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Saturday, June 27, 2015

What's For Dinner?

When I came to live with Gram, I was a scrawny little girl. She used to say that someone who was very thin needed to turn around twice to make a shadow. Well, with me, she said that I needed to turn around three times. I had a lot of growing to do, and Gram did a great job of feeding me. I loved just about everything that she made (I was never a big fan of liver, and to this day, I don't care for lamb.), and ate it heartily.   For the first time in my life, I had access to plenty of food as well as the knowledge that I was free to eat as much of it as I wanted. 

One summer evening, Gram had planned to have strawberry shortcake for dessert. She had quite a strawberry patch in the back yard, so we had access to wonderful berries all summer. I sat down, hungry as a bear, and began to eat. I put a huge helping of everything on my plate. Then I realized I had taken way too much. Gram would refer to this as your eyes being bigger than your stomach - thinking you could eat more than was actually possible. I sat at the table, looking at my plate, which still held some food. I could see dessert slipping away from me. 

Gram asked what was wrong, was I full? I told her that I couldn't eat any more of what was on my plate. I was actually quite sad because I loved Gram's strawberry shortcake. Gram gently told me to just be more careful in the future - I could have as many helpings as I needed to fill my tummy. I just needed to start with a smaller portion. I was already feeling better. Gram cleared our plates and asked me if I was ready for some strawberry shortcake. When I halfheartedly objected that I hadn't cleaned my plate, she said that it didn't matter, I could still have dessert. I was probably the happiest girl in the world as I ate the ladyfingers floating in cream, smothered with sweetened strawberries, and topped with whipped cream. It was heavenly. 

Gram made all sorts of different dishes and always encouraged me to try new foods. I live by her example to this day - I can't know I don't like something if I have never tried it. Because of her, I have tried things ranging from frog legs to emu, wild boar, snake, quail eggs, escargot, to name a few, and all sorts of international cuisine. As a relatively basic cook, she also had some surprisingly varied dishes in her repertoire. She made a pepper steak that rivals most of what I can find in restaurants. Her beef stew was heavenly, and I have yet to be able to replicate it exactly. After she saw how much I loved the potatoes in the stew, she always put extra in the pot for me to enjoy.

She also made a fabulous Swiss steak dish. I also loved her potato salad, a recipe I have managed to pretty much duplicate. Oh, and if Liz were here she would tell you about the delicious dish we often referred to as orange rice because of the color it turned after it was cooked. It included beef broth, onions, and paprika, and it was heavenly. I would gladly eat a dish right now, with some pepper steak on the same plate.

Gram also made some wonderful desserts. She could bake a lemon meringue pie that would put any television chef to shame, with a tall, delicious mountain of fluffy meringue on top. She made various cookies and sweet and regular breads, and cakes, and little doughnuts. She made an orange cake that required freshly-squeezed orange juice. She'd tell everyone who asked for the recipe that it must be fresh-squeezed. When their cakes failed, she asked if they had used frozen concentrate. It was always their big mistake. Oh, how I wish I had that recipe!

When I was eating breakfast in the morning before school, she would ask me if I wanted one or two sandwiches in my lunch. I remember once asking her if I could have three. Hey, growth spurt! She promised a big snack when I came home instead. After school and playing outside with my friends, I'd come in, eager to know what we were eating for dinner that night. Sometimes my nose would tell me, as I could smell the chicken soup or chili or stew or spaghetti sauce.

Occasionally, dinner would not yet be started. I'd ask her what was for dinner that night, a question that I know drives some parents crazy. She'd reach for a pot or skillet and tell me what was on the menu. Every so often, she would shake things up, maybe just to make sure that I was listening. On a few occasions when I asked the question, she'd put a pan on the range and say, "Oh, I think we'll have fried potatoes and alligators." We'd have a great laugh over it, even while we did the dishes after dinner, her washing, and me drying.

I have my own dishes and baked goods that I like to make now, but I still wish that I knew how to make some of Gram's wonderful dishes. And every so often, when Trent asks what I think we should have for dinner, I'll answer, like Gram would sometimes do, "Friedpotatoesandalligators!"