Wednesday, November 22, 2006

fulfilling Grandma's expectations

Now that I'm married, my 92-year-old grandmother treats me differently. Now I am a Wife. When we talk on the phone, she asks me when my husband will get home from work, if he's going up in the space shuttle any time soon (hey, she's 92, and to her, an "aerospace systems engineer" is the same thing as "astronaut"), what I'm fixing him for dinner, how I'm going to set the table, when we're going to start making babies. Once, very pleased with my dutiful responses, she exclaimed, "You're such a good little housewife!" But, see, she used to ask me about my job, my hobbies, if I've heard from my brother lately, if I'm planning any more trips to France. It's as if now that I'm married my role as Wife supersedes everything else and my husband should be the focus of our conversations--even though I still have a job, volunteer work, hobbies, news of my brother, and travel plans. So I take deep breaths, remind myself that she's of a very different generation than my own, answer her questions, and then tell her about my job and everything else going on in my life, even if she didn't ask.

When I decided to visit her for four days before Thanksgiving, I didn't realize that rather than remind her that I'm a multi-faceted young woman with many skills and interests who just happens to be married (to the most wonderful Rocket Man ever), my visit would instead reinforce the fact that I'm married and domestic now.

Grandma lives independently but doesn't do much cooking any more--because of shoulder problems she can't lift pots and pans, and a couple of times she's fallen asleep while food was cooking on the stove. This is so sad to me--I remember her glorious meals of fried chicken, cream gravy, mashed potoates, beans cooked in bacon grease, homemade apple pies. Even as recently as ten years ago she would mail me care packages of chocolate chip cookies. But now all she can handle on her own is heating up canned soup or frozen meals, making grilled cheese sandwiches, and that sort of thing. She received Meals on Wheels for a while but pooh-poohed the food and wouldn't eat it, so her kids cancelled that service. They're worried now that she doesn't eat enough now, specifically not enough protein and vegetables.

So I promised to cook a few meals for us during my visit. This took significant planning, as she would never dream of eating, say, portabello mushrooms, couscous, most seafood, Mexican dishes--anything mildly exotic or simply different from the meat-and-potatoes that she grew up and grew old with. In other words, most of my recipes were out. I also wanted to find dishes which didn't require equipment any more specialized than a can opener, whose leftovers would freeze and reheat well later, and which were easy to prepare, so that I wouldn't be spending half of my visit in the kitchen.

Here's what I ended up with:
Chicken with apples and onions
Broccoli in cheese sauce
Hash brown casserole
Turkey bacon and onion quiche
Cherry crumble
Scrambled eggs and turkey bacon

See? Heavy on the protein, just like my aunt requested.

Well, everything I prepared was a success. She was wary of the some of the ingredients, like apples with chicken--even though I pointed out that this combination wasn't that different from turkey with cranberries--and of the foreign character of the quiche, but she politely tried everything I put on her plate. And then took seconds. And then called up her friends and her children--and my husband--to tell them what a good cook I was and how delicious chicken and apples are together!

We had a genuinely good time. She kept me company while I chopped and sauteed and roasted, laughed uproariously when I tried to put a baking dish into the preheated oven only to discover that that's where she stores her cookie sheets and cast iron skillets, and asked for the recipes. So even though I basically cemented her image of me as a paragon of domesticity, she's satisfied that I can run a kitchen and feed my husband--and she even ate some vegetables.

Chicken Roasted on a Bed of Apples and Onions

2 apples, cored and thinly sliced
2 onions, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 chicken breast halves
2 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss the apples and onions in large bowl with salt, pepper, and one Tbsp oil. Transfer to baking dish. Roast 25 minutes, stirring once. Beat chicken with meat mallet or heavy pan to flatten them to an even thickness. Add chicken to pan. Sprinkle with one Tbsp oil, salt, pepper, and herbs. Roast about 30 minutes until tender. Place some of apple-onion mixture on each plate and top with chicken. Serves 4. (Recipe adapted from Rocky Mountain News.)

Ridiculously Easy Cherry Crumble

16 oz package frozen unsweetened pitted cherries
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp water
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups crushed shortbread cookies (leave some as chunks)

Place cherries, sugar, and water in a pie plate and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, top with cookie crumbs, and bake 10 more minutes. Serves four if you stretch it with ice cream on top (I like it with dulce de leche or cherry with chocolate chunks). Otherwise make a double recipe! (Recipe adapted from one of the Moosewood cookbooks--I think.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I almost cried reading this! Both of my grandmothers passed away in my last year of high school, so I never got to know them as adults. You are so very lucky to have a grandma, even if she does just think of you as a wife now. :) I can just picture my little old grandmas politely eating what I had prepared, and I am sure that they too would be suspicious of chicken and apples!

8:34 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

You're right, Judy; I am lucky to have been able to get to know both of my grandmothers. On Thanksgiving my cousin and I will be fixing some of our late Nana's favorite recipes and reminiscing about her cooking too.

12:53 PM  
Anonymous elizabeth said...

"So I take deep breaths, remind myself that she's of a very different generation than my own, answer her questions, and then tell her about my job and everything else going on in my life, even if she didn't ask."

Good for you! That can be very hard sometimes. Great to hear you had fun!

4:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The chicken with apples reminds me of a Persian stew with chicken, quince, onions and yellow split peas. Lots of protein for your grandmother, if you could find the quince and get her to try it! - Shirin

7:53 PM  
Anonymous Jann Nance said...

I am so impressed, Sarah! It's a great blog, and I have copied the recipe for the easy cherry crumble. The word "easy" is very appealing to me in my retirement phase. With all this great food, how do you keep trim? Thanks for sending the Christmas card.

6:02 PM  
Anonymous Lori said...


It sounds like you had a wonderful time with your grandmother. Cooking for her is a wonderful gift you can give to her. It's okay that she considers you domestic; all of your friends know what a balanced woman you are!

11:12 PM  

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