The Evanston Community Kitchen

A food memoir about women in the kitchen and history in the making. Food = Story.


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The Bones Know (how to cook, that is)

As I was making chocolate chip cookies with my son today, I thought of something so profound and deep — it barely surfaced.

At that precise moment when my three and three-quarters year old poured the baking powder into the blue bowl, I should have honored and listened to the Montessori urge to go write it down right then and there.

But I didn’t. I kept mixing, baking, and preparing our cookie dough.

I had spent the hour prior to this trying to engage my sick, moody, snow day cabin fevered son to bake with me. He was mad at me because I would not let him watch Phinius and Ferb — his current favorite cartoon (I really like it too). We (or rather I specifically) are trying to limit his TV watching to two hours a day. And two hours a day seems like too much as it is.

Back to my profound deep thought — it was right there ready to be  measured out in perfectly proportioned words.

1 cup of prose

1/2 tsp of poetic phrasing

1/4 tsp truthful juice

1/8 tsp of heart based memory

1 stick of beauty

The words were perfect — so perfect I thought I’d remember them exactly for sure.

But I didn’t; I don’t.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” 
― Ernest Hemingway

I know what my one truth was — geez it was the first line of this darn book my ancestors have placed on my insecure shoulders and it was perfect.

Here’s the understudy’s attempt (the lead actress took another gig apparently): my grandmother taught me to cook when I was four. I don’t remember, but my bones do. When I cook with my son, I remember.

My mom, grandma (Juney) and me

My mom, grandma (Juney) and me (and Shaggy and Penny. Shaggy is the the Pekingese and Penny is the German Shepard)

***

I don’t think there is a perfect way to write this story. It just has to be written. I have got lost in the research. There is just so much to say. I want to ask my grandmother so many questions that a thirty-nine year old would ask — an almost forty year old would ask. The thing is — I know one thing for sure, well actually two, maybe three:

1. My grandma loved me and I loved her.

2. You don’t get to ask your loved ones all the questions you will have.

3. You are left to wonder. And sometimes wonder is better than knowing.

I could hem and haw and stop right there. But the story wants to be told, so I will tell it best I can. I am telling it right now.

That is enough for today. The bones know. I am lucky to have had her in my life for the ten years I did. This love is baked into me. I may not remember our conversations, but I remember her perfume. I can still smell it. I remember her pajamas; I can feel them — she always wore silk. I remember her glasses; I touch them — they were pointy. I remember her legs; they were muscular — even for an old lady. She never crossed them at the knee, only the ankles — lady like.

Juney, you are my Valentine. I love you.

A valentine from my grandma

A valentine from my grandma

Inside of Grandma's card

Inside of Grandma’s card

Recipe for Chocolate Chip cookies from Community Kitchen recipe notebook

From Juney's (Grandma's) recipe notebook from the Community Kitchen

From Juney’s (Grandma’s) recipe notebook from the Community Kitchen

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Grandma’s Love: Juney’s Cards

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Juney's Cards

To be loved by your grandma, what a special gift indeed.

My grandma, Juney, always sent birthday cards and holiday cards when I was a child. She never missed a birthday and she was always punctual with her mail — never did a birthday card arrive a day after my birthday. She adored her grandchildren. She was the only grandparent I ever knew. And she was enough — she was a gift. A supersize grandma who made up for the other three who had passed away before both my sister and I were born.

My grandma was lovely and modest. I had no idea, of course as I was just a child, of her accomplishments. To think she was involved in food photography and advertising when it was just being introduced. She was the executive chef who prepared the cooked foods when Birdseye first introduced frozen vegetables. Juney moved to New York when she was 28. She loved New York. My grandma had panache. I remember thinking how elegant she looked even in her pajamas when she would spend the night at our house in Wheaton. She would take the train from Evanston. Mary Liz’s son, Lewis would drive her to the station at Davis Street in Evanston.  Lewis is Mary Liz’s son. Mary Liz is Juney’s niece and my mom’s cousin, and also Aunt Harriet’s daughter.  Lewis told me that Juney was always so excited to come and visit us.  My grandma always looked so put together, even in her PJs  — one pair I remember vividly was leopard print silk matching bottom and top.

The inside of the Valentine's Day card Grandma sent me as a child. I am grateful my mom kept these things for me.

The inside of the Valentine’s Day card Grandma sent me as a child. I am grateful my mom kept these things for me.

This is a Valentine’s Day card she sent. How important it is to me now, more valuable than anything. And of course, it arrived promptly on or before Valentine’s Day. And she always tucked in dollar bills. And this is important as she was on a fixed income. She had a generous heart.

My advice for anyone who is lucky to still have both their parents, or one of their parents alive, and/or their grandparents, is to write down and record all the stories they tell.  Once they are gone, you realize how truly important these stories are. They are history.

Part of the inspiration for this book and what is providing me the passion to write it is that I regret not writing down my mother’s stories.  I did write down a few and of course I have a lot of memories, but I am missing her so much. I just wish I could talk to her.

My mom did meet my son, Benjamin.  He was six months old. I will always have that.  But it is special to have a grandma and/or grandpa you can grow up with. It must be even more special to know your grandparents when you become a young adult and an adult.

Here’s to Juney. Here’s to grandparents and here’s to grandmas.

This is a photo with my mom and me. I think sometime in my early twenties, about 24 or 25 years old.

This is a photo with my mom and me. I think sometime in my early twenties, about 24 or 25 years old.