When I was in graduate school, my all-time favorite client, hands-down, was an older gentleman who had suffered from a stroke in his mid-fifties. We'll call him J.
J was the client that I couldn't wait to see every week. In a time when I was horribly anxious and worried that I was an awful therapist, J made me feel like a rock star. His stroke had tragically changed his life and left him wheelchair bound and nearly speechless. But with the right amount of coaxing and therapy "tricks," J could tell riveting stories about his previous life as a pilot, business man, volunteer, and restaurant owner. He even told me stories about his father who drove a flank car for Al Capone. True story. J had very few pictures of his former days so we had only the memories in his head to draw upon. Luckily, he had an amazing memory and I had the privilege of helping him access those memories with speech.
When I worked with J he was--first and foremost--a chef. Our love for good food helped us form an instant bond and I frequently planned therapy sessions around recipes and food banter. One hilarious discussion included J trying to tell me about gnocchi and me trying to figure out the actual word he was trying to say...but that is a story for another time. J's condition was best treated with multiple repetitions of sounds, words, and phrases. He would bring in a recipe of his that a friend had typed for him and we would work on reciting the words over and over. At the end of the session, J would let me take the recipe home to keep. Win win.
Those were also the early days of my marriage and I had a bug to bake bread. This was not going well for me. Honestly, I was turning out some horrible bread. J and I decided that he would help me learn to make perfect bread and one day he brought in his no-fail bread recipe. We talked for 50 minutes about the specific details of this recipe. I will never forget this session because it didn't even feel like actual therapy. It felt like I was just chatting with a dear friend—which I was. I took home the recipe to give it a try with the intention of reporting back the next time I saw him.
I had yet another bread failure. However, I was not discouraged and I told J all about the results. We talked about what could have gone wrong and he made some suggestions. Again I went home to bake bread. Again, I failed. After two more troubleshooting sessions with J, I came to him clearly exasperated. (Are you beginning to wonder who the actual therapist was?)
"J. What am I doing wrong? How am I going to get my bread to work? What do I have to do to get something worth eating?"
J held up his hand with a resolute look in his eyes. He knew exactly what I needed to do. I watched his mouth as he began to grope for the words..
He stopped and look me straight in the eyes and said:
J has since passed away and sometimes I'm sad that I never got to tell him that I can bake bread now. Though he probably already knows. This pesto recipe is my favorite recipe that he left me. I make it every summer and it is impossible to mess it up*. I think of him often when I'm making it...and whenever I'm in the kitchen for that matter. I hope you love it as much as I do.
3 Cups finely cut fresh basil leaves; stems removed
1 Cup Olive Oil
3-5 Cloves of garlic
1/4 Cup pine nuts
1/4 Cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1/2 Cup softened butter
1/2 tsp. salt
pinch of pepper (white, green, red, or all)
Put all ingredients in food processor and grind, little by little until it is a soft green color with no large basil leaves left. Chill for at least an hour. Can be frozen.
J's notes: Cook quality spaghetti with a splash of olive oil and salt in the water until al dente. Using cold water, rinse and drain the spaghetti. Put into pasta bowl and toss with pesto just before serving. Pesto can also be mixed with softened cream cheese for a creamier sauce. This is good with gnocchi. Every sauce is good with gnocchi.
*Do I need to mention that I'm crazy about pesto? In fact, when people ask me what to do with pesto I usually say something annoying like, "what don't you do with pesto?"