A grandmother is a mother who has a second chance

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Not all Italians are good cooks

The other day someone I know (who shall remain nameless) made a spaghetti burrito for lunch. But I ask you, is this any worse than the salad sandwiches my mom and grandmother used to eat? They would actually take left over salad, slop it onto a piece of bread, fold the bread in half and eat it like a sandwich. Yish!

When I was growing up, I hated leftovers. We would have “leftover night” at least once a week when my mom would haul out a zillion little containers containing 5 kernels of corn, a half pork chop, the aforementioned salad (now looking a bit dejected), one serving of meatloaf, two tablespoons of pasta. This was our dinner, along with a slice of American bread and butter. What I would find interesting is that we often had "leftovers" that we never had the first time! As a kid, I never ate away from home so I would remember if we ever had that particular chicken dish. I once accused Mom of cooking small portions just so we would have leftovers – but the glare I got for that comment prevented me from every uttering it again… By the way, for those of you who aren’t Italian, American bread is the sliced stuff that comes in a wrapper and you can buy at the grocery store – not made by grandma in her kitchen. I was in my 20’s before I realized the rest of the world didn’t call it American bread!

And my mom always saved left over mashed potatoes so she could make potato pancakes. I lived at home until I was 21 and never had a potato pancake. We kept them. They turned green. We threw them out. That was the routine.

Actually, my mother was an excellent cook. Some of her specialties I can replicate, most I can’t. She made the world’s best Fettuccini Alfredo – of course that was before we learned that it was a heart attack on a plate. Sometimes knowledge is not a good thing. But she really could cook. And she had this knack of creating a wonderful meal out of just a few things she scrounged up in the refrigerator. I wish I had inherited that gene, but, alas, I didn’t.

My grandmother, on the other hand, was definitely NOT a good cook. Part of the reason is that she always had to work because my grandfather was too sickly to go out and hold down a job. At least that’s what he wanted her to think. For one family event, Nani Gene made a coconut custard pie. She let it cool and cut it into eight pieces in the kitchen. After dinner, I was asked to go get the pie. I was 10 at the time and every bit as graceful as I am today. I picked up the pie plate from the counter, hit my elbow, and immediately dropped the whole thing. I looked in horror as the eight pieces bounced on the floor. The key word is “bounced”. They were like triangular erasers. I carefully picked them up, dusted them off, arranged them nicely in the pie pan, and brought them out to the dining room. No one was ever the wiser!

Another time Nani Gene was going to make us Beef Stroganoff. Small issue – she didn’t have the beef, mushrooms, mushroom soup, noodles, or sour cream. So she boiled a few neckbones (why do all older Italian women eat neckbones?!?!?), made some kind of gravy, and poured it over Minute Rice. Yummmmmm. Our favorite – Bones and Rice. Mostly we just invited her to our house for dinner.

My grandfather was a pretty decent cook (since he had all that time on his hands), but his sauce (gravy to all you Italians out there) was a bit greasy. Had this little ½ inch layer of oil on top. Once you got past that, it was pretty good!

Oh, yes, I also had an aunt who would take leftover pasta, with sauce, and brown it in a little olive oil for lunch.

Another aunt had a phobia about germs so overcooked everything to kill any germ that may be lurking in the food. She also made odd casseroles – she would put a little of anything she had in the house into the casserole - chicken, broccoli, cheese, raisins, carrots, pork, celery, ground beef. No matter that the flavors didn’t blend. No matter that it looked like a compost heap with eggs. It was germ free. Her prize dish, however, has to be the candied yams she made with Hershey's Kisses tucked inside. She swears she saw Martha Stewart do that. Again, she gets taken out to dinner often!!

I think I’ve become a pretty decent cook. Some of my mom’s talent rubbed off. Except for the occasional new recipe that would elicit comments from the kids like “Experimenting again?” or “It’s not bad, but no need to keep the recipe.” Well, I have an evening alone so time to go have MY favorite meal – popcorn and red wine.


Wendy said...

Neckbones! My grandfather always ate the neck of the turkey. I was always disgusted too. My grandmother was the queen of making meals out of little dabs of stuff. When they would be preparing to leave for Florida for the winter months she would start hauling everything out of her fridge and try to make me eat it. 2 beats, a spoonful of cottage cheese, a hotdog, a swig of oj. I learned not to go to her house right before the Florida trip real quick.
My grandfather was a cook in the Marines and would often cook rather than my grandma. They would even argue about who was going to make the vegetable soup. Without fail, one would sneek out of bed early in the morning and whip up the soup before the other one could. It became a running joke in our family.
Sorry for hijacking your blog, you just brought back a lot of memories with this post. Have a nice day.

Desert Diva said...

Wow, did you ever bring back some childhood memories.

One winter I remember my mother making Hershey's cocoa and french toast every morning for breakfast before school. One in awhile I get nostalgic for a cup of Hershey's cocoa, but have gotten over any desire for french toast!

Sandi said...

Wendy, Diva - love your comments! It's amazing how often memories and family history are linked to food.

Arlene said...

A spaghetti burrito? Ewwww! Not to mention the neck bones and rubber pie!
I've always said my aunt can take dust out of the cabinet and turn it into a full, yummy meal. I can't. I can only hope to be half as good a cook as she is!
Mmmm, and I love me some good heart attack!

Jenni said...

Ahem.. What you neglected to mention was that the person who ate the spaghetti burrito was recommend the dish by her husband (who is a gourmet cook), and did not enjoy it. In fact, I'm pretty certain that it is one of those recipes there is no need to keep.

ira said...

I think it coms alternately, if the mother is a good cook, the daughter is usually lousy! cause the daughter never had to make the good stuff.

thats how it goes in my family atlest. my mum's an OK cook, I think I am a fabulous cook, cause I learnt to cook all the yummy things cause mum wont make them!

A Special Family said...

Just so you know, I love your blog AND the picture. Reminds me of tuscany!

Sandi said...

Special Family - thanks for the comment. That is one of my favorite Tuscany photos.