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Posts Tagged ‘grandparents’

Suzanne Crow Haggerty
Hobo
Tubby (?)
dogs
Spring 1977

Growing up near my grandparents’ farm was simply magical. At times, the place was our own little back-country Camelot, with horses, cows, puppies, the tastiest tomatoes, the sweetest watermelons, a barn filled with hay bales perfect for climbing and a creek suitable for wading, splashing and floating.

Small wonder we never ran across a snake (literally) or broke an arm falling out of a tree, a fate that did befall a younger cousin when I was a teenager.

That small farmhouse was the steadiest structure in my life. While my parents tended to move every few years, my grandparents weren’t going anywhere. Even when I grew up and lived in the same spot for about 10 years, then another place for seven, those houses didn’t feel like home in the way that old brick house in South Mississippi did.

The smell of burning firewood will still transport me to the den, where my grandfather’s wood-burning stove steadily burned during the winter months. The taste of a simple yellow cake with chocolate icing puts me right back in the kitchen, licking the beaters as my grandmother put the finishing touch on a birthday cake.

That era has been over for a number of years – my grandfather died in 1999, and my grandmother in 2010. This fact didn’t really hit home for me until a few weeks ago, however, when my uncle and his wife finally sold the house and the rest of the land (my mom had sold her half, located across the highway, several years ago) to move closer to their daughter.

After completing a business trip in New Orleans earlier this month, I rented a car and met my mom to visit the homestead one last time before it was officially under new ownership.

I expected an emotional, memory-filled goodbye. What I faced, instead, was the realization that home wasn’t really home without the people. Without my grandfather sitting in his recliner, the den was just a room full of furniture. Without my grandmother mixing up family favorites for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the tiny kitchen was just another place to store plates and glasses.

Without a pasture filled with cows, or a barn housing a couple of horses, the back pasture was just a hilltop.

It’s gone, but the memories are priceless. I could choose to be sad, or I can choose to remember rolling around in the back yard with a litter of puppies (with only one case of ringworm during my entire childhood, thank you very much). I can share bittersweet memories, or tell everybody about the time I smacked the Shetland pony while my brother was riding to make her go fast for him (YOU’RE WELCOME and I don’t know why you still hold a grudge about this, Rob).

My fondest hope is that my uncle and aunt can create these kinds of memories for their grandchildren on their new place, which features a slightly smaller piece of land, but has all the potential of my childhood stomping grounds. Go forth, and make those kids remember your house with utter delight.

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Every few months, I convince myself that I need an old-fashioned country breakfast, complete with some form of eggs, bacon or sausage; pancakes, biscuits or toast; grits; and coffee. All dishes I could perfectly well make at home, but dishes that, like sandwiches and salads, are somehow better when made by someone else.

Deep down, I realize that I don’t really want these foods for their sake, but for the link they hold to the past. Weekend breakfasts with my grandparents were some of the most special moments I had, first as a child, then as a young woman.

They were long, lazy affairs, with bottomless cups of coffee and free-range conversation. I got to know my grandparents, and they got to know me.

It wasn’t about the food, but man, the food. Endless stacks of pancakes, biscuits for days, homemade possumberry or muscadine jelly, crunchy bacon, creamy grits.

I realize this is the path that takes many people on an emotional — and dangerous — journey with food. Ice cream reminds you of Saturdays at the skating rink, but pint after pint doesn’t take you back there. Potato chips remind you of afternoons in front of the television, shoes kicked off and homework tossed in the corner, but munching your way through an entire bag won’t ever reinstate that feeling of freedom.

Food as comfort is a trap, a tasty one, and one we build for ourselves. Acknowledging emotional eating is vital, but also a little hollowing, making us recognize the void we’re trying to fill with food. Recognizing that void means knowing that the past is done, that the people associated with certain foods are gone, and those memories are all we have.

It’s an acknowledgement that, hopefully, helps us all have a better relationship with food, one that lets us make new memories instead of living in the past.

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I had the run of my grandparents’ home since before I could even run. I miss that sort of familiarity with a living space.

A few years ago, I realized that our house in Huntsville didn’t feel like home and never would.

Is it weird that a two-bedroom condo in the heart of Midtown Atlanta feels more like home than anywhere I’ve ever spent significant amounts of time, save my grandparents’ house?

After every major family visit, I lament the lack of a comfortable secondary family space. My grandparents’ house was like a second home for my family — we knew where everything was and how to operate the TV and other essentials. We felt free to graze in the kitchen, grabbing leftover biscuits from their stovetop perch throughout the day or snagging Little Debbie snack cakes from the stash that was inevitably residing on top of the fridge.

The house is still there, and I could still go there if I wanted, but my uncle and aunt live in it now so it’s their house. Different stuff, different people, different vibe.

I’m convinced that no one ever feels 100% comfortable in their in-laws’ house, nor do you feel like you have a refrigerator-privilege kind of relationship when there’s a step-parent on board, even when they’re beyond awesome.

This not-being-able-to-go-home-again notion? Totally a thing.

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This announcement is more serious than it should be: I’m giving up artificial sweetener.

For the better part of two decades, I’ve stirred the blue stuff or the yellow stuff into my coffee, tea and oatmeal with utter abandon. (As for the pink stuff, seriously, how does that bitter mess still even exist?)

I took up the habit in college during frequent visits to my grandparents. My grandfather, despite never gaining all that much weight, had recently been diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes, and my grandmother immediately traded out the sugar bowl for the blue stuff.

I quickly got used to sweetening my coffee and tea with chemicals. It seemed like the ultimate freebie: sweet beverages without bothersome calories.

I can’t tell you if the blue stuff had any ill effects on my grandfather or not. He died from advanced heart disease before the diabetes could get him outright, although I’m sure the two conditions didn’t co-exist peacefully.

Long story short, the increasing amounts of chatter about artificial sweeteners not being free of consequence have finally sunk in. It just makes sense that tricking your taste buds into thinking that they’re enjoying sugar might just be tricking your body that it’s about to have to process some sugar, too. Given my family history of adult-onset diabetes (my uncle developed it in his late 40s), I don’t need to play fast and loose with my pancreas.

Also, the husband, who has been trying to get me to give up artificial sweetener for years, finally emailed me a story on its possible ill effects with the subject line, “Please stop using artificial sweeteners.”

Nothing like a “please” instead of a “you should” to change a girl’s mind.

So, a couple of months ago I promised to taper off as I made my way through my final Costco-sized box of yellow packets. I began by cutting down on the number of packets I was using, adding only one instead of two to a cup of coffee or tea, and sprinkling only half a packet instead of a whole one over my oatmeal.

I soon came to a somewhat surprising conclusion: Artificial sweetener had enabled me to become accustomed to foods that were way sweeter than they should have been. The husband had suggested that I replace the sweetener in my coffee with (gasp) actual sugar, but the amount of sugar required to make it as sweet as I had gotten used to would be obscene. Same with oatmeal: I had been turning a healthy breakfast food into a bowl of candy (albeit candy with few extra sugar calories).

I haven’t used sweetener at work in weeks, which has caused me to cut down on my coffee consumption overall. I can drink unsweetened coffee, but I don’t exactly look forward to it. And I’ve cut sweetener out of my oatmeal completely, meaning I now enjoy the flavors of the cinnamon, walnuts and raisins that are stirred into it.

And now, answers to the top questions that I get regarding this effort:

  • Do I feel better? Meh. I don’t think artificial sweetener was making me feel that bad to begin with. I worried about the long-term effects above everything else.
  • Have I lost any weight? No. I wasn’t trying to lose any weight. I’m reasonably happy where I am. What I am trying to do, however, is avoid the seemingly inevitable post-40 weight gain that accompanies an unexamined diet and slack exercise habits.
  • Have I upped the sugar intake in my diet? Nope. I added maybe a teaspoon of sugar to a cup of tea one evening to accentuate its cinnamon and apple flavors, but overall I’m adapting to eating a diet that just doesn’t feature that many sweet items.
  • Am I turning into some kind of sugar-hating weirdo? Double nope. I love cookies, cake and candy, but I also recognize them as a sometimes food, not a daily treat.

This effort is almost over. There are only a few yellow packets left in the cabinet (I hesitate to take the container down and count). I have to admit, what I’m going to miss most is not the super-sweet coffee and tea (although, man, there’s nothing like a cup of syrupy sweet hot tea on a cold, rainy winter afternoon), but the ritual. You pour your coffee, add a packet or two of sweetener, stir in some milk or half-and-half, and sit down to enjoy the morning paper and/or a nice leisurely chat with your housemates or co-workers.

Only I can’t even get a daily newspaper anymore, at least in Huntsville, Alabama. The husband doesn’t even DRINK coffee, and I haven’t worked anywhere in years where folks truly spent the first 10 minutes of work catching up over a fresh cup of java.

I can’t hold on to the ritual, so I might as well let go of the yellow stuff, too. Adios, sweet chemicals. It hasn’t been real.

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If I had a nickel for every time I deftly shook all the coins out of this little piggy bank when I was a little girl, I would need a WAY bigger bank for all my nickels.

Like the old glass measuring cup and my grandfather’s blue denim jacket, it’s one of the few items that I simply HAD to have from my grandparents’ house. I seriously played with it for hours at a time when I was younger, shaking out coins, counting them, stacking them and carefully putting them back in again.

It’s made it all the way from Smithdale, Mississippi, to Huntsville, Alabama, and then Atlanta.

It’s still doing its job beautifully, holding the coins fished out of pockets and the bottom of my purse. The only difference is that I don’t really have the urge to shake them out and sort them anymore.

Not much of an urge, that is.

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Nanny in her natural habitat: the kitchen.

I realized this weekend that I have successfully made a souffle, but can’t make a fried egg.

My grandmother made delectable fried eggs, and made it look easy. The everyday breakfast options at her house included bacon (turkey bacon after my grandfather’s heart problems were diagnosed), toast (or biscuits, on occasion) and eggs, either scrambled or fried (note: fried eggs, over easy, became known as Paw-Paw eggs, because they were his favorite, and to this day I can barely order them in a restaurant without calling them by this nickname).

I should have paid more attention, I guess. I should have offered to cook the eggs instead of going for the easy job of making toast or microwaving turkey bacon. (Or making the grits. I can’t believe I forgot about the grits option.)

I might not even have this ongoing fear of cast-iron skillets.

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My mother collected this keychain from my grandmother’s house last year. I had made it for my grandfather in, I don’t know, maybe fourth or fifth grade. It bears evidence of my tragic attempts at cursive writing, which honestly has only degraded over the years.

And Papa should be spelled Pawpaw. I have yet to actually picture it spelled the correct way in my head, however. (We all picture words spelled out in our heads, right?)

Am I impressed that Pawpaw kept this knickknack for some 20 years? Sure. But it’s easy to just toss little things like this into the top drawer and never happen upon them again.

The attached keys are what’s really impressive. At one time, somewhere on that reasonably sized farm, was a padlock that could be opened only by hauling out the keychain that I made.

Knowing that my grandfather held on to this item for so long gives me warm fuzzies. Knowing that he actually found it semi-useful simply thrills my inner utilitarian.

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Nanny’s Peach Cobbler: Accept no substitutes.

Among this summer’s Lessons Learned: Do not forsake your grandmother’s recipes.

Facing a peach glut a few weeks ago, I decided that it was cobbler time. I’ve always loved peach cobbler, straight out of the oven or the refrigerator, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or eaten plain.

Peach cobbler is, quite simply, the dessert of summer.

It’s also the dessert of chaos. Done right, it’s a gooey mess, making it a less-than-friendly offering at the office, and I certainly didn’t need an entire peach cobbler haunting me every night at home.

Ramekins to the rescue.

I LOVE making things in ramekins. They can make individual servings out of almost any recipe.

The plan: Make six individual peach cobblers. Two for me, two for the husband and two for the generous co-worker who shared his peach bounty.

I’m not sure why I thought that my grandmother’s cobbler recipe wasn’t up to the task. It was probably a decision brought on by over-research, since I was originally trying to find a cobbler recipe that gave instructions for ramekins. At any rate, I finally narrowed in on Southern Plate’s recipe for peach cobbler.

It was tasty, but it wasn’t the peach cobbler I was looking for.

Southern Plate’s Peach Cobbler: It’s delicious, but it’s not the recipe for me.

Two weeks later, facing another pile of peaches, I didn’t even turn on the computer. I went to my recipe collection and flipped straight to my grandmother’s peach cobbler recipe.

The results: Six individual peach cobblers that tasted like a carefree summer afternoon on my grandparents’ farm.

Nanny’s Peach Cobbler

  • 1 quart (4 cups) fresh peaches, chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3/4 stick butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease six ramekins with butter.

Stir together the peaches, sugar and 2 tbsp. flour. Divide the mixture evenly among ramekins (you can probably stretch it out to eight if you want slightly smaller servings). In a medium mixing bowl, cut 1 cup flour in with butter; stir in milk. Spoon mixture evenly on top of the peach mixture in each ramekin.

Bake for approximately 30 to 35 minutes until the crusts are golden brown.

Note: I like cinnamon with my peaches, so I sprinkled probably 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in with the peaches. I also sprinkled a dash of cinnamon sugar on top of every cobbler before baking; as you can see in the top photo, this really just resulted in some darker spots on the crust. I’ll probably add an entire teaspoon of cinnamon to the fruit next time.

And the peaches that don’t get turned into cobbler? They get chopped up and stirred into a simmering pot of steel-cut oats with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon and a spoonful of brown sugar. Best oatmeal ever.

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I was excited and a little leery when I found a bagful of fresh English peas in my latest CSA box.

As confirmed by my CSA representative, English peas are extremely sensitive to hot weather, so they would have never had a chance on my grandparents’ farm in South Mississippi. Therefore, the only English peas I’ve ever eaten have come straight out of the can, slightly mushy and pretty bland. Meh.

Since the record-breaking heat in North Alabama/South Tennessee was making it clear that this would be the only fresh English peas I would get this year, I knew I had to make the most of them.

I don’t mean this as an insult to my Southern ancestry, but at some point cooks in the South started boiling vegetables into a salty mush. I remember the first time I ever had a string bean that had been briefly steamed, and thus still held a bit of natural sweetness and a light crunch. (Truly, it would have been considered underdone at my grandmother’s house.) Corn on the cob became a whole new experience for me when I discovered that I could simply wrap individual ears in waxed paper and microwave them for a few minutes, leaving sweet and crunchy kernels that needed neither salt nor butter.

I was determined not to turn these peas into mush.

I found inspiration at Williams-Sonoma’s website: Sautéed English Peas with Garlic and Sesame. Unfortunately, I didn’t have sesame seeds or sesame oil in my pantry, so I had to wing it. I also don’t know how many pounds of peas I started with; Williams-Sonoma recommended two garlic cloves for 3 pounds of unshelled English peas. Do the math for the amount of peas you have, or just use a couple of cloves of garlic.

There are few vegetable recipes that wouldn’t be made better with a couple of cloves of garlic.

The husband was at first stunned by the color of the peas when I removed the lid from the pan; the short cooking time had left the peas a brilliant green. The texture was magnificent; they weren’t crunchy or chewy, but they weren’t mushy either. The garlic flavor burst through with every bite, but not in an overwhelming way.

Sautéed English Peas with Garlic

  • Fresh English peas, shelled
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl 2/3 full with ice water. Add the peas to the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes. Drain the peas and immediately plunge them into the ice water. Let stand for two minutes and drain.

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté, stirring constantly, until it is fragrant but not brown, about 30 seconds.

Add the peas, salt and pepper, and sauté, tossing and stirring occasionally, until the peas are just tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve immediately.

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Yang hasn’t given up his photobombing duties; here, he inspects the bowl of English peas mid-shoot.

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My brother and I take a dip, circa 1975.

Nearly everyone I know who has kids spends tons of money and time striving to plan the perfect summer. A host of activities, from vacations to camp to traveling sports leagues, quickly pile up on this short stretch of calendar, seeming more like duties than recreation.

My childhood summers were pretty unstructured. Maybe we’d take a dip in a tiny plastic pool, or maybe just run through sprinklers. Maybe I’d get to go with my grandfather early in the morning to pick tomatoes or beans, or — if I was REALLY lucky — I’d get to dig up potatoes.

As I was shelling a small bagful of English peas from my CSA box yesterday, it occurred to me that some of my best summer afternoons weren’t spent waiting in line at Disney World, running to the next slide at a water park or shaking the sand off my towel at the beach. My most enjoyable summer moments were spent in my grandparents’ den, shelling peas or snapping beans, enjoying an episode of Woody Woodpecker or Tom and Jerry or, better yet, the carefree, Not Very Serious conversations that adults indulge in when they’re pleasantly engaged in a repetitive task with no real deadline.

If I could choose one childhood moment to relive now, it would be one of these afternoons.

I don’t think you can make memories like this on purpose; really, I think my grandparents probably thought I’d rather be off doing something else. But I do wish that more families would slow down a little this summer and spend a few afternoons doing a little of nothing together.

It’s important, and it may be more memorable than anything you could possibly plan.

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