Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 20, 2009

Grandma's Kitchen: Our mom is the best

Editor's note: This column was written by Edna Shaffer's daughter Vicki Kritzell, who was taking her turn caring for Edna as she recovered from surgery.

There are four of us, the "Shaffer girls," born over three decades. Random acts of kindness by God, wiggly baby girls delivered to Edna in the '40s, '50s and '60s, or is does God have a funny bone?

Being on hand since 1943, I believed the addition of the much-prayed-for sisters was due to my persistent nighttime pleadings with God to send us a baby. I say "us," because I am the oldest, the sister-mom, the BOSS! However, I must admit, in 1967, as the mother of two toddlers myself, my prayers changed.

I was outside washing the car when my husband stuck his head out of the window and said, "Your mother is on the phone, and she sounds serious." Because long-distance calls were saved for only the most important issues those days, I ran to the phone, heart pounding. Imagine my shock and surprise when my mother informed me that my children were going to have a new playmate when we came to visit, and my husband would be changing more diapers, those of his sister-in-law!

The final sister -- Sarah, the girl with the purple bangs -- was added and the foursome completed. Was not having a brother an issue in our house? I will answer that question by telling you this: After the birth of his final daughter, my father was asked by one of his parishioners if he was sorry he didn't have a son. Father drew himself up to his full 6-foot, 1-inch height and boomed in his Sunday voice, "No, I am not. And don't ever ask me that question again."

We truly thought Mom would be busy tapping away at her keyboard this month to bring you her usual nuggets of wisdom and delicious recipes (which account for much of my elderly girth), but she has hit a few speed bumps. We took her back to the hospital again for another 11 days since we last visited with you, and are scheduled to return to University of Michigan Hospital again. So, yours truly, No. 1, is writing column No. 3 while Mom continues to recuperate.

They say every cloud has a silver lining, and this experience has been no exception. As always, when we have a crisis in our family, the wagons (or sisters) are circled. Within this circle is a power unequaled, the power of love. Emotions range from hope to fear to grief and back to hope as we watch our tiny mother struggle with the many assaults on her body.

Even in her suffering, Mom is the consummate teacher, as we carefully observe and learn how to handle aging, illness and recovery. We are overwhelmed with gratitude and love for her, and for the many hands that have tenderly cared for her in the past few weeks, as my sister Cathy said, giving us the gift of more time.

God must have put some special angels on this earth to work at University of Michigan Hospital and Munson Medical Center. Just when we thought we had met the best doctor, the best nurse, the best aide, another would enter the room, requiring more "stars" for the kindness chart. Our "Miss Edna" was given not just the best care anyone could wish for their mom, she was bathed in love and consideration, the most important tools in healing.

We are eternally grateful to all those wonderful souls who worked so hard to return our mom to us, and we thank all of these wonderfully dedicated people for answering the call for which they were clearly meant. They joined our "sister" circle, as did so many of the dedicated readers who have loyally followed Mom's column over the past seven years. You cannot imagine how your many cards, e-mails and phone calls have lifted her spirits. Our circle widens with each of you, and we are so grateful for you.

I know every child thinks she/he has the best mom in the world, but you know what? My sisters and I actually DO have the best.

As you have probably guessed, food has always been at the core of our memories.

How many moms look up the road for their children walking the final block home from school, to drop a freshly made doughnut into the fryer so it can be removed just at the right moment for a hungry daughter alongside a glass of cold milk? Mine did.

Did your mom make platters of fried golden chicken accompanied by creamy mashed potatoes bathed in butter for your weekends home from college? Mine did.

Who always knew that meatloaf can only be accompanied with baked potatoes, green beans and cole slaw? My mom did.

And now that my four children are adults, they know, too.

The traditions continue, and will continue, thanks to mom, Edna Shaffer, best mom in the world.

Mom enjoyed this soup that I made for her last week and thought that it might appeal to those amongst you who hunt morels.

Fresh Mushroom Soup

1 lb. fresh mushrooms, chopped, reserve 4

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 small potato, finely diced

1 t. chopped garlic

1/2 stick real butter

2 T. white flour

1 qt. chicken or beef stock

1 c. half-and-half

Pinch of thyme

Melt butter in large saucepan, add onion and garlic and soften, but don't brown. Add chopped mushrooms, diced potato and thyme, cook for 5 or 6 minutes, until juices are flowing. Sprinkle 2 T. flour over and stir until dissolved. Stir in chicken stock and continue cooking for about 20 minutes. Remove about three-quarters of the mushrooms to a blender or food processer, and puree. Return to pan, and stir in the half-and-half. Stir in thinly sliced reserved mushrooms and continue cooking just until they become limp. Adjust seasonings by adding freshly ground black pepper and salt. This soup is not pretty, but the proof is in the tasting!

Edna Shaffer is a local mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who writes about cooking from the perspective of an older adult. She can be reached at For more Grandma's Kitchen columns by Edna Shaffer, log on to