Thursday, June 27, 2019 | By: The Write Way Cafe

The Lost Kitchen: Reflections and Recipes from an Alzheimer’s Caregiver

The Write Way Café welcomes Miriam Green, whose personal experience in the kitchen with her mother before, during, and after her mother's diagnosis of Alzheimer's adds spice to her book.

When did you first have the thought you'd like to write a book?
     I still remember the first time my mom, Naomi, came into my arms crying that there was something wrong with her. She never acknowledged that she had Alzheimer’s, but she was painfully aware that she was losing her memory. That was more than eight years ago, and that feeling of having to step up and care for my mom pushed me to start writing about our journey together. That and the fact that my dad, Jack, had actually entered the kitchen! He’d started cooking for the two of them when my mom’s kitchen skills began to slide. We joked together that we should write a cookbook called The Man’s Emergency Cookbook that would track his prowess as a chef. It soon became apparent that the vehicle of a traditional cookbook was too narrow to tell our family’s story. What emerged, after many rewrites, it’s the current compilation of prose, poetry and recipes.

What was your path to getting The Lost Kitchen written and published? What type of research did you do?
     Prior to my mom’s diagnosis, I had been happily commuting once a week to earn my MA in Creative Writing at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv. I was writing poetry and learning the art of storytelling. With my graduation, and her diagnosis, my focus changed dramatically, and I began commuting weekly to my parents’ home in the coastal town of Netanya. My home, in Beer Sheva, a large city in the Negev Desert, was 2 ½ hours away by public transport. Not only did my commute change, but so did the emotional landscape of my poetry.
     I credit the composition of the book to a personal rejection letter from a small publisher that I received just over a year ago. I’d started out writing a traditional cookbook with many recipes and a few introductory paragraphs. From there it morphed into a manuscript that was more prose-based with recipes that added significance (and spice) to the stories I was relating. The poems I was writing were randomly placed. I was sending it out to various publishers and getting rejected over and over again. This one personal rejection letter was interested in the manuscript, but only if I jettisoned sections about my parents’ past and beefed up the information about Alzheimer’s itself. I thought long and hard about these requests and realized that they did not suit the story I wanted to tell. So I rewrote and added to the book, emphasizing the personal as a way to connect. My goal was to openly and honestly write about the difficulties of caring for someone with Alzheimer's. I wanted to tell caregivers that they're not alone, that there is strength in sharing our joys and sorrows.
     My book is not heavy on research but on experiential learning. When my mom couldn’t put her bra on anymore, for example, it forced me to explore options that might work for her. We found many types of bras on sale, the best ones being front-opening with snaps that she could easily close herself. Then there were the shoes: laces had to go. We ended up buying shoes with a wide mouth that used Velcro to open and close. Or the idea of eating off non-white plates as a way for my mom to recognize the food in front of her. I came across an amazing study subtitled, “If you couldn’t see your mashed potatoes, you probably wouldn’t eat them.” Any research was through reading. One book in particular stands out, Musicophelia by Oliver Sacks. That, along with the documentary Alive Inside, in which Sacks was interviewed about the role that music plays in the brain. We now know that music is retained almost until the end in an Alzheimer’s brain.

Where did the idea for The Lost Kitchen come from?
     There is a funny joke about two older people who decide to have a snack. The wife wants tea, the husband some ice cream. The wife goes off to the kitchen but comes back 20 minutes later empty-handed. “Where’s my beer?” asks the husband. “Where’s the kitchen?” asks the wife. An estimated 5.7 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, and the numbers are increasing yearly. Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the only cause of death among the top 10 that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.* It begins with memory loss followed by a gradual decline in cognitive and intellectual performance.
  The kitchen is such an integral part of my life, made more so by my mom gifting me with all her cookbooks. As I write in my book, my mom inducted me into a practical cooking life. And in my own role as mother of three children, I have used those skills she taught me to nourish my family with comfort foods and love.
*Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures. Alzheimer's Association, 2018.

Can you share what your title, The Lost Kitchen, means to you?
     My mom was always queen of the kitchen. It was part of her identity, and she taught me how to cook. I think of this book as a way to preserve that identity for my kids. My mom has already forgotten her grandchildren, and does not understand that she is a great-grandmother. As a caregiver, I have become her active memory. I cherish that role.

What did you learn? For instance, what did you learn about yourself, your process, the writing world; about Alzheimer’s, cooking, and adjusting to a new normal?
     Despite having access to numerous websites and books about Alzheimer’s, many of the skills I use in caring for my mom come from my parenting toolbox. Unless you’ve experienced caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, you can’t quite comprehend how bad it can get, how the incessant questions, the anger, the confusion can wear you down. Then, one day, you realize your whole past has been erased from the memory of one of the most important people in your life. I have learned that it is a challenge—a conscious decision—to find joy in this dark disease. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease. As soon as you adjust, your loved one changes again. There is no new normal, just a constant mourning for who my mom used to be.
As part of my author platform, I write a weekly blog about my visits with my mom, and each blog includes a recipe. The silver lining is that I’ve become a better and more experimental cook.

What have been surprises you've encountered while writing The Lost Kitchen and after?
It is a relief to have found a publisher who was willing to take on my complicated emotional story and bring it into the light. The tag line for my publisher, Black Opal Books, explains it best: “Because Some Stories Just Have to be Told.”
I’ve realized, though, that publicizing one’s book is a full-time job. It is as difficult as—or even more difficult—than writing the book itself!
Throughout the process of writing, I kept coming back to the same thought, that the lessons I’ve learned in caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can help others. I am always grateful when I receive emails and phone calls from other caregivers who are experiencing that altered reality that their loved ones have entered who not only share their coping skills with me, but can use the skills and ideas I’ve shared. Nobody should feel that they are alone on this painful journey.

Tell us about your writing space and how or why it works for you.
My computer is set up on my childhood desk that now resides in my home. I live in a one-story house; the office is very close to the kitchen, where I spend the other half of my life. I often bounce back and forth between the office and kitchen. There are times when I find that the hectic life of the house enhances the moments of quiet I steal to write.

What inspired you to become an author?
I’ve always loved writing—and of course reading. When I attended Oberlin College it was with the thought of polishing my writing in their creative writing department. When I graduated from Oberlin, I had two goals—to move to Israel and to continue writing. Moving to Israel was the easy part, especially after I met my husband in Washington, D.C. Writing, though, took me a good fourteen years to get back to. I had heard about an MA program in creative writing that I delayed attending until my youngest was able to stay by himself for one day a week. His older siblings were also home, but I wanted them all to be independently capable of caring for themselves. When I started commuting to class, the floodgates of my creativity literally opened.
I would say that my mom’s illness has inspired me to write, to be her active memory, to tell her story which is also my story and my family’s story. It was a logical outgrowth of my creativity to write about what was happening to us, and a release of the stress that this disease has placed on us. My mom continues to be my muse, my teacher, teaching me to be kind and compassionate in a world that is often difficult.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience writing The Lost Kitchen?
     Writing a book and publicizing a book takes different skill sets. There is good advice out there on the internet about how to effectively try to sell your book first to an agent, a publisher, then to the media and an audience. Use any resources available to you to enhance your skills. Finding the right balance between self-glorification and legitimate advertising is difficult. I am grateful to the supportive authors at Black Opal Books who have given me great advice and even led me here to the Write Way Café.

by Miriam Green
The Lost Kitchen: Reflections and Recipes from an Alzheimer’s Caregiver is an honest and heartfelt look at the hidden gifts of living with a parent with Alzheimer’s. Miriam Green weaves poetry, recipes and anecdotes into a nourishing whole as she details her family’s struggle to maintain balance--and laughter--in the face of her mother’s diagnosis and deterioration. Throughout this most personal of stories, Naomi has been Miriam’s greatest teacher. Together, they remind us how to love and laugh in a world that is often confusing and painful.

     Miriam Green is the author of The Lost Kitchen: Reflections and Recipes from an Alzheimer's Caregiver which will be published by Black Opal Books in 2019. She writes a weekly blog that is posted on this site featuring anecdotes about her mother’s Alzheimer’s and related recipes. Her blog has also appeared on the Alzheimer’s Association website.
     Miriam's poetry has been published in several journals, including Poet Lore, The Prose Poem Project, Ilanot Review, The Barefoot Review, Red Wolf Press, and Poetica Magazine. Her poem, “Mercy of a Full Womb,” won the 2014 Jewish Literary Journal’s 1st anniversary competition. Her poem, “Questions My Mother Asked, Answers My Father Gave Her,” won the 2013 Reuben Rose Poetry prize. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Bar Ilan University, and a BA from Oberlin College.
     Prior to moving to Israel, Miriam worked at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, DC, and “cut her teeth” at Moment Magazine.
     She is the mother of three sabras and a grandmother of one. A 27-year resident of Beer Sheva, Israel, Miriam lives with her loving husband Jeff, Zipper the very fat cat, and a snake named Popcorn.
     When she's not writing, Miriam works as a Counselor for new immigrants to Israel at AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel), a position she has held for the last 15 years. She was honored by AACI in 2018 for her dedicated service to the organization.
      Miriam is also one of the founders of the current Voices Israel South group of poets that meets monthly in her home.


HiDee said...

I love what you've done with this book, Miriam. Alzheimer's is a terrible disease that steals our loved ones from us. You've given me hope and ideas for how to cope. Thank you for sharing this with us!

Saralyn said...

Congratulations, Miriam. You've done a wonderful job of exploring a difficult subject. Finding the joy in this stage of life, under these circumstances, is a major accomplishment. Thank you for lighting the path for others.

Zari Reede said...

I really enjoyed reading this book! It was a perfect balance of heart felt experience in helping a loved one in need, scrumptious recipes, heritage and beautiful poetry. I highly recommend for anyone who cares for a parent with or without Alzheimer’s . ~Minette Lauren

Lynn said...

What a wonderful book! I'm sure it offers blessings to readers. Thank you for being on our blog.

Keith Steinbaum said...

I read 'The Lost Kitchen' and came away from the experience with the knowledge that I'd just completed a highly unique book based on raw emotional truth from Miram's beautifully described but highly painful reminiscences of those years spent caring for her Alzheimer inflicted mother. The value of her story can't be underestimated because all of us may face the same situation one day so the education she provides is priceless. I also want to add that she offers a number of poems that are both beautiful and soul stirring. And, to end this reply on a positive note, Miram offers quite a number of menus for those who want to add to their cooking toolbox.

Geza said...

I just read and reviewed this book and also loved all the emotion that comes through. I also loved the interplay of prose, poetry and recipes. Besides being an ode to her Alzheimer's sricken mother, the book is a wonderful guide to the disease and to how one should take care of a loved one who comes down with the condition. A tour de force!

Jacqueline Seewald said...


I haven't read your book, but I can tell that it's an excellent and inspirational work. As a caregiver myself, I understand the significance of your book. Wishing you every success.