My Daughter's Art Project
I knew they’d be hanging there, knew I’d have to share the paintings with others. Yet they still caught me by surprise.
It’s my daughter’s last week in high school. As part of her graduation, Liora presented her 12th grade final art project. Rich in scope and imagination, the project focuses on Mom’s Alzheimer’s. Seven water colors, arrayed chronologically, recreate scenes from Mom’s life from her childhood to her engagement and marriage; to her motherhood; playing with her grandchildren; and finally, to her relationship with my dad. Except that these are not whole paintings. Each one is incomplete, the colors fading into nothingness as Mom’s memory itself fades.
Accompanying the photos is a looping video of Mom trying to answer questions about her life. It’s the video I took two weeks ago that Liora modified for her project. Every time Mom’s memory fails, the screen becomes bright and a buzzing noise is heard. That is Liora’s sense of what it’s like to be unable to recall simple information.
Liora spoke about her project, about the great fog she sees enveloping Mom, and about how difficult it is to sustain a relationship with a grandmother who doesn’t remember who she is.
Liora’s teacher, Toni Mitelman, the daughter of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein,* who passed away just this past April, praised Liora’s art work. She told me that her father, towards the end, had dementia and was quite ill. She marveled at how lively Mom is in comparison and sympathized about how hard it must be to lose her while she’s still active.
I also visited Mom after a two-week hiatus. We spent the day visiting doctors for routine tests. I reminded Mom over and over why we were sitting in the clinic’s hallways. We joked that the nurses were vampires and needed her blood. When it came time for the EKG, Mom objected to the procedure. How could we see her heart, I asked, if not via the test? I suggested that the strange clamps and suction cups were kissing her body. She lay down on the bed and started
singing, “You’ve gotta have heart,” from Damn Yankees, swinging her feet to the rhythm. The nurse had to ask her to lie still.
When we sat down for coffee, Mom offered to pay. She rummaged through her bag pulling out her make-up purse and offering me a lipstick tube. “Will this help?” she asked.
Mom looks the same, but I know her skills have taken a downward turn. She often doesn’t remember what things are or what they’re for. She has become sweet and innocent.
This week’s recipe comes all the way from St. Petersburg, one of the cities I visited as a staff escort with the AACI Russia Trip.** Beef Stroganoff is a creamy meat and mushroom dish from the mid-19th century that our guide Natasha (really) said was probably created by a cook who needed to hide the fact that the beef he was using was about to spoil. She also pointed out that the dish bears the name of the Stroganov family and not the cook. The Stroganov’s were extremely wealthy relatives of Czarina Catherine. Their palace was built by the same architect who designed Catherine’s opulent palace. It was around the corner from our hotel.
Our group ate dinner in a homey restaurant called The Golden Café. Under the auspices of Chabad of St. Petersburg, the restaurant served hearty, tasty Russian meals. I didn’t succeed in getting their recipe for this beef dish, but as there are so many variations, I decided to stick to one I know.
Kosher Beef Stroganoff
If ever there were a filling, creamy beef dish that made you want to lick your plate clean, this is it. For my daughter, who loves anything with cream and mushrooms.
4-6 Tbsp olive oil divided
1½ lbs beef steak sliced in thin strips
½ cup flour
1 large onion chopped
4-5 cloves garlic chopped
1½ cups fresh mushrooms sliced
¼ cup water
¼ cup sherry or dry red wine
½ cup parve cream substitute (unsweetened)
1 tsp thyme
¼ cup fresh parsley chopped
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Pour about 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan. Dredge each beef strip in flour then sauté for about two minutes total, flipping once, and removing from pan to a side container. Once all the meat is cooked, add more oil and sauté garlic, onions, mushrooms and spices until most of the liquid evaporates. Add wine, water, cream and mustard, stirring gently. Feel free to add about 1 Tbsp of flour to thicken the sauce. Add in beef. Cover for about 10 minutes on a low flame. Serve on a bed of thick noodles.
*May his memory be for a blessing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aharon_Lichtenstein
**To learn more about AACI (the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel), visit www.aaci.org.il. You’ll find information on the branch activities and on the fabulous tours and cruises we offer.