Miriam Green’s mother, Naomi Cohen, gave her a love for cooking and good food, and later, her struggle with Alzheimer’s brought Green to write “The Lost Kitchen: Reflections and Recipes from an Alzheimer’s Caregiver,” a cookbook memoir weaving poetry, recipes and anecdotes.
This first book by Green, published by Black Opal Books, offers recipes along with reflections for the soul. Green, who has a master’s degree in Creative Writing from Bar-Ilan University, also writes a weekly blog about her mother’s Alzheimer’s that has appeared on the Alzheimer’s Association website.
November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, designated as such in 1983 by US president Ronald Reagan.
Green is an American immigrant to Israel who has lived in Beersheba for the last 26 years with her husband, Jeff, and three children, now grown and nearly out of the house. Her British-born parents also moved to Israel, initially to coastal Netanya, an hour and a half away from the desert town of Beersheba.
“I learned to cook in my mom’s kitchen, and the hardest thing as an adult is putting dinner on the table,” she said.
During the early manifestations of her illness, Green’s mother, a woman who expressed much of her love through the classic Jewish dishes she served every night, found herself confused in the kitchen. She mixed up chicken and fish, or forgot how to cut vegetables. Green’s father, whose cooking abilities were limited to making omelettes, began cooking for the two of them, and needed some guidance from his daughter.
“He knew where everything was, but he didn’t know how to cook,” said Green.
She and her father initially thought about writing a cookbook for men, “The Man’s Emergency Cookbook,” since the majority of people affected by Alzheimer’s are women, and many men were undergoing changes in their homes similar to those her father was experiencing. They got started, testing recipes and writing descriptions.
But Green found that she needed a different kind of writing outlet. She would travel to Netanya a few times a week in order to help her father, who was his wife’s primary caregiver, and began writing more about her mother’s illness than recipes. It became a kind of memoir about the experience.
“I don’t know that I could have written anything else,” said Green, who has worked for the last 15 years as a counselor for AACI, Americans and Canadians in Israel, a support organization for new immigrants. “It’s a strange combination of poetry, prose and recipes and I think they all contributed to easing my stress. Sometimes cooking can be very therapeutic.”
During those years of writing, she also launched her blog, sharing anecdotes and recipes in a weekly outlet for “all the crazy things that were going on.”
Joining Alzheimer’s support groups on Facebook, she found that her blog spoke to other caregivers.
“It was eye-opening to read some of the stories and get feedback on my own,” said Green. “Most of my readers aren’t Jewish, and it would resonate when I would write about a holiday, or funny, very Israeli kinds of experiences that I was conveying.”
Some of her readers know her mother and family and appreciated hearing how Naomi Cohen was faring; others who were strangers to their family commented that such honest reflections about Alzheimer’s were rare in their community, and were appreciative.
“It was difficult at some point to tell my father that I was going to make this my project, but he was okay with it,” said Green. “Sometimes he’ll tell me, ‘You know, I’ve been feeling the same way,'” regarding one of her blog posts.
Green likes to say that the best thing that happened to her was a helpful rejection letter from a small publisher, who took the time to explain what was wrong with her initial manuscript.
The letter prompted her to rework the entire manuscript into its current format, which includes her reflections, Alzheimer’s information that she researched, anecdotes about foods and recipes — some hers, some her mother’s — and poetry.
When the storm
turns and says in my mother’s voice
I am solitary next to you,
I think these things:
She is two-thirds empty and one-third confusion.
And the two-thirds are her past and her future.
Or maybe its three-fourths exhaustion.
Or perhaps she is an instrument of God.
When the storm turns cold
and says in my mother’s voice
I am solitary next to you,
I remember these things:
A mother’s love
is bananas and sugar mashed in milk,
one cup worry, a pinch of grief, and what’s left over
sweetens the scones and conversation we shared.
And dreaming? Behind her drooping eyes
is a place that is whole.
And loving? She kisses me
as if I’ve been away for years.
When storm that rattles my windows says
I am solitary next to you,
I know it’s me
or my mother through me, asking,
Can you handle this loss?
Will you forgive yourself if you break?
Strange. A misplaced mother.
A storm with a voice.
And my heart talking to God.
(Reprinted with permission from The Lost Kitchen: Reflections and Recipes of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver, Black Opal Books, 2019. © 2019 by Miriam Green)
The book makes mention of her father’s decision to move himself and her mother to Beersheba and become her next-door neighbor and notes that leaving Naomi’s comfort zone precipitated a decline in her abilities and affected her ability to walk. Within eight months of the move, Green’s father decided to put his wife in a nearby care facility.
He now visits his wife every day, and as a chemist with a degree from Cambridge, has become a visiting professor at Ben Gurion University and recently sent off a draft of a new book to an agent.
“In some ways he’s flourishing, but he’s lonely and misses his wife,” said Green.
As for Green, she sees her mother regularly. The disease has advanced and she is witnessing her mother’s decline.
“It’s given me a sensitivity to other people who may be sick with other illnesses,” said Green, “what it means to all of a sudden have your world shrink. People slow down and even healthy people may forget things, and there’s an acute difference between Alzheimer’s and forgetfulness. I learned to honor where my mom is and give her as much love as I can — she’s still teaching me patience and kindness and acceptance.”
As part of Alzheimer’s Awareness month in November, Miriam Green will be speaking about her book at a fundraiser for Melabev on Tuesday, November 12, in Beit Shemesh. Books will be available for purchase and are available online at Amazon.
A recipe from The Lost Kitchen:
The most fundamental essence of Mom, however, was captured in her chicken soup. This soup was always Mom’s expression of love for our family. She cooked this dish with only fresh herbs and vegetables cut into big chunks. We delighted in the clear, golden broth, the tender strands of chicken, soft celery and aromatic dill. It was the highlight of every Friday night meal when I was growing up. Later, when my husband Jeff and I visited with our kids, the kids always requested seconds, and sometimes even thirds of her fragrant liquid. For this dish, the secret to success is the fresh dill.
Naomi’s Golden Chicken Soup
Don’t even think about using dried herbs for this soup. Do think about adding extra chicken parts to make sure there’s enough to satisfy you when your guests request their second and third bowls.
1 thigh, 1 breast, 2 legs of chicken
1½ onions, quartered
2 carrots, sliced
1 potato, chopped
2 small turnips, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3-4 sprigs fresh parsley
3-4 sprigs fresh dill
6 cups water (may use more)
Salt and pepper to taste
Chop vegetables into large chunks. Set aside. In a large pot, boil chicken in water. When chicken is cooked, remove and let cool. Skim the top of the water to remove any fat. Add vegetables, salt, and pepper. Add three to four whole sprigs of parsley and dill. Debone chicken and return to the pot without the bones. Bring to a boil, then simmer for several hours.