Person of the Week
Ron Lavoie: A Recipe for Dinner and for Life
Drawing from a lifetime of adventurous cooking, Ron Lavoie used time recovering from an injury to craft a cookbook with 100 recipes and the wisdom of an accomplished home chef. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Ron Lavoie has written a cookbook, Everyday Gourmet: A Lifetime of Cooking. But there is more than dinner in the story of how this volume came to be.
Ron can’t remember exactly what happened in the middle of the night on May 18, 2015. He knows he must have gotten out of bed. He doesn’t remember falling, or hitting his head, or the hematoma it created in his neck. What he remembers, though hazily, is waking up in Yale New Haven Hospital unable to move, even to speak. All he could do was blink.
He was put in an induced coma for three days to avoid brain damage. Then after six weeks at the hospital in New Haven, he went to Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, a facility that specializes in rehabilitation for six weeks. Next was six months of sub-acute rehabilitation at Bride Brook Health and rehabilitation Center Niantic.
Ron’s wife Denise was with him every day, often sleeping in room, keeping a journal of his progress.
“I was his health advocate,” she says.
“Denise was right by my side. She got me through the whole thing,” Ron adds.
He admits he had a period of depression. At Gaylord, he recalls, a therapist asked him about why he was feeling so low.
“I almost threw him out of the room,” Rom recalls.
He had a question for the therapist, as he ticked off the equipment he used every day, including a Hoyer lift, a device that could lift him up when he couldn’t stand on his own.
“If you were wearing a [neck] collar, using a wheel chair and a Hoyer Lift, [and] could only sit erect for a half hour, wouldn’t you be depressed?” he asked.
Luckily Ron had no intellectual impairment, but there were certainly lasting effects of his ordeal. He has lost much of the strength in his hands. He can walk with a rolling walker known as a rollator. The Lavoies’ home is equipped with the apparatus he needs to navigate successfully including grab bars and a chair that he sits in to go up the stairs. He exercises every day, using a recumbent elliptical machine for a half hour.
Ron, a retired engineering executive, was an expert carpenter. He volunteered two days each week at Mystic Seaport rebuilding the rigging pulleys on the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan. He built fine furniture for his Ivoryton home. On a recent morning, he pointed out to a visitor the elegant tiger maple coffee table, the television table, the end tables, and the kitchen prep station that were all among the things he built for his home.
He can no longer do carpentry, but the other ongoing hobby remains: cooking, though in a different form.
“I can supervise and instruct, but I can’t cook,” he says, explaining the weakness in his hands makes chopping, stirring and preparation difficult.
That, however, is enough.
“Cooking sustains me,” he says.
The cookbook, now available through Amazon, started when he was in sub-acute rehab at Bride Brook. He had a lot of time when he was not doing exercises.
“There is just so much television you can watch,” Ron says.
“I always said I would write my recipes down, but the accident made me look at mortality square in the face. I thought I had to do it before it was too late,” he says.
Denise, who had by that time gone back to work on a limited schedule, asked at The First Congregational Church in Essex if somebody might help Ron to collect his recipes. Paula Merrick volunteered. She came one day a week and Ron dictated recipes. She returned the same week with the recipes all typed up.
The first recipe Ron remembers making as a teenager was fudge. Now he has some 200 cookbooks in his house, but the recipes in his cookbook are all his own.
“I learned by instinct; I have a good palate,” he says.
Ron says if he and Denise go out to dinner with a dozen people he can repeat what each one ordered.
“But I can’t remember their names,” he admits.
When Ron got to Boston University in an apartment he shared with a roommate his freshman year, the two decided one would cook and one would clean alternating weeks. After Ron cooked the first week, his roommate said if Ron would always cook, he didn’t mind cleaning all the time.
When his children were young, Ron said he did almost all the cooking if he was not traveling.
“The kids always wanted to know when dad was going to be home,” he says.
If he had a bad day at the office, he would always want a particularly successful dinner, something he called always called guaranteed.
“The kids would always want to know if I was making a guaranteed recipe,” he recalls.
If he made a recipe the first time, Ron would consult a cookbook, but from there he always made his own adaptations.
The present cook book has 100 of the recipes Ron has created: appetizers, entrées, salads and dressings, sauces and gravy, soups, and vegetables. In addition, there is a section on cooking basics, everything from how to make the best bread crumbs to what clarified butter is and how to make it.
Ron’s tips are practical as well as tasty. His recipe for deviled eggs, for example, acknowledges a problem everybody knows: peeling that damages the egg white. To get a dozen deviled egg halves, he starts with eight eggs, not six.
“I don’t know about you, but when I peel hard-boiled eggs I invariably ruin at least two egg whites in the process of peeling the shell off,” he writes. “So we start with eight eggs because I know I am going to screw up at least one, but that’s OK. I like a rich filling and the extra yolks are what I really desire.”
Denise arranged for proofreading and graphics for the finished product, now on sale through Amazon.
Ron believes cooking does not have to be mystery.
“If you can read, you can cook,” he says.
For hesitant cooks using his cookbook, he suggests a few recipes to start with: chicken tetrazzini, for one.
“It’s fast, it’s easy, and it makes quite a bit,” he says.
And he also suggests both chicken piccata and baked cod for beginners.
“Start simple. Just go for it and you will be pleasantly surprised,” he says.
Seeing the cookbook finished, he says, is rewarding, but a little anti-climactic, a visible reminder that the project is over. But not for long. Ron is now planning a second cookbook.