She sashayed down the hall, in her long tattered fur coat. It used to be white, but was now the color of a mechanic’s hands after a long day of work. All the others were eating, but not her.
She had other plans.
She clutched her favorite navy blue purse. The one with the gold strap that was only intact because of the help of duct tape. Her large clip-on earrings weren’t matching that day, but they were both dangling from her earlobes that were droopy from decades of heavy costume jewelry.
Bright pink was the shade of lipstick she applied that morning, missing most of her thin lips, but successfully painting her dentures, and upper part of her chin.
Her bare feet took confident steps into the dining hall, stopping just before table number four, where there was one empty chair.
She looked up, and put her head back as if to say “look at me, I have arrived”. It was at the precise moment when she knew she had everyone’s attention. Both of her hands came up, one on either side of her coat and she slowly, with giddy anticipation, opened it like a fan, revealing that she had absolutely nothing on underneath.
I worked one year in an that assisted living facility, and she was my favorite.
I learned a lot from her and from the rest of the old souls who I cooked for everyday.
I learned to get comfortable around death, and even a little harder, to be comfortable around people who are very close to death, but not quite there yet.
I learned to be patient with old people because each and every one of them has a story and all of them just want to be heard, loved and respected.
I learned how to best diffuse someone who is in the early stages of alzheimers, when they are steaming with anger, and confused as to why they are not at their house.
I learned who’s doors to knock on really loud before I entered to give them plenty of time to get their hands out of their pants.
I listened to survival stories about Auschwitz.
I learned that a pet can be the reason for someone to stay alive.
But most of all, I learned about the negligent way we treat our senior citizens in this country. The food that they eat is like any other institutionalized food.
Cheap, fake and void of any nutrients whatsoever.
There was a statistic that I read before taking the cooking job about how quickly people deteriorate after they are put in an old folks home. I don’t know the exact rate but it’s very fast. After my first day working there – I knew exactly why that is. With such tight budgets and so many people to feed, canned soups, boxed mash potatoes, cheap meat and white bread were the staples.
Eating food like that everyday, paired with over medication and no stimulation would make anyone deteriorate fast.
This is an area that needs to improve in this country by leaps and bounds.
It’s disgraceful and abusive. I’m still trying to figure out how I can play a part in that change.
If anyone is passionate about this, email – let’s chat.
For now, I will leave you with a recipe with lots of nutrients.
Next time you visit your loved ones in a nursing home, bring them one of these.
I promise they’ll thank you for it.
Sweet and Savory Sun Dried Tomato Burger
Makes 6 patties
2 medium sized sweet potatoes
1 cup dry brown lentils, rinsed and drained (200)
1/2 cup dehydrated Sun Dried Tomatoes (25g)
1 tablespoon olive oil (15ml)
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup rice flour (80g)
10 turns fresh cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil (1g)
1 teaspoon sea salt (6g)
•Preheat oven to 350° (175°C) and bake the sweet potatoes for 1 hour (put a few slits in the top of the potato with a knife and place them on a baking sheet or foil to catch any drips).
•While the potatoes are baking, place the lentils and 3 cups of water (709ml) in a medium sized pan and bring to a boil. Turn down heat to medium and simmer lentils for 30 minutes, until all of the water is absorbed and the lentils are soft.
•While the lentils are cooking, place the Sun Dried Tomatoes in a bowl and cover them with enough boiling water to cover them completely. Cover the bowl and let them rehydrate for 15 minutes.
•While the sweet potatoes and lentils are finishing up and the Sun Dried Tomatoes are busy hydrating, mince the garlic and saute in 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium / low heat for 1-2 minutes until it just starts to get brown. Turn off heat and set aside.
•When the potatoes are soft, scoop out 1 packed cup of potato (270g) and place it into the food processor (keep oven at 350°), along with the cooked lentils and rehydrated Sun Dried Tomatoes (strain the water from them first).
•Process the ingredients for a minute or two in the food processor until everything is mixed up and there are no big pieces of tomato.
•Pour this mixture into a mixing bowl and add the garlic, rice flour, black pepper, dried basil and sea salt.
•Scoop out the mixture 1/2 cup (120g) at a time, and form into 6 equal shaped patties (if you want more patties you can make them slightly smaller and the recipe will yield more).
•Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes on one side, flip over and bake for an additional 15 minutes on the other side.
When serving, swap out the mayo for mashed avocado! This will give you a dose of healthy fat and antioxidants instead of something that your body has no use for.
Serve on Romaine leaves for a healthy gluten free option.