The missing ingredient

“Old woman, I cannot read your recipe,” is how I began many a phone call to Granny after I moved away.

“What does it say, old gal?” she would ask.

“I don’t know. You have the worst penmanship I have ever seen.”

“Maybe if you had paid attention when I was making it, you wouldn’t need the recipe,” she commented.

I sighed.

Granny’s idea of baking would probably drive modern day bakers and chefs crazy.

She didn’t really use measuring cups or spoons, preferring to eyeball her ingredients, a cardinal sin in baking.

“You are supposed to use exact measurements,” I told her once.

She gave me a sideways glance and ignored my comment.

When I married, I wanted to have her best recipes with me so I could continue some of her traditions, so I asked her to write them down.

“No.”

“What?”

“You heard me. I said no. I ain’t giving you my recipes. They mine.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“They mine. I ain’t writing them down. I ain’t never wrote ‘em down – someone could steal ‘em that way. And I ain’t about to start either.”

Steal her recipes? Did she not know that people could find recipes for things practically anywhere? To Granny, her recipes were sacred and top secret; surely no one else could be trusted with the power to make a biscuit.

Still, I was shocked. Was she really not going to share her recipes with me?

Maybe I should have wrote it down when I was with her, but it never occurred to me that she would not me give a recipe.

I also was a little hurt. Granny had been the one who taught me how to cook, standing me in a chair beside her or sitting me on the table as she sifted flour, patted out biscuits, or mixed cake batter. How could she take away something so precious she and I had always bonded over?

“One. You can have one,” she announced one day.

“One what?”

“One recipe of mine. Choose wisely.”

I felt like Indiana Jones being told to choose the cup that was the Holy Grail in the Last Crusade.

I thought about it for a minute.

“I want your biscuit recipe,” I said.

“What? Are you kidding me? You’ve been making biscuits with me since you were three; if you don’t know how to make biscuits 20 years later, you don’t need to be in the kitchen. Choose another one.”

“But I can’t remember what you put in them,” I said earnestly. Everyone raved about her biscuits; I wanted rave-worthy biscuits, too.

She frowned, partly in disappointment that I could not remember and partly in the fact she was conceding her own rule and going to give me two recipes.

“Alright, I will give you the biscuit one, too, but it is so simple it is ridiculous,” she said. “What else do you want?”

I thought a little longer. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle her coconut cake recipe; that involved too many steps. Things like pot roast or her golden fried chicken were not at the top of my list either. I wanted something that when I made it, people proclaimed it tasted just like Helen’s.

“Your chocolate pound cake recipe,” I declared brazenly.

She inhaled sharply. “You want me to write all that down?”

I nodded.

“Alright. I will. But it’s gonna take some time. I ain’t even got it wrote down; I just do it from memory, something you should be able to do.”

“That’s the one I want, Granny,” I said.

She nodded. “And that’s the one you will get.”

A few days later, the smell of the chocolate pound cake permeated the house and she handed me two index cards, one smudged with chocolate.

“I had to make one, so I’d know what all I put in it,” she said. “Don’t you go being like that woman that sold that high-dollar cookie recipe. You sell my recipes and I will sue you.”

Gleefully, I tucked the cards into my purse for safe keeping and went to eat the fruits of her labor.

It wasn’t until about a month later, when I pulled them out that I noticed something was missing.  I called her.
“Old woman, this makes no sense.”

“It should make perfect sense.”
“Well, it doesn’t,” I protested. “You only have flour, Crisco, and water or milk. No measurements.”

“It depends on how many biscuits you want to make. You should know that part. Now I gotta go, the Wheel is on, but you call me back if you need to. At 7:30.”

The next day I called her to tell her the dough did not turn out right.

 “You gotta get your hands in the dough,” Granny said.

“That’s gross,” I protested.

“You want biscuits? You gotta get your hands in there. Did you ever see me mix dough with a spoon? No, you gotta get your hands a little dirty if you want to cook.”

It took me a few tries – and several phone calls and a reminder from Granny about her super top-secret biscuit trick she omitted off the recipe – but soon, I was a biscuit baking master.

I should have known if she called that recipe easy her chocolate pound cake one would be a doozy.

Every time I made her cake, it involved staying on the phone with Granny.

“I couldn’t read a word the woman wrote,” I told Mama. “And what I could read, I couldn’t understand. She had just ‘cocoa powder’ or ‘butter’ but didn’t put down how much.”

Mama laughed softly. “Well, Kitten, if Granny used butter, more than likely it was one of two measurements: the whole stick or the whole pound. For a cake, go with a pound, just to be safe.

“And her leaving off the actual measurements was just her way of making you have to call her every time you made it so she would talk to you.”

“Yeah,” I said, finally understanding some of the Redhead Prime’s stubbornness.

Granny kept me in the kitchen with her just a little bit longer.

Trying to Break The Chicken Rut (7/13/2016)

I wanted a new small appliance and announced this fact to my husband the other day.

He just raised his brows at me, not saying a word.

“I want to make protein shakes. I get tired of chewing sometimes.”

He nodded. He probably gets tired of eating the same stuff every day, too, and I had been in a chicken rut.

“You can’t put chicken in a blender, can you?” Cole asked, grazing on a bag of baby carrots.

“Somebody else may, but I don’t.”

“Didn’t you have a blender?” Lamar asked.

I have had three since we have lived here, maybe a total of 4 since we’ve been married.

What happened to the first one, I don’t know.

I bought one when Cole was a baby because I had visions of making him homemade baby food.

I realized it was kind of easier to buy Gerber’s.

I lost the lid to it one day and quickly found out holding the lid off of a Cool Whip container on top of a blender was not a good idea.

The second one came when I was on a Herbalife kick. The blender worked for a while until one day, the seal somehow was broken.

Smoothie shot out of the bottom and all down the counters, across the kitchen and landed on one of the dogs.

“Fix it!” I begged Lamar.

“This is a part I can’t fix,” he said. “You’ll need to order a replacement one online.”

Said replacement part was more than the blender had cost to begin with, so Lamar discreetly and without discussion, put the broken blender in the trash.

I decided my life was not complete without a blender and decided to get another about a year later.

“Are we really back on this aisle?” Lamar asked as I dragged him to look at blenders. “It’s just gonna tear up, you know.”

He was probably right, but I bought it anyway.

I think we used it maybe five times.
I nearly choked on a piece of frozen fruit that wasn’t even close to being blended.

This thing was not really good for blending anything with ice.

It was stored for a few months until Granny had mentioned before she died, she wanted a blender.

“Are you making margaritas or pina coladas?”

“Neither, I want a milkshake every now and then,” she said.

I took her the blender but with the caution of slightly thawing her ice cream first.

But now, as I said, I am in a chicken rut, meaning if I eat anymore dang grilled chicken, I may sprout feathers.

“If I had buttermilk and flour, I could fry it,” Lamar said.

He has to be the one to fry chicken; I have caused near fires in my attempts that somehow yielded chicken burnt on the outside and raw on the inside.

I get tired of salads. They feel like a tremendous amount of work for stuff that a rabbit eats.

“Didn’t you get a new juicer a while back? What happened to that?” Lamar asked.

“It was a juicer,” I said. “I don’t want to juice; I want smoothies.”

“I like juices better than smoothie,” he responded.

We stared at each other for a moment.

“So what kind of smoothie making blender are you thinking about getting?” he asked.

I wasn’t sure yet.

Then, I saw an infomercial about the Nutri Ninja Nutri Pro Auto IQ Super Sensory tabletop duo thing that would not only make me smoothies, it looked like it could juice, too. Or maybe it just pulverized the vegetables into liquid. It had all the bells and whistles. I mean, it had ninja and ‘nutri’ in the name – it was like stealthy nutrition just sneaking up on you.

“Your own body has been breaking down food to get the nutrients since you’ve been eating, you know,” Lamar said when I told him it would break everything down into easily digested liquids.

“Yeah, but a frozen chunk of strawberry can nearly choke you to death,” I said. “I kind of want this.”

It had all these attachments. It had a big pitcher to make a huge things of blueberry-almond milk-banana smoothie for us. There was even the option to get a food processer bowl or something like that.

“It does look like it can do everything,” Lamar said.

Was he hooked too?

I needed this. I was already thinking of how I was going to be getting all my fruits and vegetables in. I was going to be healthy – healthier than I had ever been in my life because this thing was going to extract all of the nutrients I had been missing.

I wondered, briefly, if you could juice cheesecake. A cheesecake infused smoothie maybe?

I pulled up the website and was set to order, until I saw the price. Considering my history with blenders and other small mixing-type appliances, that sounded awfully high.

Did I really want to be that healthy? I was doing OK on my steady diet of Dove bars and coffee.

I was sick of chicken now, but in a few months, I may be ready for grilled chicken on everything again.

And I would probably get tired of smoothies or juices or whatever concoction the thing made.

It sure would be a spendy item to be stuck in the bottom cabinet behind the cake plate I never use.

“You gonna order it?” Lamar asked.

I sighed.

I think I’ll wait.

And once again, healthy decisions were sacrificed because cheesecake – and chicken — is cheaper and doesn’t take up precious real estate in my kitchen cabinets.

 

Granny’s Way of Making Me Stronger (4/13/2016)

Granny often lamented that my generation was not made of tough stuff. She grew up during the Depression and said it taught her how to persevere and made her stronger.

“I don’t want to be stronger,” I told her. “I think this whole ‘struggling’ thing is over-rated.”

She snorted. “Yeah, you better get stronger than what you are or you gonna be a goner.”

Part of Granny’s innate strength building character meant she re-used everything she could; when I informed her she was environmentally conscientious when she reused Mason jars and tin foil, she rolled her eyes at me and replied, “My generation always was a little more worried about the environment than yours is – we depended on it to survive. To you’uns, it’s disposable like everything else.”

Of course, her homemade recycling system meant at any given time you could open her fridge to find 15 different Country Crock containers and open 11 before you finally found the margarine. The rest were leftovers she had forgot about re-serving because they weren’t labeled.

Not that there were many leftovers. Granny was not wasteful when she cooked and if she did cook extra, it was because it was going in something else – like cornbread for dressing, or roast beef for soup.

But sometimes, her ideas of things were a little odd.

“Like what?” Cole asked me.

Like the way the old gal would cook sausage for breakfast. I wasn’t sent off to school with a bowl of Fruity Pebbles, which I would have preferred. Nope, Granny got up and made sausage and homemade biscuits for us.

If there were any sausage left over, she put them on a plate on the back of the stove and left them there all day.

All day.

Not even covered up.

“Did you get sick?” Cole asked.

I can’t remember. As a fat kid, I usually ate a bunch of stuff that made me feel queasy on any given day – watermelon, ice cream and funnel cake did it one day; watermelon, ice cream and cat fish did it on another. Maybe it was the combination of watermelon and ice cream.

But I never once thought it had anything to do with Granny and her sitting-out-all-day sausage.

Come to think of it, Granny left a lot of things sitting out that probably could have darn well killed us.

She would make potato salad with onions and leave it out after Sunday dinner. No one realized it was the onions you needed to be concerned about.

Back then, people worried about the mayonnaise going bad and I told her as much.

“You’re trying to give us food poisoning,” was my actual statement.

“I ain’t trying no such of a thing. It is fit to eat.”

When I tried to throw away a can of pudding – chocolate, no less—because there was rust on the can, I received a stern admonishment. “That pudding is fine; the rust is on the outside.” I still didn’t trust the pudding.

“She’s gonna give us botulism,” I told Mama one day. “We’re gonna die from botulism.”

“Maybe not,” Mama said, not too sure herself.

When Botox came out rooted in botulism, Granny was the first to let me know. “See there; you just a-knew I was gonna kill you and it turns out rich folks are getting that stuff shot in their wrinkles to look younger. When you’re 40, you’ll be wishing you had ate that canned pudding!”

Now that I am in my 40’s, maybe I should have ate the pudding.

Mama called to warn me about yet another food recall the other day; this time, it was on what she calls, “those little trees.”

I assured her I didn’t buy broccoli.

“Oh, good,” she said. “I didn’t want y’all to get sick. I know you make broccoli slaw sometimes and I know how sensitive you are to things.  You try to keep up on those recalls don’t you? It seems like it is always on the stuff I know you get. You know, healthy stuff. Like spinach and stuff.”

I told her I tried to keep up with it but had to agree: it seemed like the healthier and more natural the stuff was, the sicker it made us. At least nowadays, anyway.

I used to worry about sausages and potato salad sitting out all day, covered with a dish towel for protection. I don’t recall getting sick off that but I can guarantee you I will check the recall alerts before I make a salad, a lesson I learned years ago, even though we didn’t get sick.

“You eating all that stuff didn’t kill you like you thought it would,” Granny told me one day when she learned how we survived the spinach recall. “I was just building up your immune system.”

Perhaps that was just Granny’s way of making me stronger after all.

Mama likes to shine

Mama likes to shine

Two things always made Granny happy: Cooking and being in the hospital.

Her cooking was part of the reason I was a weeble wobble as a child and the stuff of legends.

Her hospital visits were usually self-induced because she needed to rest her nerves, which were usually worn to the fray thanks to us. According to the old gal, we were a crazy bunch of fools and if it weren’t for her, we’d all starve, be dead or on the run.

Of course, her ailments were always far worse than anything anyone else has ever had in the history of medicine. God forbid her sister, Bonnie – who she had competed with her whole life – had been in the hospital. Granny would rush off to the doctor to get something put in traction just out of spite.

The hospital visits got Granny attention, alright, maybe not the kind she wanted but she was mentioned in the church bulletin and had folks visiting her. She gauged her importance in her little corner of the world based on how many people came to see her, how many called, how many flowers she received.

“Your grandmother’s on display,” Pop would say as he’d take me to the hospital. “God help us, you may have to put some poof on her so she’ll be presentable.”

“She’s sick; she’s not supposed to have poof on,” was my young logic.

Pop laughed, his deep belly laugh. “Lil’un, you’ve got a lot to learn about your Granny. This is her idea of a vacation – room service, cable and she gets a break from cooking for us. She’s gotta get all prettied up for her visitors. This is her time to shine.”

Even at my young age, I thought this was beyond warped. Who would ask to be admitted to the hospital for attention? Even if her nerves were rubbed raw from the family, it was still twisted.

After a week of being in the hospital, Granny would return home, all fresh-faced and rested where she greeted us with complaints at the state of the house. We evidently lived like a bunch of heathens while she had been recouping from whatever mysterious old lady ailment she told her doctor she had. She was disgusted with the bunch of us and would have to be re-admitted to get over being home.

But alas, there was baking to be done so a return visit would have to wait. Her hospital visit had incidentally been well-timed to get her good and rested in time for either the fall festival at my school or homecoming at church.

Now, Granny didn’t care for a lot of the stuff at the fall festival – the bobbing for apples, the vendors selling stuff; no, Granny went for the cake walk.

The cake walk was a pretty big deal, and Granny’s pride completely hinged on how many people lined up to win her coconut cake. The old gal would actually stand on the outskirts to make note – and to keep a watch on who got her cake plate. She once had to harass a doctor’s wife for months before she got that plate, which she had stolen from Mama’s sister-in-law, returned safe and sound.

If it was the church Homecoming, Granny measured her good Baptist standing on how quickly her cake or whatever dish she made was gone. One of the few things that could make that mean old lady smile was for someone to tell her that they couldn’t wait to eat whatever she had brought. We heard about it for days.

Especially when someone cooed over how she didn’t need to be in the kitchen since she just got out of the hospital. She really liked that part as she said how she had to do it, it was just the way she was – she knew they were counting on her.

“Mama, I asked Granny to make me a biscuit and she fussed; she just spent all night making that cake for someone else. Why does she do that?” I asked.

“‘Cause, Kitten, Mama likes to shine,” Mama explained.

“But she still fussed at me.”

I didn’t understand. I was a chubby kid who needed a biscuit.

I may not have oohed and ahhed over her baking prowess but I would have darn sure been grateful. But I didn’t give Granny that attention that the rest of the world did. I just selfishly wanted my biscuit and didn’t give the old gal any accolades. Probably didn’t even thank her for making her good food that made me chubby either.

It’s been years since Granny’s really cooked or baked. Arthritis has nearly crippled her, making it difficult for her to do a lot of her usual heavy duty kitchen work. However, last Thanksgiving, she did manage to have a knee replacement – she’s 93. There’s no way she’s gonna get her money’s worth off that knee.

“Mama, why in the world did that old woman decide, the week before Thanksgiving to go in the hospital and have her knee replaced?”

“She said she has to get it fixed because it’s killing her.”

“She’s 93 years old. What doctor in their right medical mind gives a 93 year old woman a new knee?” I was beyond flabbergasted – why on earth was she going into the hospital to have surgery?

When I went to see her in the hospital, there she sat, new knee propped up, emergency buzzer in her hand, “Wheel of Fortune” on the television overhead.

“How you feeling, old woman?” I asked.

“Great. I can’t wait to try out this knee. It’s gonna be a good ‘un. I just know it.”

The nurse brought her lunch in along with a new pitcher of ice, fluffed her pillow and doted on Granny, petting her head, and talking about what a sweet patient Granny was. I swear, the old gal smiled.

I called Mama on the way home.

“Mama, I think she likes the fact she had her knee operated on.”

Mama laughed. “Kitten,” she began.

“Mama likes to shine.”

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