During the past few years I have occasionally given private, mostly individual English lessons that are all about the person in question, wholly tailor made to fit in with their level of comprehension of the language and, almost as important, their character, their personality, and age. Anyone grappling with the challenge of learning a new language nearly always suffers from the excruciating pain of looking foolish, I find, and the result is that even outgoing people end up being on the shy side. It is important that I succeed in getting them to overcome this hurdle, how else otherwise will they be able to make any inroads? I often take recourse to songs and nursery rhymes, the sillier the better. People feel okay about ‘repeating’ the words of a song or a ditty because it somehow shields them from exposing their tender language-impaired ‘self’. And if there is a little laughter or a chuckle to be gained thereby, all the better. Nothing like a little sense of humour to shake things up a bit, it can do so much to encourage a little courage.
A good song is “O dear, what can the matter be? Three old ladies locked in the lavatory”, etc. The first verse is fine but things get very complicated, vocabulary wise, after that. I will introduce it only when we have reached a certain level of understanding. Much easier to begin with the famous, or infamous if you will, baked beans song. You know the one, don’t you?
Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart
The more you eat, the more you fart
The more you fart, the better you feel
So eat baked beans with every meal.
I heard the song for the first time when I went to boarding school in England where I learned that flatulence enjoyed pride of place in giggledom. Farts, and bathroom jokes, I soon discovered were the origin of much hilarity. So noblesse oblige, I joined in and even participated in a farting competition in my dormitory one night. I hasten to add that I soon outgrew any fascination for the subject or its physical expression anywhere near my presence. In one dictionary I looked up the word ‘fart’ in at the time the explanation was quite mind boggling: “a slight explosion between the legs”. I have a lot of respect for the workings of a healthy body, and any unwanted air must of course be allowed to escape, bar the risk of it rumbling uncomfortably inside the body. That is what I informed my children when they were young. That said, the bathroom was the best place for its evacuation unless extreme conditions obtained, in which case it would be a good idea to excuse oneself. I realised that it was a fine line between presenting the act of farting as a ‘normal’ bodily function and casting a socially shameful light on it.
Why preface a post with all this talk of flatulence, you might well ask? Well, the reason is actually quite a bittersweet one. My mother had to undergo surgery on her brain last summer to get rid of a haematoma. Considering her age, almost 90 at the time, she came through it all with flying colours. The doctors suggested she stay off blood thinners for a while, and all was well until a few months ago, when she began to suffer from very strong atrial fibrillation. After much to-ing and fro-ing with the cardiologist and blood tests etc, it was decided that she should be put on blood thinnners, the Coumadin anticoagulant also known as Warfarin, to avoid the risk of a stroke.
Aged 90 plus now, she passed her yearly driving test on the Monday, and was told by the cardiologist not to drive on the Tuesday. That didn’t go down well with her and she started driving again as soon as her fibrillations abated. Not that she drives any long distance, bless her, basically only within a 3-5 km radius, but being able to drive is what keeps her ticking.
Here is my mother, Agnese, a couple of Sundays ago. At a garden party lunch.
Another thing that keeps her ticking is cooking. My love of food and cooking has most certainly come from her, and a lot of our conversations over the phone are all about recipes or ideas for a recipe or talk of what she found at the market. So imagine telling someone like her that they have to restrict their “healthy” food intake. Crestfallen by the appalling implications of this bloody Coumadin stuff, I told the second cardiologist that to me it sounded like a death knell for her. Thankfully, he was very sympathetic. And, indeed, hopefully within the next ten days she will be put on another kind of anticoagulant medication that does not interfere with the diet and does not require periodic blood tests. Phew.
Please take a look at what she must avoid until then.
Let me translate for you.
TO BE AVOIDED
Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, radicchio, turnips, artichokes, any dark green leafy vegetable
Liver, pork, bacon, eggs, butter
ALLOWED ONLY IN VERY SMALL QUANTITIES – LESS THAN 100G PER DAY (that’s just about a piddly 3 ounces !)
Chicory, asparagus, endive, bell peppers, aubergines, mushrooms, courgettes, collards, fennel, tomatoes, carrots
Fresh beans, fresh peas
“Drinking grapefruit juice, cranberry juice, and alcohol during treatment with warfarin / coumadin can increase your risk of bleeding.” “Steer clear of green apples and prunes.” In one of the websites I researched on the subject, even extra virgin olive oil was supposed to be eschewed save for a dribble. In other words, with Coumadin we are basically being told NOT to eat a Mediterranean diet, the one that is now proven to be so good for us! How do you think my mother got to celebrate her 90th birthday?
I felt very badly for my mother and when she came over for supper day before yesterday, I wanted to cook something that would seem ‘normal’ and not smack of that dreaded word ‘obligatory’. ‘Choice’ is such a pleasing sounding word, isn’t it. At first I thought I might do something with beans, not the proscribed fresh ones but the ordinary cooked kind. My mother doesn’t like chicken much, the only meat she really enjoys now is pork for some reason but of course she isn’t allowed that, it wasn’t a fish day, she wasn’t allowed eggs … ouff! … so beans sounded like a good kind of protein. Except that I then thought of the beans’ ‘explosive’ consequences … and that’s how I came up with the idea of the recipe for a potato cake drowned in a cream and pecorino sauce. I take no credit for the recipe, I saw it on a television programme recently.
Boiled and mashed potato, onion, olive oil (EVOO), tomato sauce (passata), cream (as in full fat whipping cream), grated pecorino cheese, basil (the original recipe called for fresh mint leaves but my mother is not overly fond of mint)
Boil the potatoes (in my case it was only 1 large potato), mash, allow to cool and set aside.
Slice or chop the onion and sweat it with some olive oil in a saucepan. Then add the tomato sauce, some salt and a teensy pinch of sugar. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, adding fresh basil leaves a few minutes before the end of the cooking time. Taste and season again if needed.
Now, add the mashed potatoes and gently combine with the tomato sauce.
It doesn’t take long to combine all the ingredients nicely, over a low heat.
Use two spoons or a wooden spoon to shape the potato mix in to a round ‘cake’ shape. Continue cooking until you think one side has been nicely ‘done’. Then, using a plate, flip the potato cake and slide it back into the pan.
The potato cake can now cook on the other side.
Pour some cream into a small saucepan and add some nutmeg (my idea) and the cheese. Cook until the cheese has melted. At this point, I switched everything off and decided to make my mother a good old-fashioned tomato bruschetta.
It was that beautiful time of day, when one can enjoy a glass of wine and contemplate the cinematic performance of a Summer sunset. Nature can be such a ham at times.
I got my husband to lay the table.
He kept my mother company as she enjoyed her sundown bruschetta on the balcony.
I stayed in the kitchen getting on with our meal. My mother had brought some tripe she had made earlier. Trippa alla romana, which my husband loves. So, heating that up and covering it with pecorino was easy enough.
There had been no mention of green beans being dangerous in any way. So, I had prepared some with a clean conscience.
I pan fried some breaded beef slices. Who doesn’t love a “fettina panata” now and then?
I heated up the potato cake and then slid it onto a plate. I apologise for the photo, not a good one.
I heated the pecorino cream sauce and poured it over the potato cake.
Rustic tablecloth, colourful combination of various hues – thorougly unsubtle at that. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to go for ‘cheery’ even though it’s a mite over-the-top. Dinner was ready to be enjoyed.
And enjoy it she did, phew. My mother said it was really nice. She did not eat all of it and took the rest of it home later.
Grapes were fortunately also not on the Verboten list.
And all in all we had a lovely evening, followed by watching the film “Florence”, with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant.
The moral of this story? The enjoment of food, especially at a certain age, is an essential part of a life worth living. Do not let dour medicine get in the way of it. Get thee hence Coumadin. Roll on the new medication. But in the meantime, even a ‘restricted’ meal must appear to be inviting.