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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14 Responses to “bright, shiny spots of happiness: yellow cake with chocolate frosting”

  1. Di — May 17, 2013 @ 11:05 am

    Twenty six years ago my dad was slowing dying of a degenerative heart disease when my mom passed suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack. I worked in Brooklyn at the time. I remember looking longingly at buses coming over the Brooklyn Bridge because I thought having enough courage to throw myself under one might put me out of my misery. I’m glad I had the courage to keep putting one foot in front of the other and I like your way much better….looking at blue birds instead of those darn buses! Your courage, your grace, your love of life, family, medicine and cakes will carry you. Your writing will continue to inspire us to not only look back with gratitude but look forward with joy and hope. Thank you for sharing.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — May 17th, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

      Di, it’s comments like yours that bring the brightest & shiniest of the happy spots in my life right now. Thank you.

  2. Kathryn — May 17, 2013 @ 11:29 am

    Bright shiny spots of happiness is the best phrase I’ve heard in a long time. I hope you manage to keep finding them, despite everything that’s going on.

  3. Macaroni Mama — May 17, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

    Well done, Merry Jennifer! The cake looks yummy!

  4. Rima Kleiner — May 17, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

    Ahhhh, here’s to those CHS nights driving around in our ol’ one-theater stomping grounds… Please keep sharing your “bright, shiny spots of happiness” with us, Merry Jennifer. Your heart-felt writing is always a pleasure to read.

  5. We definitely have to look for and cherish the bright, shiny spots of happiness <3
    Love this story, love the cake, and can't wait until June!!

    <3 Rachel

  6. Denice Olig — May 17, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

    Have fun at Walt Disney World!!! Even as an adult there is plenty of Disney magic there. Food forum sounds really fun.

  7. Lynda - TasteFood — May 17, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

    Lovely spots of happiness. Thank you for the inspiration – I might borrow a few…

  8. cherie — May 18, 2013 @ 9:03 am

    I really just wanted to send you a warm, comforting hug. I’m glad you’re able to look at the bright spots – harder than it seems sometimes I’m sure.
    Isn’t it funny that we never really feel like we’re a grown up, aren’t cognizant of it, till it sucks? Sigh
    Enjoy the bright spots on your horizon

  9. Paula — May 20, 2013 @ 8:54 am

    I know you will be able to hear a pin drop when you speak about story telling at the BlogHer conference.
    This wonderful post and your inner strength and grace makes me think of the last line of one of my favourite poems, Desiderata by Max Ehrmann *With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful, strive to be happy* You epitomize this.

  10. in spite of so many things going on MJ you are just inspirational and full of positivity 🙂 thanks for sharing this happy cake. I just bought a new cake pan and very excited to find my happiness soon

  11. Reading your site is always a bright spot in my day, and this post is no exception! This afternoon, it was a much needed distraction from a long afternoon with a screaming baby. With everything you are going through right now, it’s good to see that you are still finding joy. Knowing that you are going to be speaking about story telling at BHF is making me wish I was going! I admire your courage when you write… Story telling is one of the areas on my site that I tend to neglect.

  12. You are such a strong woman, caring for your Dad like that. I can only imagine how difficult it is to watch him with each passing day. I love how you focus on the good in the world , even the little things like the birds and a cake can change your day (and your entire outlook on life) around! The cake, by the way, looks amazing! Can’t wait to meet your at BlogHer Food!

  13. Alice @ Hip Foodie Mom — May 31, 2013 @ 11:54 am

    yummmm!! such a beautiful cake! pinning!

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