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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

  Best wishes to you and yours! I hope you have many things to appreciate this year.

I hosted the feast at my place for my parents. The menu:

-Red lentil soup
-Mushroom and feta tart with oregano
-Butternut squash baked with leeks and garlic
-Green beans*
-Mashed potatoes with roasted garlic and basil-infused olive oil
-Green salad (romaine lettuce, avocado, cucumber, tomato)*
-Greek olives*
-Pumpkin pie
-Cranberry nut bread* (one of my Mom's specialties: * indicates Mom brought these).

It was very relaxing, and completely worth staying up until 1 a.m. baking, so I could sleep in this morning and start the other dishes late. :-) The tart and my mother's cranberry bread were the non-vegan items on the menu; I need to come up with additional vegan items that my parents will love for feasts like this.

I hope you get the rest of the weekend off, and can enjoy some quality time with the people you enjoy most!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)6:53 PM

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Unlike Mom Used to Make, Part IX: My Maternal Grandparents

After the very extensive reporting that my mother provided in her entry about what she ate in childhood (see Unlike Mom Used to Make, Part VI: My Mom), I became very interested in what HER parents ate while they were growing up. Itís likely that my Grandmaís meals were similar - after all, my mother grew up on HER grandmotherís farm, where Grandma was raised, and so the odds are good.

So, I asked Grandma directly, several times, to have her tell me about what she ate. I provided a printout of my motherís report, plus output from Wikipeda about Polish Cuisine, so she could use that to compare and contrast.

My grandmother, who is also my most frequent correspondent, provided this report:
I will get to giving you a food list - the one your mom gave you is kinda like what we ate - [it does] say something about being a child of the depression - but that did not mean farm folks. It was a busy life - the food was great! I never made a casserole! Yes - once I had scalloped potatoes explode in the oven. Was a sorry mess! Havenít made one since.

[Promise of additional food writing on vacation.]

Walt [my grandfather] shops, and he will get stuff that he does not usually get if I make a list. He likes a roast chicken, turkey or half cow. Only kidding! That is his style - [he] does not mind the same all week.

When your mom was small and before Carol became a Mrs. [ ], we did buy stuff like Ragu. Polish people are not much for pasta - egg noodles, yes, but not the good stuff Italians eat. My mom just jazzed up tomato paste for us. All kinds of potatoes - especially potato pancakes. Jewish people make their pancakes with egg and onions. Jewish dishes are like many of our Polish type because there were very many Polish Jews! (In Poland.)
Iíve been waiting for the promised additional food list since March, but it hasnít come yet, so I think Iíll instead supplement this with a report from my mother.

[Iím not being very consistent, but I will try only capitalizing Mom, Grandma, and Grandpa, and leaving the other words as they are.]


My mother was in Florida last week visiting my grandparents and helping care for my grandfather, who has been in and out of the hospital recently with a wide range of systemic health problems. He has lung cancer, an enlarged prostate (8 times normal size), blood pressure problems, heart trouble... Grandpa is 89 years old, and is in great discomfort. Mom, a retired registered nurse, was especially good to have present during a tough time like this because my grandparents arenít especially interested in modern medicine for prevention or ongoing care - just for emergencies. So, if Grandpa has a crisis, he will go in and have doctors work on him, but he is a non-compliant patient as soon as he leaves the hospital, and goes back to doing whatever he likes - he wonít take medicine according to a schedule, or change his habits, or go to follow-up appointments unless he wants something from them. Since he has been in extreme pain and so has been willing to deal with doctors, though not necessarily to listen to them, my mother went to assist in translating helpful medical-ese into something her folks can hear.

My mother also helped out with cooking and shopping, and so she had a food report.

The first thing Mom told me is that, for a variety of reasons, my grandfather has primarily been on a ďpastry and coffeeĒ diet for the past year. Iím not quite clear on why he started, but just about all heís been eating regularly is pie, various pastries (including apple turnovers), and coffee. Seriously. When youíre 89, you can do as you please, and thatís what heís been doing. However, his intestines are not amused.

Momís summary of what grandpa is willing to eat is as follows:

-pie, pastry, and coffee (obviously)
-3 minute eggs. Grandpa would rant and refuse to eat if the eggs appeared to have been cooked a moment more or less. My mother timed them at exactly 3 minutes, but that didnít stop the refusals, which makes me suspect that Grandpa just enjoys being fussy (and being waited on).
-square-cut canned peaches. Not halves. Not any other fruit or fruit cocktail.
-one particular brand of yogurt with fruit on the bottom. No others, and not any of the pre-mixed yogurts.
-mashed white potatoes. He had a fit because Mom mashed red potatoes for him: she left some of the skin on, which tipped him off, and she had to argue that the inside of the red potatoes is the same color as the inside of the white potatoes, and so there is really not enough difference for him to refuse them completely.

My mother also learned that Grandpa is the only member of the household to do grocery shopping - not just generally, but exclusively. (Grandma: ďI donít shop.Ē)

The foods that Grandpa buys for Grandma are generally as follows:
-tuna fish
-hot dogs

and for himself:
-cottage cheese
-diced canned peaches.

When Mom arrived, the refrigerator contained mayonnaise, mustard, and pickles, which begged the question: what do these condiments go with? Mayo and Gatorade? Bacon and pickles? What?

Yes, all you nutritionists are flinching right now. I know. Itís not good. Mom said that her folks were very concerned about the cost of food, and I know that Grandma has specifically complained about the cost of fresh greens and different times of year, but veggies tend to be cheaper than bacon and eggs, so thatís not the full story. Grandpa has a long history of being frugal in strange extremes, and so this is likely more a function of that habit than of any actual economic necessity.

I recall visiting my grandparents in 1982 or so, and all they had in the house were hot dogs (in huge, 16+ packs), potatoes, margarine, and tangerine juice Grandma had made from their trees out back. So this shouldnít really surprise me. And, my grandparents are Polish, and so youíd expect that their diets would involve Polish sausages, potatoes, cabbage, and dark breads with butter, but this isnít quite that, either.

My mother tried to diversity their diets a bit while she was shopping and cooking for them. She bought:
-eggplant, which Grandma likes to fry or to pickle (!)
-frozen broccoli
-cucumbers, sour cream, and vinegar, to make a little side salad
-Kielbasa, the famous Polish sausage
-chicken for sandwiches (and an unspecified bread)
-prepared Cuban sandwiches with lettuce and tomato. I donít know what a Cuban sandwich is, though I suspect itís like a torta.
-tapioca pudding
-frozen yogurt with fruit

and she bought the ingredients for and prepared beef stroganoff (ground beef, mushrooms, cream of mushroom soup, sour cream, onions, garlic, and elbow noodles) and Texas hash (salty, canned corn beef fried in butter with cooked potatoes).


I got some other reports from my Mom. You probably recall that I inventoried her cupboards and revealed her to be the survivalist that she was unconsciously becoming. She was thinking along those lines, and so she observed a few things. She also made some general remarks about what's going on there.

Her mother has more than 200 drinking glasses.

Grandpa will only uses the dishes that are left on the counter, so they eat from the same few dishes over and over.

My Grandma had 21 year old baby food in her cupboard. (When my mother pulled it out, my Grandmother named the grandchild it was for: he is now 23.)

Grandpa is on anti-coagulants, which induce what is basically hemophilia - he could easily bleed to death from any minor injury while on this medication. Despite this, my youngest aunt believed it appropriate for Grandpa to work a tractor and handle sharp objects in the yard. Also, there are a variety of foods which are temporarily off-limits to my grandfather, because of the drug. He has to avoid vitamin K in particular, and his list of prohibited foods includes green vegetables, cranberry juice, and aspirin.

On a nearly related note, one of my nephews, from whom my grandparents periodically take advice, was quoted as saying "vitamins kill." No, actually, vitamins are compounds required for our bodies to function. In this particular instance, Grandpa needs to avoid a few vitamins, but this isn't the context this advice came from, and you could see how advice like that could lead to the sort of diet my grandparents currently have.

My grandparents won't throw out extremely outdated medicine, on the grounds that it cost good money.

My grandfather has been raising and racing pigeons as a hobby since he was 12 years old.

Wildlife in the area include: giant turtles, big horned steers (well, not very wild), sand hill cranes, and egrets.

The town of Land O' Lakes, which is vaguely where my grandparents live for postal purposes, was a historically black town, and the cemetery dates to the 1700s. Evidence of voodoo rituals in recent times keeps many visitors away from the cemetery. Especially at odd hours. Though not all visitors, apparently.


So, that's my Mom's report on what my grandparents actually eat, current to this month.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:22 AM

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Family Dinner Traditions: My Dad! From the continuing interview series Unlike Mom Used to Make, Continued. Part VII.

Last spring I began interviewing friends and relatives about what their families ate for dinner as a child, to learn which food traditions people follow, and which they choose simply to remember fondly. So far I've posted:
-Part 1: Me and Steven
-Part II: Reggie
-Part III: Larry
-Part IV: Rosemary
-Part V: Andra
-Part VI: My Mom.

I am working on my grandmother's interview by mail even now, teasing various details out of her gradually, though she has tried to escape my interrogation techniques several times, which is easy to do by mail (aside from the appearance of my persistent questions on every card and letter I send to her). I'll write about that when I have a few more answers compiled. In the meantime, let's look at what my Dad ate.

Dad's family dinners. My father was the 5th and final child in his family, and he grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. My grandmother had moved north from the South, which had influenced her cooking: there were certain "soul food" elements in her family traditions which I think of as being more Southern than specifically African-American, though both cultural influences were present. Cleveland is also very much in the "Midwest," which has its own cooking traditions. Overall, I'd say this combination resulted in an "All-American" menu of food, which my father described as "normal" more than regional.

My father remembers eating these items for dinner:

-meatloaf with mashed potatoes
-chicken (breasts only)
-pork chops (rarely)
-hot dogs

Vegetables & Fruits
-greens (with bacon, for flavor)
-veggies grown by Aunt Norma. Aunt Norma had a very productive garden, and would provide bushel baskets of fresh produce, including:
--green beans
-black eyed peas (with chunks of meat, or simmered with ham hocks)
-mashed potatoes
-plums and grapes from the plum tree and grape arbor in their home garden

Casseroles and combinations
-macaroni and cheese (made with cream, cheddar, and macaroni)
-scalloped potatoes
-toasted cheese sandwiches
-deviled eggs

Baked Goods and desserts
-cakes, including carrot cake
-pies, including lemon meringue, apple, pecan, and peach cobbler
-golden bars (sort of like a brownie, but not based on chocolate. I'll get the recipe for these from my mother, and post it in a later entry)
-corn bread
-other homemade breads.

Dad also remembers drinking Seal Test Milk.

Things Dad Didn't Eat. As we were working through Dad's list, he also came up with items that he specifically did not eat. There were a few reasons for this. Partly, my father was a fussy eater, but there were a few other factors. One interesting factor, which I had never heard mentioned before I interviewed him: a few of my father's older siblings told him that he would be haunted by the spirits of any animal he ate, and would also taunt him with the discarded legs of chickens. He didn't take well to this. Perhaps this is why, growing up, my father preferred meat dishes that were somewhat removed from the animal: he liked chicken breasts only, and never parts on the bone; he didn't like ribs or other meat that retained a direct resemblance to its original anatomical location; etc.

Items on my father's did-not-eat list include:
-fish. This is primarily because my grandmother was allergic to fish. (This means that my eldest uncle shouldn't have been quite so surprised when my cousin turned out to be similarly, severely allergic.) Dad says that Grandpa would sometimes catch red snapper, and would have to prepare it himself.
-pot roast
-chitlins, a.k.a. pig intestines. My father once walked into the kitchen, and was repulsed by what he considered to be a very bathroom-related smell. When advised what was cooking, he swore never to eat those.

What he eats now. My father's diet in recent years has been influenced by Atkins and the fact that he cooks for himself now, but the basic dishes listed before - meats and veggie side dishes - are still reasonably close to what he eats now. My 2004 inventory of his cupboards and refrigerator doesn't produce a very clear list of entrees, but I know he tries to eat light meals, including sandwiches, eggs and toast, pasta, and chicken with broccoli. While my Mother is quick to point out the double pepperoni pizzas that she brings over to his house when they rent a good movie, that's not quite as indicative of his diet as it was back before his bypass surgery in the early 1990s, when fast food was a regular feature of his week. Living out where strawberries are grown, I know he also eats fresh, local fruit that is available from the stands a short drive from his home. I know he likes broccoli.


I have more notes from my mother, which I'll provide shortly.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)11:14 PM

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