My grandmother is 97, and she steals fruit and vegetables from the cafeteria and gardens of her assisted living facility.
Perhaps I should backtrack a bit, lest you get the wrong idea.
My grandmother is, in truth, 97. I am not going to add that “years young” bullshit. Irene Kalman is 97. Sharp and witty and mentally all there but still every bit of 97 with Meuniere’s disease and vertigo and odd, fussy habits that the elderly seem to develop. She gets dizzy if she stands up too quickly and has recently conceded to a walker, only to store her keys and various bits and bobs that she travels around the facility with.
When The Teenager and I visit, she talks about being surrounded by “old people.” Obvi, she does not number herself among their ranks.
Every day she gets up and does her hair and puts on makeup. Her hair is that particular kind of spun white floss that envelops her skull like clouds and I always want to touch it but I don’t because #boundaries.
She wears sweaters from 1982 and shoes that may be at least as old as I am (44, if we are keeping track. Forty-five on March 14th, and, yes, appropriate tributes are accepted. #PleaseAndThankYou).
Our visits are always the same. We update her about all of the things we are doing, keeping the more challenging or troubling times out of our narrative and focusing on how busy, active, and healthy we are (even if that means we left the cheese off our tortilla chips when we sat on the couch and watched football all day). My grandmother has that Depression-era peculiarity of dwelling on bad news and glossing over it, concurrently. You wouldn’t think this was possible, but don’t get her started on the Dust Bowl or cooking when you have no money.
We avoid this tendency to fret by ignoring troubling topics and keeping everything light. Sometimes it’s unavoidable though, like The Unfortunate Time My Husband Died and The Fact That Donald Trump Exists In The World. When this happens, we shake our heads ruefully together and bemoan the fates while looking resolutely towards the future. There is no dwelling, although my grandmother and I are Champion Worriers, so we each of us dwell in our own private ways later. #SleepingPillsForHer #AnxietyMedsForMe
I think the hardest thing for my grandmother is the fact that she cannot really extend the basic hospitality of feeding her guests. When I was growing up, the main feature of a visit to grandma’s was the food. Fried chicken, lasagna, even once a homemade struedel that took up the entire table in the making. My grandmother is an excellent cook, both personally and professionally, and I think it pains her to be able to offer nothing to those who come to visit.
So she steals fruit from the cafeteria, hoarding it in her room until she has a guest, at which point she unloads her bounty on them, concealing it with wadded up grocery bags so the people who aren’t watching and don’t care won’t catch her.
I figured out awhile ago that this makes her feel good, so I accept whatever she wants to give me.
Unfortunately, this means that I often return home with a thousand navel oranges in the winter.
Citrus and I have an uneven relationship. I don’t even quite regard it as a food, which haz the dumb, I know, but it seems so…liquid. Great as a garnish or in a glass with champagne.
I will occasionally eat an entire box of clementines, mostly because I can’t get over how easy they are to peel and I don’t want to waste.
This past visit sent us home with ten oranges. And no juicer. And no one in this house who wants to peel them.
But guess what? CANDY. Orangettes, to be precise. Orangettes dipped in dark chocolate, even better.
The next time I visit my grandmother, I will tell her that we ate each one of the oranges and they were so sweet that it was just like candy.
3 cups simple syrup (DIY: combine a one-to-one ratio of sugar and water)
ten oranges, sliced into 1/4″ rounds and then cut in half
Optional: more sugar
Optional: melted chocolate
Bring simple syrup to a low boil. Place oranges in the syrup and simmer for 30-45 minutes. You are looking for a slightly translucent flesh and the pith to be heading that way, too.
Remove from syrup and transfer to a cooling rack placed on a cookie sheet. Place in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes or so, just until the orange peel is dry and the flesh feels a little tacky. You should certainly flip them over halfway, and no one would fault you for trying one at this stage. Turn off the oven and let cool, or keep them in there overnight.
At this point, you can toss in sugar, leave as they are, or dip in melted chocolate. I like to toss them in sugar and then dip them in bittersweet chocolate because DELICIOUS.