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!
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!
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 ~
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
Linda 🙂 xoxo