Excerpts from “Pulling Taffy”
Tinky Weisblat in her Hawley kitchen with her mother's remains and her short bread cookies.
Editor’s note: These excerpts from “Pulling Taffy” are courtesy of the author, who retains full rights to them.
Friday, February 11: Puppy Love
With Valentine’s Day looming I thought I’d talk about the importance of love in my mother’s life — specifically, puppy love (and kitty love as well). This love is strong and mutual.
I think that if my mother had to move to an assisted-living facility she might not miss me as much as I’d miss her. She would rapidly get used to whatever caregivers she had; she is generally cheerful and grateful for any help from any person.
On the other hand, I think she would be desperately unhappy without our dog, Truffle, and our cat, Lorelei Lee.
Taffy is more likely to recognize them than she is to recognize me. She may not always remember Truffle’s name. She has only begun forgetting it recently; for a long time Truffle’s was the only name she could call to mind with any consistency. Nevertheless, she invariably looks down and says, “There’s my dog. She’s a good dog.”
Most pet lovers know that caring for and stroking animals can lower blood pressure and stress. Our furry friends also provide undemanding companionship — particularly to individuals who suffer from dementia.
Think about it. To Truffle and Lorelei, my mother’s dementia makes little difference to her essence. If they were dependent upon her for meals and exercise, it might matter. I have been their primary caregiver as well as hers for quite a while, however, so they don’t expect anything from her but love.
To them, Taffy is actually more appealing now than she was before she got sick. In her prime she was constantly in motion, hardly ever stopping to make a lap yet alone take a nap.
Now she sits or sleeps a lot of the time and always welcomes canine and feline company.
They don’t care that she asks the same questions over and over again. They love to be talked to; they have little interest in the substance of her conversation. Let’s face it: English is not their first language, although Truffle has quite a large vocabulary.
And, like Taffy, Truffle and Lorelei Lee live in the present. The next caress, the next treat, are all that matters.
She talks to them, sings to them, cuddles them, and rubs them. She also gives them a LOT of food. In exchange, they provide loyalty, companionship, warmth, and unconditional love.
Unlike her human companions, they don’t try to make her adhere to any schedules or eat nutritious food or take pills or bathe at certain times or remember a darn thing.
Lorelei and Truffle also make Taffy laugh —which is great medicine for any ailment.
I know that’s a cliché, but clichés are often true.
Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us………
Friday, January 14: Cookie Monster
Like many elders, my mother has lost some of her sense of taste. I don’t know why this should astonish me since she has definitely lost much of her capacity for seeing, hearing, and smelling things. Losing one’s taste buds, I gather, is a natural occurrence in the old.
Nevertheless, it always takes me a little by surprise when she isn’t interested in foods that formerly delighted her, particularly spicy foods — curry, salsa, and so forth. Even odder, given her past, is her current passion for sweets.
My mother spent much of her life avoiding sweets. Her idea of a fancy dessert was fresh fruit.
She avoided sweets in part because she was always battling her weight. (I can relate to that!) She also avoided them, so she said, because she didn’t particularly care for them.
Today she is a fiend for sweet things — particularly cookies. She will nibble vaguely at a sandwich for lunch and then request dessert when the main course is less than a quarter eaten. Clearly, she can still taste sweets if very little else.
Although Taffy’s passion for sweets seems unhealthy it does give me leverage. I generally try to avoid infantilizing her. When it comes to food, however, I have no trouble treating her like a small child. I tell her that she may have dessert IF she eats most of her “real” food.
I think her desire for sweets relates to her memory issues as well as her taste buds. She frequently forgets that she has eaten recently. Yesterday an hour after breakfast she informed me that I hadn’t fed her in a couple of days.
The sugar high from sweets gives her an immediate feeling of having been fed.
So I muddle along, mixing as many healthy things into her diet as I can but being sure to give her a cookie or two each day. She is no longer at all heavy, and if small things make her happy, I say, “Let her have them!”
Besides, it’s hard not to see her sweet tooth as a physiological representation of much of her experience at this point in her life. As she ages and forgets things, she wants more of the sweet things the world has to offer. She has consumed nourishing soups and salads all her life. Now she is looking for the icing on the cake (and preferably a bite or two of cake as well)!
Today we made buttery cookies for my cookie monster. Our hand mixer only seems to have only one beater, but that didn’t worry Taffy. The other beater is SOMEWHERE in the kitchen … I think. (I have my own memory issues!)
Recipe: Ghost Farm Cookies
As a child and in her old age, Taffy was a fiend for cookies — the simpler the better.
Cookie recipes don’t get much simpler than this one from Jody Cothey, a resident of our town in Massachusetts who wears A LOT of hats. She and her husband Edward run Tregellys Fiber Farm. There they raise yaks, Icelandic sheep, Bactrian camels, and several dogs as well as other exotic and non-exotic animals.
Under the name Pamela Stewart, Jody also writes poetry. Her most recent book of poems is called “Ghost Farm.”
1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter at
1∕2 cup dark (or light!) brown sugar, firmly packed
1∕4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cream together the butter, brown sugar, and soda. Stir in 1 cup of the flour. Transfer the dough to a board (on which you have sprinkled part of the second cup of flour!) and knead it.
Knead in the remaining flour. The dough will be quite stiff by the time you finish incorporating all the flour.
Jody suggests a number of ways in which to shape her cookies, including rolling them out and cutting them. Here’s what I do: I roll my dough into three logs and cut each log into thin cylinders. I then press the cylinders into little flat circles.
Place the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake them for 15 to 20 minutes. Let them cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Makes about 24 cookies (more or less, depending on how big you cut/roll them).
— TINKY WEISBLAT