This is a Veterans’ Day story. Or a Thanksgiving story, you choose. It’s late for one and early for the other, which I guess fits with the theme anyway.
Last week my spouse suggested we make a stuffing that one of his buddies invented. “It’s great,” he said, “it’s mostly cheese. I just need you to make the roux.”
A part of me sighed, and the rest said “well, it’s mostly cheese.” Cheese is great. For cheese, I will take cooking directions from someone with a traumatic brain injury.
If you’ve never hung with someone with a TBI, they manifest in different ways. Most of which can lead to some of the worst fights you’ve ever had. For example, I had to slow-blink him and point out that we have an assigned Thanksgiving dish already.
“But your BIL hates making stuffing.” He remembers these things. Birthdays, anniversaries. My (dead) grandparents’ anniversary. Not that he promised five minutes ago to make me a hot dog.
“I want you to think about the ingredients,” I said slowly. Sometimes it’s better if he reaches these conclusions on his own. My dad is lactose-intolerant. Usually (because Portland) someone is cutting out gluten for one reason or another.
“But, cheese,” he said. “Someone will want it.” The recipe calls for a pound of cheddar and half a pound of gouda, so he got the two pound cheddar brick while I got smoked gouda at the cheese counter. I’ll put a pound in the freezer; cheddar freezes just fine.
I made cornbread three days ago, and cut up rye bread into cubes. He didn’t remember that rye is a flour when he bought bread, and thought dark rye was like caraway seed rye but more so, like brown sugar. I find ways to use the things he brings home. He’s a sucker for a coupon, for a deal on things we don’t want and wouldn’t have bought. I have a nitrous-propelled cream whipper somewhere, because it was 80% off. It’s the same color as the KitchenAid mixer that I use to make whipped cream. He remembers I love red.
“I sauteed the onions and garlic,” he says.
I ask how the bundt pan needs to be prepared. We put a towel over the pan to keep pet hair out of the grease; he doesn’t always think ahead like that. He doesn’t remember that it gets baked, but I know he mentioned a “cheese crust.” He re-reads the recipe. We turn the oven on.
I send him for herbs. “Where is the sage?” There’s only one herb garden; it’s got only sage and savory in it. The thyme is by the garage.
“Make the roux,” he instructs, and I do. I’ve already grated the cheese: the KitchenAid is good for that too. He’d been planning to do it by hand, after I made the roux but in the thirty seconds between that and when the cheese needed to go in.
“Now thin it with chicken broth.”
I’ve made cheese sauce before. Also the cheese isn’t even in yet. “Don’t I need to add the herbs somewhere in here?” The herbs needed to go in while the butter was melting, and they’re not even chopped yet. The roux burns. We throw it away. I melt butter again, add herbs. Add the flour and whisk.
“Shouldn’t there be salt?”
The salt goes in now; I’ve gotten lucky. But it sets something off in his brain, some knowledge that I’ll need to know what’s happening one or two steps ahead of where we are.
He can’t start in the middle of things. He can rattle a long list off in order but can’t go back to the one thing you missed without starting over. He reads the recipe, too fast to follow. I’ve added the onions and garlic already; now the cheese goes in. Then the chicken broth. I hope.
“Did he say how much?”
He reads the recipe again, start to finish. I add two cups, slowly; it’s enough.
We mix the sauce with the cubed bread in the bundt pan. Set it in the fridge.
“You just want to make a temperature delta.” When he talks like that it’s hard to remember he can’t make leaps. We get frustrated with each other.
I make another roux, add sage, gouda, salt, broth. Pour this thicker sauce over the top of the pan and put it in the oven. Finish it under the broiler.
The house smells like family.