a nursing home visit, and a strawberry balsamic pie

strawberry balsamic pie | the merry gourmet

My father doesn’t remember me visiting him at the nursing home. This has been happening more and more lately. I think it upsets my mother more than it does me. I’m not hurt by his forgetfulness of my visits. It actually takes some of the pressure off. If I have to skip seeing him because work has gotten busy and my clinic runs late, or if I miss a visit because I’m traveling (like I will be this weekend), I’m comforted knowing that he won’t know the difference.

Maybe I should be sad that he doesn’t remember that I’ve been there by his side, holding his hand or helping with his dinner. Honestly, I feel rather numb about the whole thing now. March will be one year since he entered the nursing home. I’ve become resigned to this situation, to his dementia and to our complete lack of control.

I get the question often: “How is your dad?”

No matter how many times I’m asked, I always hesitate, not quite sure how to respond. There really isn’t a happy answer, just an honest one. He’s okay. He’s stable. We’re not having any crises right now. He seems comfortable. I say these things out loud, while inside, I’m thinking: He will die in there. That’s how this will end. We are all just waiting. And grieving.

I tried to make small talk when I visited with Dad late this afternoon. “I’m going on a trip tomorrow, Dad,” I said.

“Where are you going?” he asked, looking more alert than he had when I first arrived at his bedside.

“San Diego. For a work conference. I’ll be gone a few days.” I was speaking so loud that it felt as if I were yelling. He has very little hearing left, and only in his right ear.

“I’ve been there. I’ve been to San Diego. It was a long time ago.”

strawberry balsamic pie | the merry gourmet

We didn’t talk much more than that. He was restless and couldn’t get comfortable. He shifted in his bed, alternately sitting up and lying back again, not able to find the right position. He closed his eyes and seemed to doze, but just as he seemed to be settled, he yelled out.

“Kenneth!” he hollered. “Boyce!” And, after a pause, “Help me.”

I held his arm and reminded him that his brothers were not there, that they’re in Tennessee and Kentucky.

“What do you need help with, Dad?” I asked.

He looked at me, with a puzzled expression on his face, as if he’d forgotten I was there. His beard – the one he’s carefully trimmed and shaped for 35 years – was freshly shaved off by a nursing home aide. His stained, grey t-shirt hung loosely on his frame. He’s lost over fifty pounds in the last six months. His formerly protuberant belly has withered away, his legs are scrawny, and his arms are covered with a map of bruises in shades of purple. His glasses were not on his face; they went missing before Christmas. His hearing aid is also gone, vanished along with much of his clothing and those glasses he’s worn for decades.

He didn’t have an answer for me. And I certainly had no answers for him.

After a while, I said my goodbyes. I told him I loved him. I reminded him that I would see him again when I returned from my trip.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“San Diego, Dad.”

“I’ve been there, to San Diego,” he said.

I smiled.

*  *  *

Once again, I’ve written a post that has nothing to do with this recipe. I really wanted to share this pie with you, though, and this was my chance. This Strawberry Balsamic Pie comes from the The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book. I bought this gorgeous book as a present for myself a few weekends ago, and I’ve fallen deep in love with it. I made this pie last weekend, and thoughts of pie making have flitted through my brain almost daily since then. If I weren’t headed to San Diego tomorrow and through the weekend, I’d be baking up another one.

strawberry balsamic pie | the merry gourmet

Yield: Serves 8-10

Strawberry Balsamic Pie

This recipe comes from the The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book. I’ve tweaked it only slightly.


One recipe all-butter pie crust dough for 9-inch double crust pie

1/4 cup (50 grams) plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 pounds fresh strawberries, rinsed, stems removed, and quartered
1 small apple
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup (150 grams) packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons ground arrowroot
2 or 3 grinds fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt)
Raw sugar, for finishing


Have ready and refrigerated one pastry-lined 9-inch pie plate and a pastry round or lattice to top the pie.

Sprinkle 3 tablespoons granulated sugar on the strawberries, stir, and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Peel the apple and shred using the large holes on a box grater. Drain the strawberries of excess liquid and combine with the shredded apple. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir gently to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, arrowroot, black pepper, and salt. Fold the sugar mixture into the strawberries, and pour the filling into the refrigerator pie shell. Arrange the lattice crust on top and crimp the edges. Chill the pie in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, position the oven racks at the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack, and heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Brush the top pie crust with the egg wash, taking care not to smear the filling onto the crust as it will burn. Sprinkle with raw sugar.

Place the pie on the rimmed baking sheet on the bottom oven rack. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is set and beginning to brown. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees, move the pie to the center oven rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling throughout, 30 to 40 minutes longer.

Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Note: This pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or refrigerated for 2 days.

Very slightly adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book.

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15 Responses to “strawberry balsamic & black pepper sauce”

  1. 1
    Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon — April 6, 2014 @ 8:13 pm

    All I can offer is the encouragement for you to hang in there. And remember to be kind to yourself.

  2. 2
    Liren — April 6, 2014 @ 9:24 pm

    Each day is a process, I’ve found, when grieving. It never goes away, but the good days eventually outweigh the hard ones. The nights and those dreams, though…sigh. When we were in NY I dreamt of my father in law, it was so real, and I didn’t want to let go. Agonizing, but in many ways, I hope for those dream visits, from him and especially from my mom. I’m glad you found your way into the kitchen again, MJ. It’s such a good way to heal. Hugs.

  3. 3
    Macaroni Mama — April 6, 2014 @ 9:36 pm

    Wonderful blog. It’s hard Merry Jennifer. At least you have a focus .

  4. 4
    Kathryn — April 7, 2014 @ 4:31 am

    Such a wonderful post – after my grandfather died I had similar dreams (I still do every now and then) and it took me a while to remember him how he would have liked to be remembered, not how he was at the end. It does take time and the space to grieve. Thinking of you all xxx

  5. 5
    Katy — April 7, 2014 @ 11:59 am

    So glad sharing and cooking is part of your healing. It’s such a blessing to read your posts!

  6. 6
    Paula — April 7, 2014 @ 12:59 pm

    I’m so sorry that you must take this journey Merry-Jennifer. No one can tell you how how long it will last, nor what you should be experiencing. It’s a personal and solitary one but remember that you have many, near and far who support you throughout its duration.

  7. 7
    Cherie — April 7, 2014 @ 1:09 pm

    I’m just glad to hear something from you again – another baby step – good to know you’re paying attention to yourself at least a little in this process – so difficult.

    Wishing you dreamless nights, at least for a while . . .

  8. 8
    Justine — April 7, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

    My father has been gone for 6 years. I still have dreams of him. I like my dreams as it makes me feel connected. Hope this helps. 🙂

  9. 9
    LeeAnn — April 7, 2014 @ 5:11 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss. I lost both my Mom and Dad 4 months apart,so I really understand your pain. I can tell you for sure, as cliche as it sounds, that time will help heal the pain you are feeling. Please take care of yourself and know that you are making a difference in so many lives.

  10. 10
    Melanie — April 7, 2014 @ 5:40 pm

    Merry – I’m so sorry for your loss. Your dad sounds like a wonderful man. It’s so wonderful that you were so close to him. Regarding your dreams…..I wonder if he keeps visiting you because you don’t want to/haven’t really let him go. I don’t know how to offer help with ‘letting go’, but if you know someone who could guide you, maybe that would make the dreams stop or at least turn them into ones where he is a live and stays alive…..not where you knows he’s going to die at the end of each dream…..that has to be incredibly painful. I wish you the best.

  11. 11
    Eileen — April 8, 2014 @ 8:04 am

    Ah, the dreams. After my mom passed away I’d dream she would visit me. In the dreams I’d know that she was gone and that I only had a limited time to visit with her before she was gone again. The dreams seemed so real and I would always wake up crying. I experienced a sense of joy and grief all at the same time. I’d like to believe that it’s not just our subconscious was of trying to deal with death, but rather a spiritual experience that many would conceive as highly improbable. I guess that’s where the word FAITH comes in. Glad to see your are slowing healing and getting back to the things you enjoy. I can’t eat strawberries anymore and that in itself makes me cry…. Thanks for sharing your great stories and recipes Jennifer 🙂

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  13. 12
    Jenni — April 11, 2014 @ 2:13 pm

    The first couple of years after my brother died, when I dreamed of him, he was sick or dead, and the dreams were horrifying. Eventually, though, my dreams found him as he was when he was healthy and happy. When I dream of him now, this is always how I see him. I awake smiling, if a bit wistful. But smiling.The cloak of his illness eventually fell away and turned to dust, leaving only him.

    It will come. Give yourself time. Be kind to yourself.

    PS I would bathe in that strawberry sauce if I could. My brother would have made it into a milk shake. He was always much more refined than I. =)

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  15. 13
    Liesl — April 21, 2014 @ 11:55 am

    Thank you for your words. My father passed away on February 3rd, a wonderful man, too. I miss him terribly. I knew that I would, but I was unprepared for how different life would feel without him, for feeling less safe and secure in the world (though of course, I am) and for the feeling of a huge hole in my life. I started cooking again about a month afterward, too. Thanks for all you do, writing and cooking and helping me feel less alone.

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