I named my brother Dan, our head chef, first. Then I included the support team—myself, my mom, my daughters and nephews.
“Did I help?” Mom whispered as I passed her the mashed potatoes.
“You sure did,” I told her. ”You mashed the potatoes, put the marshmallows on the sweet potato casserole, and mixed the fruit salad.”
“That’s good,” she said. “I like to help.”
Our desire to help and contribute to seasonal celebrations doesn’t end with a diagnosis of dementia. It’s lovely to linger in the kitchen together, preparing food for the holidays. It’s even lovelier when you can adapt and enjoy dementia inclusive holiday cooking so that people of varying abilities can participate.
Rebecca Katz, author of The Healthy Mind Cookbook, sees food as a great equalizer, something anyone can enjoy regardless of abilities. Fixing a delicacy for someone offers a tangible and delicious way to give back.
Here are six secrets of iementia Inclusive holiday cooking.
- Leaf through a favorite family cookbook or recipe box and use the pictures and recipes as a catalyst for conversation. Ask open-ended questions, such as, ”What does that brownie recipe make you think of?” “What do you like about the holiday season?”
- Chose a time of day when you’re both rested.
- Create a comfortable kitchen environment, by playing familiar seasonal songs you can both hum or sing along to. Reduce extraneous noise and distractions, such as a television in the background.
- If you wish, take photos during the experience. That way, you can relive the adventure and share with family and friends.
- Indulge in instant gratification, if possible, by sampling your work when the cooking is complete.
- Even if the person living with dementia can’t help prepare food, he can still enjoy sitting in on the action and the conversation.
Whether you’re stirring a pot of orzo or dropping mint leaves into cool water, enjoy your time of creation and connection in the kitchen.
A longer version of this piece originally appeared on Joan Lunden’s excellent website: Enjoy Dementia Inclusive Holiday Cooking. Thanks to Sue Fitzsimmons, MS, ARNP, Judith Fertig, author of The Memory of Lemon, Kate Pierce, LMSW, Alzheimer’s Association Greater Michigan Chapter, and Rebecca Katz, author of The Healthy Mind Cookbook
Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.
“Did you remember to pack my medication?” I ask Ron.
We are sitting in our dining room, eating breakfast before taking off on a trip to the Black Hills.
“I did,” he says, swallowing the last bite of his omelet. “Do you need any right now?”
“Maybe just a small dose.”
Ron dashes upstairs to his secret cache of very important stuff and extracts the vital substance. He returns and hands me a small chunk of rich dark chocolate. This is my self- prescribed treatment for many of life’s challenges, both at home and on the road, including craving sweets, sour stomach, homesickness, and worry.
For years, I’ve felt dark chocolate is important. But I didn’t understand how vital it really is until my brother Dan generously sent us a copy of Rebecca Katz’s new creation, The Healthy Mind Cookbook. Rebecca is an accomplished chef, author, national speaker, and director of the Healing Kitchens Institute. In this intriguing cookbook, she includes a glorious piece of prose she titles The Culinary Pharmacy, where she cites brain boosting foods and their healthy properties. The triumphant sounds of the Hallelujah Chorus seem to envelope me as I read the words “Dark chocolate” in her healing list. Avocadoes, cashews, mint, lemon, peaches, and strawberries, are among the other fabulous foods that boost our brains while managing to taste delicious. I am so impressed with the Culinary Pharmacy and with Rebecca’s friendly recipes that I reach out to her, to see what simple tips she has for busy care partners.
Though she is in the middle of a book tour, training a new puppy, and meeting a book deadline (her newest book on Soups is coming out in 2017), she graciously agrees to talk to me. Her father lived with dementia and the topics of brain healthy eating and using foods to engage with people are very dear to her.
First I give her a short quiz, which she aces.
“Guess what section of your book I read first?” I ask.
She ponders for about two seconds, then says, “The Sweet Bites section.”
“I earmarked the Chocolate Cherry Walnut Truffles,” I confess.
“I took these truffles with me when I testified in front of a White House committee on dementia and food,” she says. “I wanted people to understand that we all need to experience healthy and flavorful foods.”
She tells me how preparing and cooking interesting foods together can help care partners stay engaged and connected. (For more details on that interview, please wait patiently until October 2016, when my new book on dementia and creative arts emerges. I’ll feature experts on cooking, music, gardening, storytelling, arts, and more!)
After a heartfelt conversation, Rebecca makes a very sweet gesture. She invites me to include the famed Chocolate Cherry Walnut Truffle recipe. She also gives me a tip for instant gratification.
“Instead of cooling the chocolate mixture for two hours before roll them into truffles, you can stick them into the freezer for 15 minutes. (After they are rolled and ready to eat you can store leftovers in the freezer)” Which is just what Ron and I do. And they are absolutely so healing and mouthwatering that I am considering adding them to my emergency “medications” list.
CHOCOLATE CHERRY WALNUT TRUFFLES
MAKES ABOUT 20 TRUFFLES • PREP TIME: 15 minutes • COOK TIME: 21/4 hours or 15 minutes if you place the chocolate mixture in the freezer.
My dad, Jay, had this delightful habit; whenever you told him something that struck his fancy, he’d
roar, “That’s FANTASTIC!” and gleefully clap his hands for emphasis. This was doubly true if you
told him he was getting chocolate for dessert. Jay never met a piece of chocolate he didn’t like, and
I have a feeling that just hearing what’s in these truffles—dates, cherries, and walnuts, smothered
in chocolate, rolled in coconut and curry—would’ve given him cause to offer up a standing ovation.
Studies suggest walnuts may boost memory, while chocolate, as we all know, is the ultimate mood boosting
agent. One bite of this dessert and you’d be hard-pressed to feel any stress.
2 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces dark chocolate
(64 to 72% cacao content),very finely chopped
1/2 cup walnuts
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup pitted and halved Medjool dates
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup finely diced dried cherries
2 tablespoons shredded coconut
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
Stir the boiling water into the chopped chocolate and let it stand for 30 seconds. Using a small whisk, stir until the chocolate is completely melted and glossy. Coarsely grind the walnuts in a food processor, then add the cocoa powder, dates, vanilla, and 1/8 teaspoon of salt, and process for a minute. Then add the chocolate mixture and process until smooth, another minute. Transfer to a bowl and stir the cherries into the chocolate mixture.
Cover and chill for approximately 2 hours, in the refrigerator or 20 minutes in the freezer until firm. On a plate, mix the coconut, curry powder, and a pinch of salt. Scoop up approximately 2 teaspoons of the chilled chocolate mixture and roll it into a smooth ball between your palms, then roll it in the curried coconuts to coat. Repeat with the remaining mixture, then place the truffles in an airtight container and chill thoroughly before serving.
COOK’S NOTE: If you want to give the truffles a golden hue, toast the coconut in a 300°F oven for 10 to 15 minutes. For a more distinctive taste, add another ¼ teaspoon of curry powder.
To learn more about Rebecca, her books, speaking, and to get great tips on healthy foods, please visit her website at Rebeccakatz.com
Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.