Alzheimer’s has touched Madison Cowan’s life more than once. Both his father and father-in-law passed away from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. Here he shares the importance of food, family memories and enjoying every moment this holiday season.
My most prominent holiday memory is of my stepmum, who I consider my mum. I recall entering her home to the aroma of fresh-baked pastries wafting through the door. She had 10 children, and although her holiday party would include nearly 25 people, she would put together every cake, pastry and pie herself. She was astounding.
She was also astounding through my father’s 12-year-struggle with Alzheimer’s. The love and care she provided spoke to her strength and character.
My memories of holidays with my mum and dad are phenomenal. While I was growing up in London, my mum and Dad lived in the inner city of Detroit, and the time I was able to spend in the States with them over the holidays was magical. It was quite a respite to get away. When I was at home in America, all I felt was the warmth and safety that a child does. Because I had that protection at home, it was a beautiful place and time.
The recipe I associate the most with that time is my mum’s 7-Up cake. It was by no means a healthy option, but it was the lightest, most delicious thing I ever had in my life. I’m making it for the first time for my family this year, and they are holding me to that promise! She also made German shortcake, coconut layer cake, sweet potato pie, holiday rolls and pecan pie. I salivate just speaking about that time.
Dad, who loved that cake, was a big proud man who was just a shell of that when he died at the age of 78. He gave me an appreciation for life and taught me to always cherish my loved ones.
I watched my father struggle day in and day out in the 12 years that he lived with the disease, and I relate most of that time to my mum. She embraced me when she didn’t have to; she helped shape the man I became and am today. She made certain I knew my way around the kitchen and would never have to depend on anyone for a meal. That is sage advice I now impart to my own daughter.
Dad also taught me to focus on family. My daughter just received her winter report card with honors, so that is something we will celebrate. I only demand that she is a compassionate, open-minded person who respects herself and others – the educational portion is simply a bonus. It is a delight to spend two weeks off with her during this holiday season.
Although I am a shrewd businessman, when it comes to play, I am probably one of the biggest kids of all. We will spend our time in New York together cooking, shopping and watching vintage retro Christmas specials on the telly. I am well-versed in the holiday films – 1938’s “A Christmas Carol”, “The Little Drummer Boy”, “Rudolph”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “A Christmas Story” – all the hyper-holiday films. I especially enjoy the cheesy 1964 ‘B’ film “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians!” With all of the things going on in the world, you have to be able to escape from it all from time to time.
Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us. The power is in the present moment, and it’s imperative to enjoy each other. Focus on the things that are most important. My policy is this: if you’re not a positive person, check it on the other side of the door. I am all about good times, warmth, happiness and food. I wish you and yours the happiest of holidays. Be kind to one another.
About Madison: Madison Cowan is a family man and chef with roots in London, Jamaica and Detroit. CEO of Madison Cowan LLC, he is an author, producer and Food Network’s Iron Chef America & Chopped Grand Champion.
JEAN BEAN’S 7-UP POUND CAKE
This cake has a feather-light texture and a buttery, crunchy topping.
Servings: 12 – 15
3 cups unbleached cake flour, sifted
2 cups unrefined cane sugar
1 pound unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
6 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lemon extract
¾ cup 7-Up lemon soda, room temperature
Heat the oven to 375 F. Place the flour into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Add the remaining ingredients and blend with an electric hand mixer until smooth (begin slowly then increase to medium speed.) DO NOT OVERMIX.
Butter and lightly dust a fluted cake tin or two to three loaf tins with flour. Carefully pour the mixture into the tins as to not pack tight and bake mid-oven for 1 hour 15 minutes or until golden brown and an inserted paring knife or cake tester comes out clean.
Another tip is to keep the oven door closed and check doneness only after the first 50 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes and remove from tins. Serve simply with fresh seasonal berries and whipped cream.
This recipe pairs beautifully with a cheese board and holiday roasts.
Servings: Makes 1.5 quarts
2 12-ounce bags fresh cranberries
2 Bosc pears, peeled, cored and cubed
1 ½ tablespoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
Generous pinch red chili flakes
2 pinches sea salt
2 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
½ cup raw cane sugar
½ brown sugar, packed
1 cup full-bodied merlot
1 cup fresh apple cider
Combine everything together in a medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer partially covered, stirring frequently, for 25 minutes until reduced. Remove from heat and allow to cool uncovered. Store in a mason jar in the fridge until ready to use. Bring to room temperature and remove bay leaves and cinnamon sticks before serving. This can be made several days in advance.