Friday, January 06, 2012


It was an odd Christmas back in New Zealand. I sprung out of bed early to put together a hearty breakfast - scrambled eggs with roasted tomatoes, rosti and smoked salmon. There was ceviche to marinate, a Marie Rose sauce to put together and prawns to peel.

We hit the road with a few treats, following the familiar route to the nursing home. While mum couldn't make it home for Christmas, I was determined to bring some of it to her.

I've written before about what a cruel bitch dementia is, add a stroke and immobility and little is left. Aromas, tastes, sounds and touch can sometimes reach parts of the brain otherwise immune to language. For mum's last Christmas I was determined there'd be a gin and tonic and prawn cocktail, diced small enough to savour a teaspoon at a time.

The G&T hit that hidden spot. A smile as wide as a river. Each mouthful of prawn cocktail swallowed with something that looked like joy.

So pleased we'd found a way to make the day special in some way, for someone who barely knew her name let alone the date.

A little over a week later, my mother died.

I was just pleased she got a last gin, something that had previously been a daily reward for decades.

Back in Wellington, as the northerly wind whips past outside, I try to write her eulogy. All I can think of is standing at the kitchen bench creaming butter and sugar to make a cake, biscuits or a slice.

A year and a half ago I wrote...

Like many of us who are comfortable in the kitchen, it carries a daily reminder of the culinary traditions shared by my mother. Even if for me some of these skills are now redundant – through observation and careful assistance my mum taught me how to cream butter and sugar for a cake and to use the eggs from the pantry, not the cold ones in the fridge, for baking. As a carnivorous child I learnt how to brown cubes of beef for a casserole and the art of gravy making.

Decades on and in a different country, when I stew rhubarb (the only fruit that was ever plentiful in our shady garden) I cut the stalks into thick slices with my mother’s hands. I toss the sugar in carelessly, adding sweetness as required, remembering to only moisten with a little water and keep an eagle eye on the pot while it simmers on a low heat.

Though my mother is still able bodied, she no longer stews fruit. It’s years since she cooked and the poorly stocked kitchen under my father’s reign fills me with waves of grief each time I visit. This was once the heart of the home, now the drawers and cupboards are alarming spartan. It is the room of the house I feel her absence most. Despite that fact mum still bustles in, she might eye the kettle but is unable to reliably make a cup of coffee now.

Lately I’ve found myself honouring her memory by reading the books she used enjoy and keeping some of her kitchen traditions alive, albeit on another continent. I know I can’t blow the dementia from her brain or bring back the woman who raised me but I find these rituals comforting. For now she still has a dry sense of humour and can come up with the odd gem. She knows who I am but our baking days are over.

I'm looking forward to this phase of grief being over, returning to my own kitchen and paying homage to my mum in the way that comforts me most.

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Blogger Moira said...

I am new to being a lurker on your site and not inclined to comment on blogs very much. However, I am terribly touched by your post today. A few things - I'm an escapee from NZ and visit there mostly to see my mum (who thankfully is aging well) whose heart was definitely in the kitchen and the garden when I was growing up. Just reading about your mum creaming butter and eggs brings me to tears!!! You have written a beautiful post which so honours your mum and no doubt an equally touching eulogy. PS Also I love a G&T and could happily develop a daily addiction.

1:57 pm  
Blogger Reemski said...

Oh Gill, I'm so sorry for your loss

2:19 pm  
Blogger Lisa (bakebikeblog) said...

Oh I am so very sorry to hear about the passing of your mum, but so very glad to hear that she got to indulge in one last G & T :)

Thinking of you xxx

2:27 pm  
Blogger steve said...

Very sorry to hear about your Mum Gilli, best wishes

3:17 pm  
Blogger Johanna GGG said...

so sorry to hear about your mother's death - I hope it brings her and your family some sort of release - from the dementia at least - I have no doubt from your lovely post that she will be fondly remembered - thinking of you!

9:37 pm  
Blogger Wendy said...

Thinking of you. x

11:45 pm  
Blogger Rita said...

So sad for you Gill. You made me cry too, reading about your thoughts of mum in the kitchen. I hope my children will feel that way about me too, as I find myself daily suffering the destructions of the aging process, and heading slowly but surely towards the end. What you wrote (and feel) is a fitting tribute to your mum, and I salute you.

9:00 am  
Blogger K said...

So sorry to hear about your mum. But glad she could enjoy one last gin and a prawn cocktail. I feel the same about my grandmother and food, I can't grease a pan without thinking about her. Thankfully those memories live on in us!

1:34 pm  
Anonymous Jackie said...

Sorry for your loss, Gill. My beloved godmother is slowly but surely succumbing to Parkinsons at present. We sat together at Christmas, she sipping lukewarm tea and crumbled shortbread. It is the little things.

8:21 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Thanks for all your kind thoughts, especially to the lurkers. Sorry about the tears.

12:42 pm  
Blogger Gourmet Chick said...

So sorry to hear of your Mum's death. This post is a beautiful tribute to her. Thanks for sharing it with us.

8:52 am  
Blogger librarygirl said...

So, so, so sorry to read that your Mum had died. You know I know how you feel, have lost both parents recently, Dad with dementia. Be gentle to yourself. xx

3:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry.

*gentle hugs*

7:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand the impact of dementia as my mother succumbs to its grasp. How wonderful that you were able to cook for her again, and your memories of her in the kitchen are priceless.

9:16 pm  
Blogger kitchen hand said...

Beautifully written.

2:13 pm  
Anonymous Helen said...

Beautiful post, Gill. I'm sorry for your mother's death. I think the blog is an eulogy.

9:48 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Thanks again. It's been a long and tiring 10 days. Am back at work but taking some more time off in a week or two.

BTW the eulogy went well and baking got a big mention. My sister remembered the imaginative cakes that she'd make for our birthdays. These included a toadstool house complete with Big Ears (Enid Blyton), my brother got a vintage car cake and I'm sure I got a space ship. I do remember her relief when ice cream birthday cakes became the rage in the 70s and she no longer had to create the weird and wonderful cakes. Though good at cooking it wasn't her passion and perhaps by the third child, she'd set the bar too high!

12:49 pm  
Anonymous Lesh@TheMindfulFoodie said...

Hi Gill, I'm catching up on my blog reading (after coming back from hols) and saw your post about your mum - I'm really so sorry for your loss.

7:58 am  
Blogger Lene Andersen said...

I have been absent for a while and completely missed this. I'm so sorry for your loss. What a way to remember her - through food and taste and that part of you that will always be with you.

I, too, have body memories of being in the kitchen with my mother and her mother, baking and cooking passed down in the heart of the house, the place where everything important takes place: the kitchen. I, too, have lost someone to dementia (my father) and remember the grief at the loss and yet, the relief that he was finally free. 10 years later, he is still very much with us in the stories we tell, the laughs we share and the little moments that bring him back.

Thinking of you.

11:39 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Thanks Lesh and Lene. I thought I'd feel more relief under the circumstances but thus far sadness is winning. It's a long journey putting one step after the other (or perhaps more accurately, turning down one social invitation after the other). In the meantime I'm training slowly and achingly for a big bushwalk next month.

2:10 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry I missed this Gill... my condolences for you... i've lost many people close to me and know the heart break. Be good to yourself and have your loved ones near. xxx

10:36 am  
Blogger jo_blue said...

I'm very late on this, but my deepest condolences all the same for your loss. Your writing does much to honour your mother. Hugs. Jo

2:50 pm  

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