The richness of life

  • Tinky Weisblat with her spinach and sweet onion dip. Contributed image

  • Spinach and sweet onion dip. Contributed image

  • Tinky Weisblat’s spinach salad topped with Asian style vinaigrette. Contributed image

  • Carmelizing onions. Contributed image

For the Recorder
Published: 6/11/2020 8:37:57 AM

I had a strange experience in 2013 that is germane to the situation in which all of us find ourselves today.

My memoir, “Pulling Taffy,” came out that year. The book recalled my final year taking care of my mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

Based on my journal, it shared vignettes of our lives together and lessons I learned from the experience. It also shared some recipes — because I’m a food writer and also because food preparation was something my mother and I shared.

Although basic culinary tasks grew more difficult for her at the end of her life, having something to do in the kitchen anchored her and made her feel useful.

Most of the response to the book was enthusiastic. People generally responded to its message of hope, to its humor, and to its stories about my mother. Even in her final years she had a personality to savor and wisdom to emulate.     

I did, however, receive one review that wasn’t uniformly positive.     

The reviewer had several nice things to say. He liked my writing and he appreciated the “curious and effecting (did he mean affecting?) hybrid” style of the book. He found the story moving.     

Nevertheless, as far as he was concerned the bottom line was that “as the book moves to its conclusion, we know how it’s going to end.”

Well, duh.    

I wasn’t offended — but I had to laugh. I didn’t set out to write a novel of suspense in “Pulling Taffy.” Until a cure is found for Alzheimer’s disease, a person who has it will not get better. His or her story is bound to end in death.     

In my book about my mother, I wasn’t interested in dwelling on the fact of her death. I was interested in describing, and learning from, the way in which she died — and more importantly, the way in which she lived.     

As I thought about the review, I came upon a profound truth.     

In a sense, I realized the story I told in my memoir was everyone’s story in microcosm. All of our stories end in death. What’s important about those stories is not that we die at their conclusion. What’s important is how we choose to live on our way to that conclusion. The destination is less important than the journey.   

When one is close to death, as I was in that final year with my mother, the richness of life makes itself felt more than ever.

Every conversation, every visit with friends and family, every child’s smile, every sunny day, every hug, every note of music, every line of poetry, and every laugh bring special joy because they may be the last of their kind. Today, as all of the globe feels a little closer to death, I’m trying to apply the lessons I learned in 2013 to my life and my relationship with the world and the people around me (and we do still have relationships, even if we can’t be close physically). I want to write words that will move people and sing songs that will lift their spirits. I want to express love whenever I have the chance.

And I want to appreciate the beauty around me. Each time my dog, Cocoa, and I walk down the road, it seems to me that we observe a new sign of spring — another flower in bloom, another tree filled with leaves, tufts of grass springing up greener than ever. The color green is my theme these days. It’s a color of hope and renewal.     

It’s a theme indoors as well as out. Spinach is in season, bringing with it vitamins and minerals and that gorgeous deep color.     

I eat spinach and cook with it a lot — in quiches, in quick sautés, in salads, in scrambled eggs. Like the cartoon character Popeye, I feel “strong to da finich ‘cause I eats me spinach.”     

Here, I share a couple of my current favorite recipes using this versatile green. Stay safe, and savor all the flavors and experiences you can.

Slightly Asian Vinaigrette for Spinach Salad     

I use a lot of different dressings with spinach salad. Most (like this one) have a sweet-and-sour personality. This vinaigrette conveys the brightness of spring, thanks to the combination of soy sauce and honey.

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 splash water

4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) neutral oil such as canola

a few drops of sesame oil

In a Mason jar combine the honey, the vinegar, the soy sauce, and the water. (This may take a little doing; the honey doesn’t always want to mix in.) Add the oils, and shake to combine. Serve over raw spinach leaves and your choice of other ingredients. Good mix-ins include crumbled bacon, chopped boiled egg, sliced red onion, crumbled blue cheese, and any raw fruit you have in the house.

Makes between 1/2 and 3/4 cup dressing.

Store any leftover vinaigrette in the refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature and shake it well before serving it again.

Spinach and Sweet Onion Dip

This dip shouts “spring”; the spinach gives it lovely little flecks of green. And your house will smell wonderful from the caramelization of the onions. It is best prepared early in the day or the night before you wish to serve it. It needs time in the refrigerator to allow its flavors blend and mature. If you happen to have fresh parsley and/or dill in the house, you may add sprigs of them before blending the dip at the end.

2 teaspoons butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 large onions, cut into thin slices, with each slice cut in half (sweet onions are best, but any onion will do in a pinch)

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 generous splash dry sherry

3 cups fresh spinach leaves salt and pepper to taste (start with 1 teaspoon sea salt and three grinds of the pepper mill)

1-1/2 cups sour cream (half of this could be Greek yogurt if you want to be healthier, and if your onions are really huge you may increase the amount to 2 cups)

Combine the butter and olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter melts stir in the onion slices. Cook them slowly over low to medium-low heat, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes or so, until they are reduced and turn a lovely golden brown.

This will take at least 1/2 hour and may take as long as an hour; they will be ready when they are ready. Add a little water from time to time if burning seems likely.     

When the onions are almost ready stir in the mustard, and continue to cook, stirring, for at least 5 minutes. Add the sherry and the spinach and cook, stirring, until the liquid disappears and the spinach wilts.     

Sprinkle salt and pepper over the vegetables and remove them from the heat. Allow them to cool to room temperature. Place the vegetables in a food processor and combine them briskly; then add the sour cream and mix well. If you don’t have a food processor, an electric mixer will do, but you will have bigger chunks of onion and spinach.     

Place the dip in the refrigerator, covered, and let the flavors meld for several hours. At least an hour before serving, taste it on a neutral cracker to see whether you want to add any additional flavors (more salt and pepper perhaps?). Bring the dip to room temperature, and serve it with raw vegetable strips or chips. Makes two to three cups.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, tinkycooks.com. 


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