Day Two: Creating this cookbook

What started as a simple* project to preserve memories for my cousin, and to keep my work, has turned into so many questions, and a few regrets.

The book I chose to begin working from and transcribing at first looked like a messy compilation of jottings and scribbles and recipes my great grandma collected from friends and acquaintances. As I thumb through it, it looks more like a mother-daughter collaboration between her and my grandma. Grams has imposed some organizational structure on it — her lines are sharp and crisp and clear, written in her elegant, sloping script –multiple cookie recipes per page, and more cookies on the facing page, and more cookies after that. Great grandma fills in the gaps with stroganoffs and dumplings and shortcakes.

I doubt they would’ve undertaken it, but for a fleeting moment I thought maybe they toyed with the idea of putting together their own cookbook. Maybe they shared and swapped the book over the course of years.

Why wouldn’t she have ever told me about it? Shown it to me? Talked about it?

Maybe it was a vestige of a life she left far, far behind. One it was too much to go back to.

I have so many questions.


The great cookbook make

So I’ve undertaken this project.

After my grandma died, when we were dividing up her possessions and cleaning out her house, I asked for the recipe box. My cousin D let it go with one provision: I would make a book or somehow record the recipes and send it to him.

I agreed, and nearly a year and a half later finally feel like I’m in the mental space to be able to begin this project. I decided to include my great grandma’s recipes, too, and I have three books of hand-written, sometimes revised, jotted cookery notes. She didn’t fill all the internal pages of one book, for instance, but the front cover and title page are covered in recipes from chicken wings to pancakes to fish batter to “Drink” and “Punch. A photocopied recipe from her “beauty operator” was tucked into the cover, too.

I laughed at the recipe for “Pop Overs (good” because no one in my family has replicated her pop overs, nor has anyone even tried them since probably the mid-90s.

I began to cry at the recipe for oyster crackers, tucked under the headline “snacks” and snuggled into the whitespace next to “Stay in Bed Stew” from a Lucille K. My great grandma and grandma both made seasoned oyster crackers and I ate them faster than they could make them when I was a kid. My grandma would send bags of them to be in care packages during college. One set of the dishtowels I have is permanently stained with vegetable oil because a gallon bag of oyster crackers leaked in the shipment containing both. I still remember the apartment I lived in when she sent that box, and calling to tell her I’d gotten it and the bag had leaked.

So, yeah, it’s safe to say I’m not ready for this yet. But maybe it’s a good thing. Great grandma repressed and tucked things away, but grandma kept everything and tried to talk about everything. I need to open these books, and smell my grandmas again, and remember what their handwriting looks like — how different their lettering and spelling was from each other’s. One who was barely allowed to finish junior high school and the other, college-educated.

This is also a record of our culture, in some ways. I am descended from midwestern farmers and “townsfolk” and these recipes are a combination both of the food my great-grandma was raised making for the farm and dishes she and my grandma were given by other women. They faithfully wrote down the names of the women from whom they got the recipes, too, and for every aunt I recognize there are four more neighbors or ladies from church I’ve never heard of.

I need to test some of these recipes, eat the snacks and food they made with love and obligation.

My plan is to record some of this undertaking here. I can’t guarantee it’ll be step-by-step or thorough, but I can’t imagine there won’t be feelings or thoughts I’ll need to put somewhere, so — I hope you’re ready, I guess.

Maybe this is my final frontier with this grief. Doubtful, but maybe.


(Not) so hard to say goodbye

It took me forever to leave Brooklyn.

That’s only partially an exaggeration.

As soon as I decided the Long Island City Goodwill didn’t NEED my donation, and I could find literally any other Goodwill on my route, a weight the tonnage of all of the delivery trucks creeping along Van Dam St. lifted off my chest. But then, Brooklyn.

Google Maps wanted me to take the Holland Tunnel out of the city and insisted I drive all over Brooklyn in order to do so. I wanted to take the Verrazzano. I jumped at the first sign advertising the BQE to Staten Island. Did you know the toll on the Verrazzano goes both ways? I thought the toll was only for people coming *into* NYC, but apparently not, since I handed $16 to someone who told me I had a nice smile.

Google Maps said, “Welcome to New Jersey,” and I’d never, ever been so happy to hear those words.

Jersey was predictably strange: ten minutes on the Turnpike I saw a sign advertising Popeyes and knew immediately that’s what would help me think — a spicy chicken two-piece and a biscuit. While in line for said biscuit, and debating with myself over sides, a trucker indicated his beverage of choice to me. I showed mild interest, as you do to strangers who seem harmless, and before I knew it, we were chatting (rather, he was chatting) about eating habits on the road. Did you know the restaurants that used to allow trucks with tractor-trailers in their parking lots no longer really exist? They’ve been overtaken by fast-food truck stops like the one where we both stood. Makes it difficult to eat well on even short hauls. Most times, he told me, he replaces meat with portobello mushrooms, and lately, he’s been on a serious grilled asparagus trip. He grows bell peppers in his garden, and enjoys a medley of grilled or sauteed vegetables when he’s home and cooking for himself.

I asked if he does a lot of long hauls, or if he’s mostly a regional trucker. He’s from Indiana, he said, and typically sticks to regional, but something (I didn’t hear him) took him into New Jersey this time.

My food was ready. I paid for it and found a table next to a window. If he’d passed me, I’d have invited him to sit down — it must get lonely on the road, and I can imagine it’s nice to talk to people from time to time. But, he didn’t. So I went ahead and fixed my route, avoiding the Turnpike, and had my breakfast.


Change of plans 

Change of plans 

My original itinerary for this half marathon looked a lot like previous itineraries: JFK-SFO for an evening, then a four hour car ride north to Arcadia. Back down to Oakland, then to LA, then to Texas to see my boyfriend for a couple of days, and then back through Atlanta on the way to New York.

The breakup skewered this plan. But this also means THANK JESUS I DON’T HAVE TO GO THROUGH ATLANTA.

I’ll spend 48 hours in Mississippi before I’ll go through Atlanta-Hartsfield on a layover. Continue reading “Change of plans “