Tribute: Gram

Jackie & Gram

Jackie & Gram, Mother's Day 2008

Today is the one-year anniversary of my Grandmother’s passing. I’m trying to be upbeat as I know she wouldn’t want me to wallow but the truth is I miss her. She’s the only grandparent I got to know as an adult and there are so many times I still reach for the phone to call her.

I know she loved food and understand she was a fairly good cook, although the only memories I have of her cooking were cookie boxes she would make for each of her grandchildren for Hanukkah.

When I was about 10-years-old Gram developed food allergies; she thought it was the result of having her gallbladder removed. So for the last 18 years of her life she wasn’t able to eat any dairy, gluten or MSG. But she had a wish-list of the foods she wanted to eat when she was on her deathbed. Oh, how I miss her sense of humor. Alas, she passed away in her sleep and never got to enjoy her last meal.

Gram with her Granddaughters (Heather, Jackie & Marci)

Gram with granddaughters Heather, Jackie & Marci

But you should’ve seen the way this woman ate lobster or smoked whitefish. Boy, did she love it, she would pick the shells/bones clean with her fingers as not to waste a crumb.

Throughout the past year I’ve posted two of her recipes, one for tornado cookies that were my sister’s and my favorite from the cookie box, and the other for junk, a recipe rediscovered by my mom after cleaning out her apartment.

So today as I help my parents prepare for a family BBQ, I recall one of my grandmother’s favorite phrases: If they don’t come, they don’t have to go home.”

And Gram, I promise not to pick up hitchhikers on my way home.

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Family Food Traditions: PB&J with Chicken Noodle Soup

My dad excited to eat his soup

My dad excited to eat his soup

As I mentioned in the post for cracked Yukon gold potatoes, my family officially celebrated my dad’s birthday a few days late. My mom and I made potatoes, chicken, fish, broccoli and a chocolate cake (I’ll post that recipe soon). A nice, traditional meal.

Well, I didn’t tell you what my dad ate for dinner on his actual birthday, also a traditional meal for him. He asked my mom to prepare his favorite: peanut butter and grape jelly sandwhich with Lipton chicken noodle soup and crackers. At least he’s finally transitioned from white Wonder Bread to whole grain!

Classic birthday dinner: peanut butter and jelly with chicken noodle soup
Classic birthday dinner: PB&J with chicken noodle soup

I didn’t realize how strange this meal request was until I told a few friends about it. Then, earlier that day I had lunch with my friend Sara and her three-year-old son, Ben, requested a PB&J. That confirmed it: my father’s favorite meal is the same as a child’s, but I find it endearing rather than strange. And it completely fits his Peter Pan personality.

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Gelatinous Mass, My Family’s Holiday Tradition

Jell-o Mold

I apologize for neglecting the blog for the past week. I’ve been visiting family in Florida, still am in fact. I wish I could share the secrets to the fabulous turkey I made on Thanksgiving, or an old family recipe for stuffing or pumpkin pie. But, unfortunately I can’t do that. While I have offered, or begged to be more precise, to host Thanksgiving, my mom and aunts refuse to pass the torch. And here in Florida I had no way of even contributing a side dish or dessert.

Dissolving in hot water

Fear not. I will share a favorite recipe of my family’s, one that is present at nearly every gathering, everything from birthdays to Rosh Hashana to Thanksgiving. Yes, it goes against my general food philosophy, using the opposite of fresh, natural ingredients (helloooo, Sugar-Free Jell-O powder and Cool Whip Lite!), but every foodie needs to allow some exceptions to her rules.

Cooling with ice

Originally, my aunt who hosted Thanksgiving turned down my mother’s offer to bring the Jell-O Mold, saying it would be redundant with the cranberry relish (I know, what?). Anyways, she quickly caved to the pressure, my mom brought her dish and Thanksgiving was saved!

Adding Cool Whip

To fully grasp the significance of my mom’s Jell-O mold, you need to understand that it’s one of the few things she makes really well that my more cooking-adventurous Aunt Jeri just can’t master (that and matzo balls – my mom makes the best balls of anyone I know). Just to clarify, my mom isn’t a bad cook, just not one that I would call great. But she has a few items that are simply the best: matzo balls, kugel, sweet and sour meatballs, and Jell-O. At home my mom even has a special “Jell-O spoon,” a large slotted spoon made from white plastic that has been stained pink throughout the years from countless Jell-O preparations.

Pouring into the mold

You also need to understand my sister Marci’s obsession with Jell-O, and her subsequent hatred of The Chicago Tribune’s columnist John Kass who has published articles ranting about his disdain for the “gelatinous mass.” Marci could eat Jell-O every day and it’s a must-have when she’s sick, even more than chicken noodle soup. For her especially, no holiday would be complete without it.

So, the day before Thanksgiving I watched my mom make Jell-O in her under-equipped Florida kitchen. And I noticed a few advantages of the dish: it requires just three ingredients and uses only a large spoon, large bowl, liquid measuring cup, hand-mixer or whisk, and bundt-type mold pan. That’s it! A delicious side dish or dessert that can be made just about anywhere.

Marci\'s Thanksgiving Plate Read more of this >>

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