“I’m not made of wood, and I don’t have a wooden heart…”

by Katie Pizzuto on June 20, 2013

in Cooking,Diets,Health

spicesWhen you’re raised in a split family, with your father a thousand miles away, you learn to appreciate the value of a parent differently. While I was fortunate enough to grow up with a wonderful stepdad—a phenomenal one to be honest—the heart often yearns for the blood that helped make it, as iron is drawn to a magnet. When I was young, we spent years writing back and forth to each other from week to week, and I was also able to spend my summers with him, but nothing makes up for the ghost-like absence of your father in your daily life. So let’s just say that a good deal of my vacation time is spent visiting him each year.

And it’s true what they say, you know. Your real problems aren’t your bills or your unemployment or your marital spats. Your real problems are the ones that blindside you on a Saturday night, bludgeoning you like a sledgehammer takes down a soft-boiled egg. They leave you sobbing alone in a dark living room because you’ve just been told that your father…that Papi that held your hands as you combed the beach for seashells, and serenaded you with Elvis songs…has just had a heart attack and is in the ER. They leave you stranded with your thoughts and your mortality, helpless because you are a thousand miles away and you can feel every last inch of those miles tear at you.

But the heart is strong. The heart says “I will not go gently”. The heart heals. But damn does it leave scars. Two stents later I was speaking to the voice at the end of that heart and I thanked every God I could think of, from Allah to Zeus, that he was still around to serenade me. One week later I was on a plane for a visit that was just as much for my healing as it was for his, with my baby brother’s words echoing in my head—if anyone can get through to him about dietary changes, it’s gonna be you, sis. I wound up spending a long weekend with a dad that ate pretty much everything except his morning fruit with a salt-free Mrs. Dash seasoning, and I knew it would get ugly quickly if I didn’t step in.

So I bought them some cookbooks, taught him how to make a delicious green smoothie that tasted nothing like the spinach it contained, and promised him a variety of spices and herbs so that he wouldn’t go postal from having all his food taste like Mrs. Dash. There was no sense trying to transform his beloved Cuban food for the time being (that’s my next goal) because you can’t just make substitutes for the dishes a person has been eating all their lives and make them happy. They might eat it, sure. But they’ll be miserable whether they say so or not, because it’s not the food they remember.

Thus the goal became new tastes, and new memories. For father’s day, my dad got a box full of homemade blends (sans salt) from all corners of the world. He got some Herbes de Provence, some Ras el Hanout, some Cajun rub, some Thai rub, my much-loved BBQ rub, and a few others. It was the most intrinsic way I could think of to keep both his heart and his soul happy at the same time. My father takes great pleasure in his food, and I needed him to know that everything would be OK. That you could eat healthy and not eat bland. That salt and fat were often crutches for the lazy.

It’s a rather rude awakening when life protrudes a very rigid middle finger at you, and forces you out of the lulled gastronomic slumber you were in, foolishly thinking that all would be right with the world as long as you could just have that extra piece of pork crackling or that late-night bowl of ice cream. But the wisest of us quickly learn to stick that middle finger right back out at life and tell it, “I’m wide awake, damn it. Wide awake.” We figure out how to duck when life jabs, and how to make smoothies when life hands us spinach. With every last morsel, and every last drop, and every last bite, we learn.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Francois June 26, 2013

Yeah, having fallen down recently, the only thing to do is try to get back up while not being afraid to feel. How you deal with it makes all the difference.

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2 Lucia July 29, 2014

My dad just had a hard attack a month ago and the hardest thing for us now is helping change his diet, no salt?? we are trying our best, it is quite difficult and I am quite a foodie so i am doing my best but I would love to have more suggestions. Great post felt completely identified with it!

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