The Photo of Dorian Grey
...or, One Knish, Two Knish...
I’m guessing most of you, like me, imagine ourselves looking different than we really are. Maybe in our imagination we’re svelte, or our ears stick out less, or our hair is longer. Maybe our eyes are blue instead of brown, and our clothes the latest fashions. But to look at a recent photograph and not recognize ourselves at all, that’s rare.
That’s what happened yesterday with my mom.
It’s been a busy week! My in-laws are here from Maryland to meet their two new great grandchildren (my nieces’ kids). And coincidentally, my brother Simon is here from California to spend time with my parents.
As a way to maximize my time with Simon, I stayed over at my parent’s apartment on Monday. That way, we had Monday evening and all Tuesday together.
Mom wasn’t always sure about who we were. She asked several times where the children were. Or, she thought Simon was a cousin from England. But it didn’t matter. Our objective was to be with Mom in the moment. We shared a fruit shake, enjoyed the wonderful winter sunshine, listened to music, went to the beach, and laughed over anything and everything.
With the perspective of time and distance from his last visit, Simon says that Mom is still about the same as when he saw her in February. She is charming, happy, and exuberant. She is more hesitant when speaking in a conversation, but she is great at confabulating. That’s the ability to present false memories as real without the conscious intent to lie. It is most associated with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
As we were sharing photos of the kids, Simon showed Mom a picture of them walking on the beach.
“Who’s that?” he asked her.
“That’s you,” she replied.
“Who am I with?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “That looks like my mother.”
Simon and I looked at each other forlornly. If you assume you are much younger than your actual years, and your memory is shot, then it makes sense not to recognize the old, white-haired woman in the photo. When she realized she was looking at a photo of herself, Mom was upset. “That can’t be me,” she insisted.
We let it slide, because we both knew that trying to change her perception of reality wasn’t worth the anguish.
That wasn’t the only incident to spark our concern about Mom’s disintegrating cognitive abilities, but it was the most pronounced. For example, last night we visited my married son and his wife. Planning the outing was easy compared to the number of times we had to explain to Mom where we were going and who we were going to see. When we arrived at our destination, Mom greeted her grandkids with gushing hugs and kisses then asked me who they were.
Mom’s reality is constantly shifting, her “now” as tenuous as her declining brain activity. Despite the difficulties, our family treats Mom with love and respect, and for this I am truly grateful. They give her the ability—and the desire—to enjoy the now.
As a treat for my in-laws, born and bred New Yorkers, I tried my hand at a new and rather complicated (dare I say patchkied) dish. Once you’ve made them a few times, however, knishes are not too difficult to assemble. The trick is to break down the steps into manageable parts.
As there are many steps to this recipe, I find that assembling it in stages makes the whole process less daunting. Knead the dough and put it in the fridge. Then boil up the potatoes and put these in the fridge too. Take them out the next day and continue the process. When you fry your onions and garlic, be sure to caramelize the onions. This adds flavor to the potatoes. Eat them hot straight out of the oven! My husband prefers his with deli mustard.
2-3 cloves garlic chopped
1 large onion chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
4-5 potatoes peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 Tbsp mayonnaise (optional)
1-2 Tbsp margarine (optional)
Water to cover the potatoes
2 ½ cups flour 1 tsp baking powder ½ teaspoon salt 1 large egg ½ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp white vinegar ½ cup water
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk egg, oil, vinegar and water. Add wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix until a dough forms. Knead, then store covered in the refrigerator overnight or at least 1 hour.
Place potatoes in a pan, cover with water, and cook on high until water boils. Reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes become soft and can be pierced with a knife.
Fry garlic and onion in olive oil until onion becomes “caramelized.” This is a process of slowly cooking them until they are richly browned.
Drain water from potatoes. Mash potatoes by hand, adding margarine and/or mayonnaise while they are still hot so that they melt into the potatoes. Add spices. Add caramelized onions and garlic. Mix until smooth (but don’t worry if there are lumps).
Divide dough into two equal portions. Roll one portion on a floured surface until quite thin and oval in shape.
Spread half the potato mixture on the dough and roll the dough to create a “log.”
Pinch the ends of the log together. Grab a small section of the log in your right hand, and twist it, severing it from the whole, then pinch the severed opening closed. Place on a baking sheet.
Repeat this process for the entire log, forming up to seven small-sized knishes from the log (or fewer if you like them bigger).
Repeat again with second portion of dough and remaining mashed potato mixture.
Brush each knish with beaten egg then place in oven on 350° for 40-45 minutes until they become golden brown.
Based on the recipe in smittenkitchen.com.