Visit with aunt inspires memory of signature dessert
Food for the Neighborhood
Tuesday, February 19, 2013 2:44 AM
I had been thinking of visiting my Aunt Marilyn for a while. When I actually thought about how long it had been since I had visited her, I felt embarrassed.
Aunt Marilyn's delicious strawberry dessert.
It may have been guilt that motivated me, but it was also the realization I have only one aunt and one uncle left in my life. When my mother was ill and living in the nursing home, it also gave us a venue that encouraged visiting.
Auntie Marilyn, mom's twin sister, was my mother's most frequent visitor. I would leave my Reader columns with my mother as she enjoyed reading them - or should I say I left them for Marilyn, who enjoyed them even more.
Occasionally Marilyn set me straight on some "facts" from the family that I had not gotten quite right in a column. At the time my mother was near the end of her life, Marilyn was diagnosed with the same medical condition that was killing my mother. But they had discovered her heart valve problem sooner and Marilyn had taken better care of herself. She weighed less than my mom, lived in town and frequently walked the sidewalks there, keeping her heart healthier.
Soon after mom's death, Marilyn's children moved her to a senior care facility located on the edge of a lake and within a block of her daughter's home in the Cities. Since I don't frequently head to the Cities and we started spending weekends up north at our cabin, I hadn't visited her for well over a year.
As fall was nearing Thanksgiving, I mentioned my intention of visiting Marilyn to my sister, Beth, who said she'd like to come along. After emailing my cousin, and sharing my plan, she suggested I wait until after Christmas, when both she and her sister would be in town and we could enjoy a cousin visit together.
I felt relief that I could wait until after the crazy Christmas season, with something to look forward to. When I told my sister-in-law, Debbie, about our planned outing, she also asked if she might join us. Of course!
That was the plan, but on New Years Day I got a call from my cousin, Carol. Marilyn had fallen and broken her hip. She had waited two days after they took away her anti-coagulate med that thinned her blood, before her surgery. Carol called to search my memory from the time my mother had broken her hip, shortly after moving from an assisted living facility to a much "safer" nursing home.
Weirdly, she had tripped on the cap from her toothpaste tube and fallen against the door of her room. They could hear her hollering, but could not open the door to help her. Firemen came and rescued her through the window they removed.
Back to my aunt - she had fallen during the night after getting up to go the bathroom. She was between her bed and her bathroom where the alarms in her assisted living apartment were located (of course she didn't have one around her neck). After dragging herself to one of the alarms, help finally came.
When Carol called, I tried to remember the scenario of events after Mom's hip broke, but I needed to check with my sister to remember if she'd had a full or partial hip replacement. My mother lived another year and a half after her hip healed.
I felt more guilty that we'd waited with our visit. On the weekend that worked best for the three of us, Aunt Marilyn had not yet returned to her apartment and was recovering in a wing offering convalescent care. I dug out a stack of my columns for her, starting with the one dating back to my last visit. My sister came the night before. The next morning we met my sister-in-law in Rochester and headed north.
I wanted to stop at Ikea to shop and grab lunch before going to see Marilyn. I had calculated the time and planned for two hours shopping. We followed the maze that Ikea drags its guests through, enjoying every space where we were led. I found things for the cabin and toys for my grandkids. We took a break to have lunch - they had meatballs, I had salmon lasagna.
We left, threading our way along Interstate 494 and then north, past the Nordic Ware factory and factory store outlet that was only a short distance from where Marilyn lives. Her elder-care complex is more like a Hilton Hotel, but you need to be older to stay.
We got there faster than my cousin Carol was expecting, so we had already walked to the nursing care room where she had been staying since her accident, but didn't find her there. No, we were having our coffee party back in Marilyn's apartment. Why not, she was moving back there in three days.
Marilyn looked good and was very happy to see all of us - a crowd when you added our cousin Nancy and Carol's daughter. I felt almost guilty staying two hours, but the time went by quickly. Marilyn was thrilled with her "gift" of my columns. (Best gift of all, confided my cousin.)
We talked a bit about the puzzle of our grandmother, Marilyn's mother, who had once worked a summer at Glacier National Park. Nancy had a photo at her house she thought might help me in my pursuit of solving the mystery of where Grandmother had stayed in Glacier.
Nancy knew that Grandma had been 18 when she was there - which meant it was probably 1914 or 1915 when she worked there with her sister, Garnet.
Marilyn mentioned the chalet where they had worked was now a gift shop; she had visited it on a bus tour once. This would have been the same gift shop I'd visited on Two Medicine Lake with my kids and grandkids! We stopped at Nancy's home to see her photo of the chalet after we left Marilyn. Instead of one photo, she had two, which confused me. One was a long sprawling log building, the other resembled the log timbered gift shop.
On our way out of town, we stopped at the Nordic Ware store and picked up more treasures to stow in the back of my Jeep. Back home, I checked the Glacier National Park website and found an historic account of the chalets. Most had deteriorated and been torn down many years ago. At St. Mary's Lake and Two Medicine Lake there had been two structures, a long log building where guests slept and a second building where meals were served. Both of these lakes are on the more arid, east side of Glacier, which matched the vegetation in the old photo of my grandmother and her sister standing dressed in "Swiss" costumes with a chalet type building in the background.
I emailed my cousin Nancy the photos I found on the Glacier website, that seemed to match the photos she had. Most of the log chalets and accompanying buildings had fallen in disrepair during the World War II era and had been destroyed, except for the gift shop at Two Medicine Lake.
To write a story about Marilyn gives me the opportunity to share a recipe she once gave me. She and her husband owned a small cabin on Lake Mille Lacs in northern Minnesota. The recipe a friend shared with her after an at-the-lake potluck became one I identified Marilyn with.
She always fixed this angel food cake and strawberry dessert during my hometown's celebration for an afternoon lunch she would serve on Sunday after the parade. I purchase my cake instead of baking it, which makes for a quickly created dessert. A primary ingredient is Junket Danish Dessert that can be found in grocery stores in the baking supply aisle, near the Jell-o display.
Today I received a thank you from Marilyn - she said, "I've enjoyed reading your stories...you are a very good writer." (She's my aunt!)
One thing that was kind of nice and kind of strange, is that seeing Marilyn was like seeing my mother again. When we were growing up, these twins didn't seem identical to us, but they do now.
Strawberry or Raspberry Junket Dessert
One-half a large angel food cake (or one purchased angel food cake)
2 8-to-10 ounce packages frozen raspberries or strawberries in juice (or one large 16 ounce container)
2 packages raspberry or strawberry Junket Danish Dessert (4 3/4 ounces each)
4 cups cold water, partially using juice from thawed berries
Thaw the berries and sieve the juice into a 4 cup measuring cup. After capturing the juice, add enough cold water to measure 4 cups. Stir the two packages of Junket into the water and juice mixture in a saucepan. Heat and bring to a boil, following package directions. Stir constantly and boil for a minute, remove from heat and fold the reserved berries into the sauce.
Break up angel food cake into bite-sized pieces. Fill an oblong cake pan with the cake pieces. Pour the junket mixture over the top, carefully to evenly distribute it over the cake.
Refrigerate to harden the mixture, cut into pieces and serve with whipped topping.