Grandma’s House

All I have to do is saute some onions and celery in butter, and my husband salivates.  Get a good meal cooking and baking, and I’m likely to hear, “Smells like my grandma’s house in here.”  More often than not, I hear such a comment when I’m frying potatoes, okra, pancakes, or especially bacon.

While my husband’s sensory recall is triggered by smell, it’s the very act of preparing a meal itself that takes me to my grandmothers’ kitchens and mealtimes.  On weekends when our whole schedule is determined by when and what our meals are, I realize why I associate mealtimes with my grandparents and why my husband also associates mealtime smells with his grandma’s house.

We both come from subtly matriarchies.  Sure, our forefathers were the bread-winners, but it was and is the mothers who keep the home, prepare the meals, provide most of the childcare and tending, and encourage the religious traditions.  Our foremothers have held the family together.  As they’ve passed, so has the golden thread that tied our families together almost imperceptibly.  Even gold over time wears thin.  Time changes things.  People change.

My husband and I are most fortunate to have the memories we do.  Our grandmothers loved and love us unconditionally.  They dedicated their days to make sure that when we were around, they  nurtured us the best way they knew how — through our stomachs.  What could best assure our survival than a full belly?  These queens of the kitchen knew how to make the groceries last for their respectively large families, and I certainly never wanted for food.

I learned so much about cooking itself in the kitchen with my grandmothers, trying not to be in the way.  How to pinch a pie crust.  Learning how to make eight hamburgers at once in two cast-iron skillets on the stovetop.  Shortcuts to make quick desserts for unexpected visitors.  That there was enough time to bake a meatloaf while you were at church.  Some lessons weren’t just about cooking.  One grandmother still had dreams of things she wanted to do.  One grandmother wanted so much for me to make choices that would help me lead a different, and somehow better, life.  Such lessons are hard to understand without the experience behind them, but I honor these lessons still, even if I didn’t heed their wisdom and advice.

The next time I return home later in the day after a morning breakfast that included pancakes and bacon, I’ll try not to turn my nose in distate.  It means we provided for our family.  We are giving our children associations to their childhood that, when they reflect upon it later, will hopefully tell them we cared for them by nourishing them, not intentionally giving them heart disease.  May I have the patience to welcome them into my kitchen and try to teach them as subtly as my grandmothers tried with me.  May I pass on a cookbook to them of their favorites so that they won’t have to labor like my husband in trying to recreate family favorites.  Is there more to taste than simple ingredients?

Our family dynamics have changed.  We don’t always go to “Mother’s” or “Grandma’s” for Sunday dinner anymore.  Our sense of family includes a wide range of friends.  Still, though, our primary focus is our shared meals, the time we spend preparing, gathering and sharing in the kitchen and at the table.

Our grandmas were and are beautiful teachers.

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With Thanks

A friend shared this recipe with me several years ago, and I’ve made it every Thanksgiving since.  How grateful I am for our family and friends and the food, shelter, warmth and Love we are so blessed with.

So, I share this with you, with thanks and attribution to Erin W.  🙂

(and this is my kitchen at past-midnight, Thanksgiving-eve)Thanksgiving Eve

Sweet Potato Casserole

This casserole is sweet and yummy, almost of dessert quality, so a little goes a long way.

5 medium sweet potatoes, cooked and peeled

2 beaten eggs

1/4 cup evaporated milk

1 tsp. vanilla

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. butter


1/2 stick butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 cup chopped pecans

*In medium bowl (or the 2 qt. dish you’re baking in, if you’re lazy like me!), mash potatoes.  Add eggs, milk, vanilla, sugar, salt and butter.

*Pour into buttered baking dish (if you used a bowl — I always omit this step/forget to butter the dish!)

*Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 min.  Mix the topping ingredients.

*Remove, heat oven to 375 degrees F.

*Sprinkle on topping.  Bake additional 6-8 minutes.

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Kids in the Kitchen

It was only a couple of weeks ago that my seven-year-old watched closely (and I do mean right at my elbow) as I fried up some eggs.  The next two days, he was doing it on his own. 

The older kids are back to school now, and I’m slowly adjusting to an
earlier morning routine.  Very slowly.  This morning, however, I was
delightfully surprised to smell eggs cooking.  My two sons were hungry
and determined to have egg sandwiches.

Am I nervous about my seven-year-old using the stove, nearly unsupervised, with his four-year-old brother?  I could be, but I’m not.  I figure it’s another exercise in independence for him, and the fewer condescending or cautionary things I say to him about it, the better off we are.

I look forward to the days when there are at least four of us in the kitchen cooking together.  Last night, my aforementioned older son also watched the pot come to a boil and cooked the angel hair for our eggplant parmigiana.  For me, that’s one less thing to worry about and more time to focus on frying the eggplant (and I also did squash for my picky ones). The day will come when I have all hands on deck, but I also know that it will require much patience on my part.  We know it’s “easier” to do things our way, without others underfoot, but you don’t want to miss out on the chance for the kids to learn, to hear the wonderful communication between their parents, to contribute, to share their day with you through their own stories.  There are loads of lessons and joys to be had in the kitchen, and, of course, there will be lots of messes, too.

So, grab all aprons (so you don’t mess your clothes with all this fried food), bring in the young apprentices and get cooking.  Family Fun has a kids’ cooking section. Rachel Ray has a cookbook my older daughter enjoys, and there are countless other resources on the www.

Let go and have fun!

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Tidy Spices

When we moved into this house, we were tickled to have 12 drawers in the kitchen.  Our last kitchen had one.  I even put my towels and cloth napkins in drawers . . . and our spices.  messy_spices.jpgThis works out quite nicely until you start buying more spices at the co-op in bulk in those little plastic bags, stuffing them into the drawer until there is no room for more, and bags are getting holes in them, leaking spices everywhere, leading to more bags and . . .


Enough’s enough.  We ordered six little metal tins to store the spices in, the perfect size to fit in the drawer.  Still left with lots of plastic bags, we ordered twelve more.  Just this morninglabeling_spices.jpg (after shining my sink), I finally got around to labeling (thanks to my handy little Brother labeling machine) and filling the tins.  I even felt inspired to clear one of my towel drawers to make room for our dessert drawer, the one that has sprinkles, icing tubes, food coloring, extracts and such.

tidy_spices.jpgThe other drawers aren’t quite as lovely as the one with the tins and room for more, but I figured we’d recycle the containers we already had, some of which have already been refilled with organic spices and herbs.

I feel better already.  It’s all about the baby steps.  And, yes, those are my baby’s legs.  She was helping, too.

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