Tuesday, December 22, 2015


The Wedding at Cana•
Paolo Veronese, 1563, Venice, Italy
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Today's topic is a subject I have been thinking about for several months now:  Resiliency.  I can't even spell it without help, but if I were a psychologist or social scientist of some sort, I would be studying it.  I would be researching, interviewing, writing, questioning, and trying to get to the bottom of why some people have it and some do not.

First, a definition or two.

From dictionary.reference.com:
1.  the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
2.  ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy

From merriam-webster.com:
first known use 1836
1. the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
2.  an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

I found an interesting quote on the above website, too.

It is really wonderful how much resilience there is in human nature.  Let any obstructing cause, no matter what, be removed in any way, even by death, and we fly back to first principles of hope and enjoyment.   -- Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897

It's definition #2 from both of the sources that I am interested in.  Best Mother-in-Law in the World gave me a thesaurus for Christmas last year.  According to Webster's New Roget's A-Z Thesaurus, flexibility is a synonym for resiliency.

I consider myself a resilient person.  Maybe it's helped by the fact that I am an optimist.  Maybe it's because I think that there is always a silver-lining if you look for it.  Maybe it's because at critical periods of my life, I have made the best decision I knew how to make.  Case in point- the decision to go to college, even though I knew I would be doing it all on my own.  Even though my dad didn't want me to leave home.  Even though staying in Spruce Pine would have been easier and taken less work and money.  I remember distinctly making this decision.  Should I take the SAT or not?  Should I take accounting and bookkeeping classes or French 3 and Honors English?  Should I apply anywhere except Appalachian State University?  Where would the money come from?  How would I pay the housing deposit?  Obviously, it all worked out for the best.

As the daughter of an alcoholic, I made the decision not to drink in high school.  I wasn't invited to parties with the popular crowd anyway.  My dad would never have let me go.  But I lived in fear that I, too, would become an alcoholic.  And that was before there was much talk of the genetic predisposition to become one nor did families talk about it.  Mine sure didn't.  I tried to convince myself that none of my friends knew.  Looking back, I am sure they did.  But I do remember reading that a high percentage of daughters of alcoholics marry one.  That scared me.  I was a good Southern Baptist, as well.  On the wall of my grandmother's church there was a sign listing all of the evils and drinking was up there.  And Mama Mildred, bless her heart, believes the Bible, chapter and verse, but thinks that in the story of Jesus turning wine into water at the wedding of Cana, the wine is really just grape juice.  And I suppose that technically that's right.

Mama Mildred is probably the most resilient person I know.  She has led quite a life and always bounces back.  Not that she hasn't had her dark days.  A few years ago, after the death of my college roommate and best friend, we were discussing suicide and she told me that she thought about it at one point in her life.  She says the Devil himself paid her a visit, urging her to do it.  She fought him off, however, and has never looked back.  (To read more about Mama Mildred, click here.)  She is the sole survivor or her siblings, she lost my dad to cancer about 20 years ago, and my brother in February.  She says that losing a child is the most difficult thing that she has lived through.  I do not doubt it.  But, somehow, she presses on.  Her deep belief in God and Heaven help her.

The Ex-Ex's mom, the Best Mother-in-Law in the World, has just completed radiation and chemotherapy treatments for cancer in her sinuses.  We visited her and Best Father-in-Law on Sunday for a couple of hours.  She has no appetite and has lost way too much weight, but I know, without a doubt, that she will recover and be ready to take on life again in the spring.  She is a Mid-Westerner and they are known for their resiliency.  I wish that I could move in and cook for them.  On Sunday, I told her that I wonder what the first food that she actually wants to eat will be.  The thought of it makes her a bit nauseous at the moment, but I am very curious.  I've made chocolate pudding and macaroni and cheese for her, but I think that Father-in-Law has eaten them.  That's okay.  He needs fattening up, too.  He's lost weight due to sympathy pains.  The same ones that cause fathers-to-be to gain weight with their pregnant wives perhaps.  The silver lining is that BMIL has given up cigarettes. The thought of that makes her nauseous, too.

Are some people born resilient?  Or is resiliency earned through making it through tough times?  If we try to protect our children from the inevitable ups and downs of life are we handicapping them?  La Vie est un long fleuve tranquille (Life Is a Long Quiet River) is a French movie that came out in 1988.  One of my Frenchie friends says  La vie n'est pas un long fleuve tranquille  whenever something sad or difficult comes along.  Life is not a long quiet river.  While searching for the title of that movie, I found another quote in French that sums up my philosophy fairly well.

La vie n'est pas un long fleuve tranquille, mais elle offre quelques îles de tendresse. 
                                                               --Sandra Dulier

Life isn't a long quiet river, but it offers a few islands of tenderness.

When I don't know what else to do for someone going through a tough time, I cook.  Today, while thinking about resiliency, my mother-in-law, and this blog post, I decided to make one of Son #2's favorite dishes (the Ex-Ex says I only make it when the boy comes home).

The cast iron skillet was a gift from Mama Mildred.  I later learned that it belonged to Childhood Friend's grandmother who was one of our neighbors on Bell Street.  That makes it even more special to me.

I googled macaroni and cheese on this blog and found three other recipes I've experimented with.  I am always playing around with it.  I have one more that is on my to-cook list, from Cook's Illustrated, my favorite magazine.  I will report back after giving it a try or you can try it yourself if you wish (leave a comment if you do, please).  Below is the one I've used most often.  No fancy ingredients. Basic and easy.

Comforting Mac & Cheese

3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
3 cups shredded cheese (cheddar or a mixture of cheddar and Monterey Jack)
16-oz. macaroni 
Salt, pepper (black or white), ground mustard or Texas Pete sauce can be added.  Or a combination of all.  Today, I decided to add bacon that had been cooked to crispy and then drained on paper towels.  

Cook macaroni in salted, boiling water until it is al dente (for small elbows, about 9 minutes).
Drain, rinse, and set aside.
Melt butter in large pan over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and combine well.  Cook for about a minute to remove the flour taste.  Gradually add milk and continue to whisk.  Cook until the mixture thickens into a creamy roux.  Add seasonings and whisk well.  Remove from heat.  
Add 2-1/2 cups of the cheese and stir until melted and combined.  
Put macaroni into a buttered baking pan.  (I cooked the bacon in the cast iron pan and left some of the drippings in for flavor, so I didn't need to butter the pan.)  Pour cheese sauce over the macaroni and stir well.  (I added the crumbled bacon at this point, reserving some for the top.)
Top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. (My grandmother always topped hers with bread crumbs or crushed crackers.)
Bake in pre-heated 350˚F oven for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is bubbling.

Foolproof Macaroni and Cheese
from Cook's Illustrated Comfort Food Favorites, 2013

Serves 8-10

Block American cheese from the deli counter is best here, as pre-wrapped singles result in a drier mac and cheese.

4 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni (CI highly recommends Barilla)
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 (12 ounce) cans evaporated milk
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)
5 ounces American cheese, shredded (1-1/4 cups)
3 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (3/4 cup)

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350˚F.  Pulse bread, melted butter, and Parmesan in food processor until ground to coarse crumbs, about 8 pulses.  Transfer to bowl.
  2. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot.  Add macaroni and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, just until al dente.  Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain and rinse macaroni in colander under cold running water.  Set aside.
  3. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in now-empty pot over medium high heat.  Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture turns light brown, about 1 minute.  Slowly whisk in evaporated milk, hot sauce, mustard, nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons salt and cook until mixture begins to simmer and is slightly thickened, about 4 minutes.  Off heat, whisk in cheeses and reserved cooking water until cheeses melt.  Stir in macaroni until completely coated.
  4. Transfer mixture to 13 by 9-inch (or similar size) baking dish and top evenly with bread-crumb mixture.  Bake until cheese is bubbling around edges and top is golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.
To make ahead:  Macaroni and cheese can be made in advance through step 3.  Increase amount of reserved cooking water to 1 cup.  Scrape mixture into baking dish, let cool, lay plastic wrap directly on surface of pasta, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.  Bread-crumb mixture can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.  When ready to bake, remove plastic, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 30 minutes.  Uncover, sprinkle bread-crumb mixture over top, and bake until topping is golden brown, about 20 minutes longer.  Let sit before serving.

Bon appétit to all, but especially to Best Mother-in-Law in the World and my Frenchie friend Muriel.  Stay strong, ladies.  Thoughts and prayers are with you.

*It seems this painting is quite resilient, also.  It was painted by Veronese in Venice in the 16th century, but was confiscated by Napoleon in 1797.  The huge canvas, measuring 22'3 x 32, the largest painting in the Louvre, was rolled up (and cut in half, according to one website) and shipped to France.  It was then sewed back together.  It was not returned to its home after Napoleon's defeat.  Another painting was sent back in its place.  During WWII, it traveled around France in a truck.  During renovations to the Louvre in 1992, the painting was damaged in two separate incidents.  First, it was spattered by water due to a leaking vent. Two days later, it fell to the floor when one of its supports gave way while it was being raised to a higher hanging place.  The metal frame tore holes in the canvas, however none of the faces were damaged.  It was repaired and now hangs opposite of the more famous Mona Lisa, in the Italian gallery of the Louvre.  I visit it every March.  The kiddos must see Mona and I spend time checking out the details of this very interesting painting.  It is the Wedding Feast, but it is much, much more.

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