Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chick Lit Cheerleader: Lovin' from Grandma's oven

Introduction by Melissa Amster

When it comes to the topic of food, Jen Tucker and I have a special relationship. I'm her "Gluten Free Girl Friend" (or GFGF). Don't get me wrong...I am all about gluten in my food. However, I know Jen has to deprive herself of gluten for health reasons, so whenever I find free online GF cookbooks or new websites and Facebook pages for GF products, I send them her way. Being gluten-free, Jen has opened my eyes to a world where not everyone can have the cookies, cakes and pastas I so desire. Recently, I brought GF cookies to another friend who also can't have gluten. And, of course, I connected this friend with Jen online. GF gals need to stick together! (I'm sure she'd hook me up with some other Kosher women if she knew them.)

Jen is the author of the funny and true stories, The Day I Wore My Panties Inside Out and The Day I Lost My Shaker of SaltIn September 2012, she had her children's book, Little Pumpkin published as an e-book. She also blogs monthly for Survival for Blondes. She currently lives in Indiana with her husband, three kids and two dogs. You can find her at TwitterFacebook, her blog and on her website. And in case you missed them. check out her previous Chick Lit Cheerleader posts here.
Since it's Foodie month, Jen is here to talk about the woman from whom she inherited her passion for cooking.

From Grandma’s Kitchen, With Love

Grandma Ponicki is making Thanksgiving
dinner in the kitchen (1960s)
My Grandma Ponicki had magic in her arthritic fingertips. Whether it was a Swiss-dotted dress she lovingly stitched for me, her perseverance to command her hands not to shake as she painted my little fingernails, everything she did was laden with love. As much as those memories mean to me, when I think about my grandma, nothing said lovin’ like somethin’ from Grandma’s oven. *QUICK! Someone beat-box while I rap!*

For a woman whose kitchen was as big as most American’s half bathrooms, June Ponicki’s meals could’ve put any stop on the television show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives to shame. A child of The Great Depression, her meals were hearty and filling, yet never broke the bank. Her minimal countertop space was never a hindrance to rolling out pie crusts or sugar cookies. Her macaroni and cheese would’ve made Kraft’s little blue box run for its life. Take out? Frozen pizza? Are you mad?! I can hear my grandma’s eyes roll at the thought of such a kitchen nightmare in her eyes.

When I reflect on Grandma’s cooking, the mini movies that play in my mind are filled with delicious smells, her encouraging me to snitch a bite before everyone else, and me rubbing my belly after consuming mass quantities. Sure, I might have helped stir a pot, or grabbed a stick of butter now and again, but it was clear Grandma was head chef. No one ever messed with her utensils. Period.

This dictatorship came from a place of love; a place of wanting to serve her family the best of herself, and that was evident through her heaping bowls buttery mashed potatoes and endless platters of juicy, baked chicken. Her meals weren’t complete without a dessert drenched in Cool Whip. The transference of love wasn’t just about the food we consumed; it was also about the family time at the table. Yet, as my mom would share with you, growing up in a home with a parent who is a culinary skill-hoarder doesn’t come without its kinks.

My grandmother’s need to shower her family with love through doing everything for them (Did I mention Grandma made everyone’s bed until the day they left the nest?), led my mother to newlywed meltdowns. I think Grandma pretty much handed my mom a cookbook, and said, “Good luck with that,” as my parents left on their honeymoon. After several months of burnt meals and disproportionate dinners for six people (when it was just the two of them), my mom got her bearings around the tongs and colanders. Yet slyly, she realized, she and my dad could easily sustain themselves through his graduate school years on grilled cheese and scrambled eggs, and let the recipes of her mother’s four course meals collect dust. Can you blame the girl?

My young bride story is not much different than that of my mother’s. You see, she was the duly elected "Queen of Fast Food" when I was growing up. She learned to make a mean meatloaf over the years, yet with my father teaching late into the night at the local college; it was just the two of us each night breaking bread. The difference in my newlywed kitchen story, has to do with the man I married. Mike loves to cook; it’s therapy for him to chop the snot out of carrots after a long day at work. He was very patient with me, and also showed me that cooking together would be some of the greatest times we’d ever have together. Although I now make a mean roast and potatoes, it’s still nice to share my utensils with someone. Mike also taught me family time in the kitchen doesn’t have to begin when you’re seated at the table. Whereas my grandmother showered her family with love with the end product, Mike’s Grandma Theil taught him how to boil an egg, and julienne a cucumber, while conversation and bonding happened merrily along the way. What a precious gift she gave him.

Wil and his "Annoying Orange Cake"
That gift continues in our home today. I’m proud to say Wil’s pasta is always al dente, Ryan cracks eggs with no renegade shell making it into the bowl, and Gracie can measure milk for cakes to perfection. We’ve pledged our three children will have a minimum of three descent recipes in their repertoire. While studying cooking at Team Tucker Culinary Institute, they’ve learned much more than not to accidentally set the oven to broil rather than bake (not that I’d know anything about that). They’re learning love is served in many forms. It can arrive while watching others enjoy a meal you’ve crafted solo with lots of TLC. You might see and feel love working alongside those you hold dear after negotiating who’ll chop the onion and sacrifice their tears for the greater good. Yet, it is my hope their favorite moments remain at the dinner table. That they’ll take inventory of family and friends seated around them, and feel blessed while making memories at the same time. Even if they never bust out the Cool Whip to top dessert as my granny always did, I feel her looking down on them, and me, with pride and joy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah, what a great post, Jen! Thanks for the memories! (I had a sweet Swiss-dotted dress when I was little, too!) (And, unfortunately, all my kids know how to make is mud cereal: you know, where you smash a pack of graham crackers and add a little milk to reach the consistency of quicksand. Mm.)