The Novel Bakers: Cooking (or not) With Grandma

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During all the happy days I spent with my two grandmothers I cannot recall one moment of standing side-by-side with either of them for the purpose of learning to cook.  My grandmothers and their families were recent arrivals in the USA, crossing different borders but with the same objective of becoming an American citizen.  My maternal grandmother came to Ellis Island as a very young girl, and after 9 children (my mother the youngest), multiple granddaughters, nieces and even great-granddaughters before I was born, by the time I arrived she was all cooked out and had passed those duties on to others.

My paternal grandmother, Grandma to me, was born shortly after her family crossed the US/Canada border into New England.  She was of Scottish/French/Canadian/with a dash of Native American heritage, and I yearned for time alone with her, so difficult due to the numerous granddaughters and nieces always around.  If you were to meet her later in her life you might have thought that you had just found an elegant, well-dressed, quiet and stately woman.  Yes, that was part of her, but the other side was a former dance hall girl with gorgeous legs who apparently swept my grandfather off his feet with just one smile.

Grandma taught me that a lady was properly ready to go out or greet guests with the correct face powder and lipstick, hair styled, neat and stylishly attired (even if it was a house dress), that if you acted like a lady others would treat you as one, and that a proper and delicious lunch could be had at the local department store’s lunch counter.  (Do you remember those?)  She also taught me that it was bad luck to let your shoes touch the bed and good luck to put your sweater on inside out, how to sign cards with huge XXXXX and OOOOOs, and that my fortune could be told with a standard deck of cards if a tarot deck was not at hand.  At this point my mother would whisk me away in obvious disapproval, but the quick, secretive wink Grandma sent in my direction assured me that I was in fact (as she had told me) slated to receive the gift of insight which she claimed was passed through the generations of women in our family.

Now while some might choose a cooking lesson with their grandmothers, to me these magical moments were just heavenly.  The only momentos I have from her are her metal garden chairs, but my memories make my heart ache even now.  She loved dogs and they loved her, and I know she and my Nellie would have been instant friends!

 

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My ramblings about my Grandma were inspired by our latest Novel Bakers cookbook: My Abuela’s Table, a collection of Mexican recipes from the author’s grandmother.  The recipes are quite simple in both ingredients and instructions, and the pages are decorated with ink-and-watercolor drawings much like you might find in a childhood journal.  Background information on Mexican herbs and ingredients is helpful and interesting.

Since it’s still early to plant outside here, I gathered the suggested oregano, thyme, cilantro and rosemary from the garden shop and planted it in a galvanized pot.  Oh, it smells so good!

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Last summer, when the Novel Bakers did Picnic Week, I became hooked on the British tradition of having roast chicken for easy meals.  A chicken can be dressed and flavored to make it seem like a different meal every night, and I found a few variations in this book.  Several recipes tempted me, but I love avocados, so the avocado salad was an easy choice, and sangria is always a great way to wash down the spicy Mexican foods.

~ you can double click on this photo to enlarge and read the recipes ~

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A guideline for healthy eating is to see how colorful you can make your plate.  When I gathered the ingredients this is what I had, plus some queso fresca and an organic chicken.

 

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The roast chicken was delicious and moist.  I do not use stock or bullion cubes because they always include MSG and I prefer to start my migraines with red wine, so I always keep small boxes of organic stock in the pantry.  Here I used 1/2 cup on the chicken together with the chipotle sauce, red wine vinegar, oregano, a dash of sugar and olive oil, and I was rewarded with juicy chicken and a delicious spicy broth to use as a gravy.

 

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The unusual avocado salad called for queso fresca which I could not get, so I substituted a crumbly feta and added some tomatoes for color and cooling, and it was delicious too!  Instead of serving on lettuce I used a warm corn tortilla which also served to scoop up chicken bits and gravy.  Somehow I missed getting a photo of the avocado salad on its own, I think because it was being “sampled” by my taste tester.  But you can see it here with a slice of watermelon for more palate cooling opportunities, and my photo-bombing, ever hopeful sous chef.

 

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Of course the ultimate palate cooler is sangria, and although I usually pass in favor of a margarita or Corona Lite, I was delighted with this unusual sangria recipe.  It seemed to get better as we refilled our glasses. 🙂 🙂 🙂

my hints:  Don’t let anyone talk you into using a lesser quality red wine.  If you won’t drink it on its own, don’t use it for sangria!  Also, add lots and lots of ice.  I also added 2 tsp sugar to this recipe and it really helped, as the fruit is not yet quite as ripe as it should be for this.

 

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This sangria is quite pretty, and displayed in my Kool-Aid-like pitcher I’m reminded that it really does go down like fruit juice, so beware!!

 

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For quite some time now we have been collecting these delightful little creatures from Oaxaca, Mexico.  In a dream an artist “discovered” them, all jumping or flying about and shouting the nonsense word “alebrije.”  (Read more about these fascinating and fanciful carvings here.)  Now they have become a highly collectible and interesting form of folk art.  Some say they hold spirits or powers of the creatures they represent, or can inspire behaviors or moods.  I love them, even if their purpose is simply to make me smile when I see one tucked away on a shelf or several gathered together for a party.  All of these came from the Mexico pavilion at Epcot, so they have a little bit of “the most magical place on earth” in their souls.

 

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These two fascinating creatures are tucked in among depression glass from my maternal grandmother and some of the fresh fruit and wine (cheap, very cheap are the only words to describe this wine I was talked into using), ingredients for the sangria.

 

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Nellie thinks everything is delicious so she’s not such reliable judge, but I was surprisingly happy with this meal and Mr. Fun thought it was delicious!

 

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I know if I could invite my Grandma to this table she could entertain me with tales of my little Oaxacan animals, and maybe their “powers” and even their secret names.  🙂  If one had any evil intentions it would be put in the cupboard.  She would tell me I was smart and pretty and a wonderful cook and it wouldn’t matter at all if not one word of it was true!  It would be a magical meal.

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All grandmas are different ~~ some pass on secret family recipes, or inspire our paths, or feed our bodies and souls and imagination.  I wonder what Grandma would say about this little guy?  I know she would first laugh and laugh until she was crying.

Then the story would begin.

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Tell me about your grandma!  Was she a cook?  Could you write a book of her recipes or her stories?

be sure to visit the Novel Bakers for Cinco de Mayo

jain ~~ a quiet life ~~   

mary ~~ home is where the boat is ~~  

michael lee ~~ rattlebridge farm ~~

I’m joining the fun at Wow Us Wednesdays and Tablescape Thursday

 

Linda 🙂     xoxo

13 thoughts on “The Novel Bakers: Cooking (or not) With Grandma

  1. ¡Hola Linda, I so enjoy your stories and thoughtful posts! I just regurgitate the book blurb and add photos. I loved the story about your Grandma, she sounds like a wonderful and interesting lady. Both my grandmothers were great Southern cooks. My dad still says no one could fry chicken like my maternal grandmother (his MIL). I have her cast iron skillet which was part of her secret, but my mother and I gave up trying to get the same results a long time ago. I have fond memories of her rattling around the kitchen at 4 am when she couldn’t sleep, setting the table for a lumberjack breakfast when we visited. It was such a treat when she served it on occasion to my sister and me in a tea set. My paternal grandmother lived on farm and was made of stern stuff. She had a huge garden and put out a huge spread for lunch when my grandfather came in from working with the cows or mending fences, with every vegetable she grew. She always had fresh rolls or biscuits and a pie or two. They lived in Mississippi and we only saw them once a year when we all piled in the car to make the 10 hour drive down for a week visit. I have great memories of riding horses, collecting eggs, snapping beans on the front porch and fishing in their pond 🙂

    I thought the sangria got better with each successive glass too 🙂 I usually use a fruity white or rosé when I mix sangria. I preferred the Mexicana version mixed with lots of ice so it diluted some and after several hours in the fridge so the flavors were married. I mixed a pitcher on Thursday and sipped on it over the weekend…by myself… *hiccup*!

    I’m chuckling over “I prefer to start my migraines with red wine…” 🙂 Your meal is so healthy, unlike mine. I always love seeing your photo-bombing, ever hopeful sous chef, Nellie. ♥

    I love your collection of colorful little Oaxacan animals. I would also love a return trip to “the most magical place on earth”. You’re a Disneyafficiado! Gracias for joining the fun, Happy Cinco de Mayo!

  2. I loved your grandmother memories Linda, sadly, as the youngest child of the youngest of 8, I didn’t know my paternal grandmother and my maternal grandmother was in a wheelchair and died when I was 5…my children will have lots of funny memories to share as one grandmother was an especially TERRIBLE cook, and dinners at her house were always challenging! I have so enjoyed Cooking with My Abuela through the Novel Bakers eyes, the incredibly charming illustrations and the love shining through the pages…Your colorful Mexican critters are delightful in your setting, and I bet Nellie is a reliable food critic! What cook doesn’t love an enthusiastic taster! Thanks for the fun~
    Jenna

  3. Linda, your story was a delight to read. While I cooked for this post, my grandmother seemed to be standing beside me, guiding my hand. Mimi was a self-taught Southern cook, and she had quite a bit of patience when it came to teaching me. To this day, I remember her kitchen sayings and tips. Your chicken looks scrumptious–and I flat out love the little carvings and your tablescape. So festive! I’ll have a glass of sangria! P.S. Nellie is a great honorary Novel Baker–what an adorable face! Happy Cinco de Mayo!

  4. oy linda i loved your little novella! i woke up to early and was so happy to read your post, i never wanted it to end! you really embraced the story of the book, i just passed out and pointed my finger to a few shots here and there 😉

    as you may or may not i am a HUGE reader, reading that your grandma had you put on the correct face and be a lady at all times reminds of a book i just read, based on a true story, that a dr in the 1800s felt woman should do nothing but be pretty, if they got out of line and spoke to much the treatment was they never moved a muscle for 3 months, they were dressed, carried to the bathroom, fed, but perfectly healthy woman would be too taxed for anything else. if they didn’t comply with his orders, a lobotomy was next!

    love seeing nellie hard a work being a dog~

    wonderful seeing all your vibrant colors! your chicken looks as big as a turkey, must have been fantastic!

    koolaid pitcher, that cracks me up for some reason, perhaps because i recall mr koolaid bursting through walls, i was just bouncing off them, thank heavens!

    this is what i adore about the novel bakers, sharing links and learning new things, how fun to finally understand about alebrije, i have seen them countless times and never knew!

    FABULOUS post, so loved all the personal touches with your abuelas. i came from an english family, my grandmother was the oldest of 13, she outlived them all. every sunday they served leg of lamb, i remember my grandfather always giving me bites. my grandmother was famous for her popovers and 8 layer rainbow birthday cakes, no one could ever make them like she did…

    thanks so much for playing with is, it was a pure delight visiting!

  5. Uno sangria por favor:@) It’s nice that you have such fond memories of your Grandma Linda! G-Mom-B was my biggest cooking influence, I was fortunate to live within walking distance and spent a lot of time at her house. Happy Cinco de Mayo!

  6. Linda: What a wonderful post! Off and on, I’ve written snippets about both my grandmother’s on my blog. I was very close to my maternal grandmother. She was a country woman of humble birth who didn’t do fancy cooking, but she made the world’s best chicken soup. I remember sitting in her tiny kitchen picking over beans while she listened to my stories. She had endless patience and thought I was the wittiest person in the world. I’ll never have a fan like her. My paternal grandmother was in her early 80s when I became aware of her. By then, she had retreated into a quiet world of prayer and had handed over the reigns of her home, albeit with extreme reluctance, to my mother. While I don’t have any memories of interacting with her, I’ve heard the stories. She ran her house like a tight ship. By 7 a.m. the pots of soup were simmering on the stove, and the chickens were being plucked. Of her eleven children, 8 survived to adulthood, and, as in most traditional Cuban homes, they all hung out together . . . daily. A typical “almuerzo” – the biggest meal of the day, served at noon, could be attended by 12-14 people, including family and friends. She usually had one or two cooks that worked for her, but she put in plenty of time in the kitchen as well, working right next to them and supervising everything. I inherited a salad recipe from her, that I’m told was served every day, regardless of whatever else was on the menu, I call it Carmela’s Salad. Here’s the link to my blog post: http://dreamsandepiphanies.blogspot.com/2010/05/mothers-day-at-carmelas-house.html. I’m so glad you participate in the Novel Bakers meme! Your dinner looks so healthy and scrumptious. I love the little critters, especially the little lizard. If I ever go back to Disney, I’m heading for the stores!

  7. Hi Linda,
    I loved reading the memories thatnyou have of your grandmothers. The roast, avocado salad and sangria made for a perfect Cinco de Mayo feast, all table decor. I really must try all of those recipes soon.
    My maternal grandma died from cancer when I was very young, but I remember spending time with her in her bedroom, for she was always in bed. My paternal grandma always had on a pretty dress and necklace, and I never saw her in a nightgown or bathrobe. I hope my grands remember me as someone that liked to cook with them, play games, and have fun.

  8. Hi Linda! Isn’t it nice that we have such fond memories of our grandmother. I hope our grandchildren will feel the same way ;o) I was very close to my maternal grandmother, and I am a lot like her. She would always serve our dinners on her beautiful dishes, and “fuss” to make it special. She lived to be 100! Nellie is such a sweetheart. Please pass the Sangria!

  9. I loved your thoughts on your grandmothers! It makes me think that I need to have them over to cook, just with me! My first did it all the time, because she is my daughter’s child. The next ones were sons’ children and they aren’t around as much but I need to arrange it.
    The food is so colorful and fun. Perfect for Cinco de Mayo.
    Have a lovely Mother’s Day and enjoy all of your loved ones whenever you can be around them!

  10. Hi Linda,
    I didn’t know either of my grandmothers but my mom taught me how to cook wonderful Italian food. I love that you have beautiful memories of your grandmothers. I think it is so important for our children to know a little something about them. I love your table and your cute Mexican figurines!
    Hope you have a Happy Mother’s Day and Yes I love, love, love Sangria & Margarita’s!
    Blessings My Friend,

  11. Since moving to Colorado, where Mexican food is popular and so good, I am beginning to enjoy it more and more, Linda!

    I enjoyed reading your memories of your grandmother. My paternal Irish grandmother lived with us a few years, but passed away when I was only 3. My maternal grandmother had immigrated from the Ukraine as a young 19 year old and never learned to speak English well. She was widowed young with 6 children–my Mother was the youngest at only 3 months old when my grandfather was killed in a coal mine cave in! My grandmother worked hard to feed her family by maintaining a large garden and chickens and a few cows on her land in Pennsylvania. She sold the eggs, butter and cheese that she made, and some of her extra vegetables. She also made vodka from potatoes in her own still! She was a colorful and happy person and I loved her very much despite the language barrier. She came to live with us in Brooklyn in her her later years and sadly passed away on my 16th birthday. Everything my grandmother cooked was so good! She made traditional Ukrainian recipes, but unfortunately my mother did not enjoy cooking and did not take the time to learn them to pass them on to me. I only have a few recipes an aunt passed on to me.

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