouldn’t eat off the floor.

I peeled and sliced until my hands cramped in protest. Needing a break from the knife, I made a huge batch of topping. Gold and red, bald and slimy, my efforts mocked me, barely covering the bottom of Cook’s gargantuan mixing bowl. Two huge baking pans—steam table size—waited for the peach filling. I looked at the mountain of fruit beside me, felt the heat from the five gallon pot boiling on the stove, and sniffed at the crumbly flour/oatmeal topping, sprinkled with grated nutmeg, toasted pecan pieces and chunks of still cold butter. Thought I’d never finish. By the time I filled the second pan and slid it into the big oven I was covered in sticky peach juice, flour and oatmeal. So was about half the kitchen. I brushed at several peelings stuck to my skirt.

Cook giggled. Surveying her once sparkling domain and shaking her head, she sent me back to my office to change clothes. “Honey, you even got that stuff in your hair!” Now laughing so hard she had to cling to the sink, she managed to tell me, “I got it from here.”

I beamed that evening as I joined other staff carrying trays of desserts to residents’ tables. Most of my ‘parents’ dug right in. I listened, but didn’t hear a single “Yum” or praise for the chef. Spoons scraped the last bits out of bowls and slowly the dining room emptied.

Wouldn’t you think someone would say it was good?

A lone diner sat quietly at the corner table. Sometimes he needed prompting to rise and return to his room. If he wandered, staff or another resident reminded him of its location. As I approached, he looked up at me and I recognized his look of frightened confusion. He seldom remembered who any of us were.

“Hey, Charles, would you like me to walk back to your room with you?”

Relief flooded his face. “Okay.”

Arm in arm, we walked toward the hallway.

“Say, that peach stuff was really good.”

“Why, thank you Charles.” I knew he had no idea I’d cooked it, but that was okay. He liked it. I squeezed his hand.

A brief flash twinkled his blue eyes. “I’m pretty sure I like vanilla pudding better, though, don’t I?”

I laughed all the way home. Cook’s going to love this story tomorrow.

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