I haven’t been writing much in the past week. Last Wednesday, I got word that my grandmother, Marcella, was gravely ill and her time to pass was near. Thursday, I dropped off Grendel at camp and headed north three hours to Park Rapids to say goodbye to my 88-year old Grandma Marcy.
We have a small family. As such, my aunt and uncle who live near Park Rapids were able to host most of us in their home. They housed us and fed us. We’d eat lunch near the hospital, but they provided breakfast and dinner for anyone who was around. Their hospitality was a great comfort.
Knowing the burnout potential of hosting people in a time of duress, I looked for an opportunity to help out. Probably more to the point, I looked for something to do…contrary to some opinions that I need to be involved in everything, I mostly just look for something to do. Keep me busy, please. When not busy, I have too much time to think. Too much time to feel.
In the midst of death and dying, life seems to spin out of control. Thoughts don’t make sense. Words don’t translate. Food is mindlessly eaten. Nothing seems planned or deliberate.
To say I felt out of sorts last weekend would be a great understatement.
So, I did what I do to ground myself. I volunteered to make a meal.
Breakfast, to be specific. The couch where I was staying was smack dab in the middle of the living room…which is open to the kitchen. I may as well be the person making breakfast rather than be the person awakened by the person making breakfast. Savvy?
When I left the hospital Saturday evening, Sunday morning’s breakfast was on my mind. Grandma Marcy was there, too, but a little further back…behind the grocery list formulating. Ah, sweet reprieve.
My mother was tucked in my Jeep as I drove to one of the three grocery stores in town. Not entirely familiar with the area, I stayed to the beaten path and chose the one on the way to my aunt and uncle’s house. Happy to be in silence, I ran through the menu possibilities and factors to take into consideration. For instance, it’s not my kitchen. I have to work with what I think they might have. Also, nobody’s going to want some elaborate sit-down breakfast as we just won’t have time. The more I can prepare in the evening, the better. Healthy and hearty is good, particularly considering the crap I’d been shoveling in my mouth for the past few days.
Comfort food was a requirement.
I decided on an egg dish. Originally, I had an Egg Bake in mind…which is pretty much a Lutheran version of quiche. It’s self-contained, can be baked at once, and can be kept warm and served in individual pieces as people wake up and amble toward their breakfast destinies. Then, I remembered that I wouldn’t be able to do a one-dish entree if I wanted the dish to have onions in it (two of my relatives don’t share my Onions Onions Everywhere World View). So, I redirected myself toward another self-contained egg dish: Quiche. Great. What kind?
Having taken a mental inventory of the kitchen, I knew that there was ham to be used. Though I’m not a bona fide Ham Fan, I went ga-ga for the version my uncle did on the grill. Grilled ham is the new black. It’s how ham is done.
So, a basic quiche is…well…basic. Meat, cheese, veggies (desired, not required), eggs, and half & half in a pie crust. Ina, Giada, Nigella, or the Neelys might make their own pie crust, but I figured I’d go with the Ree and Sandra Lee camp and buy a two-pack of crusts in pie pans from the freezer case…a quiche with onions and a quiche without. Considering the entree decided, I had a starch and a fresh fruit yet to choose to fill out the menu. Meals tend to be formulaic…especially Minnesota meals. In time of coping and comfort, stick to the known. So, I’d pick up some ready-bake cinnamon rolls for warm gooey carbs and some globe grapes, per my mother’s request.
Walking in to the grocery store, I felt peaceful. Grandma was in her hospital bed having just been surrounded with her loving offspring. My mom was in the Jeep enjoying some silence. I was in the cheese section of a grocery store with a list and a basket. Suddenly, there were known variables and constraints…and my mission was well on its way. I even had a predetermined order to my grocery store visit–their floor plan does that perfectly. No surprises. No opinions. No crying.
I stood in the cheese section and exhaled. It was an exhale of relief. There was nothing more to do at that moment than choose a cheese. I didn’t have to wonder about Do Not Resuscitate orders or Do Not Intubate confusion. I didn’t have to question why we went from following the heart monitor like a televised sporting event to not even taking her vitals. I didn’t have to listen to the building hysteria in my aunt’s voice.
Ham and Gruyère would be a perfect combination. A bit of salt with a bit of nuttiness. God Bless Gruyère. I picked up and looked at a few different brands of Gruyère…not really caring what the price was, or if there was too much or too little. Then, I saw a tub of shredded Gruyère. I needed no more signs from God that I was on the right track. That’s one quiche down, one more to go…and I headed over to the produce section. One foot after the other, I was single-minded.
With ham and Gruyère being fairly strong tastes, I veered from any of the hefty onions and grabbed a leek and a bunch of scallions instead. They’d provide the onion flavor in a complementary–rather than overpowering–capacity. While in the produce section, I walked over to the grapes.
Grapes. Grandma loved them. She’d turned down grapes in the hospital as she knew there were some left at home. She figured she’d have some when she returned there.
She wasn’t going to go home.
I blinked back the tears, grabbed the grapes, and ran for the dairy section. Back on task, I calculated how many eggs I might need for two quiches. Heck if I knew. What I could remember of my past egg experiences is that it always seems like more eggs are needed to fill a baking dish than I think should be required. So, I grabbed a container of 18 eggs. 9 eggs per each 9″ pie pan. That was enough math reasoning for me.
I nabbed the pie crusts and cinnamon rolls in the freezer department and was heading to the checkout lanes when I realized I had forgotten the crucial ingredient.
Half & Half. Half & Half is what the Lutherans tend to skip in the egg bakes…making the dish a bit rubbery. Half & Half is necessary for making the quiche fluffy and light. It makes the world go ’round. I love it in my coffee and Grendel takes it in his IAMS.
I missed Grendel. I wanted my dog. I realized how much I needed comfort. I needed warmth. I needed affection. I needed familiar and predictable. What I didn’t know was that I was only half-way through my stay.
Half & half in hand, I exhaled again…a heavy exhale, not an exhale of relief. Realizing the grocery store could only be a bunker for so long, I foisted myself back out into the mess.
Sunday, I took comfort in the quiche. When it came time to put it together, I didn’t rush. I enjoyed the rhythm of cooking. The known. The predictability of an oven. The warm fluffiness of the first bite. The half & half in my coffee.
Monday, after discussing where Grandma would go for the last phase of her life, I fed her bites of lasagna and held the straw to her lips for her to sip some milk. I kissed her goodbye and left her for the last time. I drove away in tears to pick up my dog and go home to my own bed. My familiar comfort.
Tuesday, they moved Grandma from the hospital to the nursing home for the last phase. A comfortable phase, I prayed.
Wednesday, with Grendel at my side, I was awakened by a phone call from my dad saying Grandma Marcy passed away during the night.
She never got to eat those grapes.
They were some really good grapes.
A Quiche to Cope
1 9″ Frozen Pie Crust
1/3 c Ham, diced or sliced (leftover or deli sliced is fine)
1/2 c Gruyère Cheese, shredded
1 Bunch Scallions (Green Onions), sliced…white part only
1 Small Leek, sliced…white part only
1/3 c Half & Half
Salt & Pepper
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pie pan on baking pan…it’s more sturdy to hold than grabbing the sometimes-wobbly pie pan.
- Sprinkle ham, 1/3 c of cheese, onions, and leek pieces in bottom of pan…make sure they’re somewhat evenly distributed across the bottom.
- Beat eggs with half & half and carefully pour on top of the contents in the pie pan.
- Sprinkle remaining cheese on top…add some salt and pepper as well.
- Bake for 45-55 minutes, until it puffs up and a knife poked into the center comes out clean. Do not over bake.
- Slice and serve.
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