St Patrick’s follow-up

My father was Irish. My mother is German and Slovakian. There are no real German or Slovakian fun holidays. St Boniface is the patron saint of Germany and Our Lady of Sorrows, as I have mentioned before in this blog, is the patron of Slovakia. So, you know, not a lot of fun there. I made rueben sandwiches on St Patrick’s day which are really not at all Irish but corned beef is, at least it is in America, so Irish by proxy or something.

I got this corned beef at Kettle Range where they make their own and it was spectacular. I braised it in Guinness, just to add, you know, more Irishness, and then refrigerated it overnight so it would slice nicely without falling apart. I used my German grandfather’s supremely dangerous slicing contraption that I am sure will one day take off a finger tip or three. (My first boyfriend’s father was a butcher and lost the palm of his hand on one of these. Seriously. They sewed it back on but he was never the same.) I tried not to think about that when I was doing it and I got it all sliced without incident. Also I was wearing the uncuttable glove that my friend Wendy gave me after a mishap with my mandoline. I haven’t had any mishaps with the mandoline since I got it and I wore it while I was slicing this but I think this wicked thing would cut through steel.

But I like to think that my German grandfather would be happy I was using it. My Irish grandmother, on the other hand, would not. She was not a fan of the Germans, including my mother.

St Nicholas cookies

I grew up with St Nicholas. What we got was not exactly anything anyone in this day and age would recognize as a treat. An orange, peanuts in the shell, those candies that have little green and red flowers in the center and candy canes, all in a sock on the end of my bed. I love it that my mother did this for us and I don’t like to give up that tradition. When my nieces and nephews (8 of them) were kids, and in fact until they all reached the age of 21, I used to give them Christmas tree ornaments, usually one I made myself. Not only did I make them, I packaged them up and sent them so they’d arrive by November 5th—St Nicholas’ Eve—and get put in their stockings for the next morning. A whole of a lot more work than an orange and some goddam peanuts in a sock. 

This year I made cookies for my office. The thing I hate about cookies is cutting them out. So I got my mother to come over and do that part of the job. I made oatmeal cookies (no cutting required—recipe here) and she cut out the sugar cookies. Also harder than sticking oranges and peanuts in a sock, I guess. At least I didn’t have to do it.

The recipe isn’t really my grandmother’s. She was a terrible cook. Still, it’s a recipe I’ve been using for 40 years…theoretically long enough for me to have become a grandparent myself.


The back of Gramma’s arm

It’s a personal philosophy. I cannot eat a peach, nectarine or apricot unless it is so ripe the skin is like the back of my grandmother’s arm. I recall vividly sitting outside on our porch on a September evening while my mother was off having a baby. I put my hand on the back of her arm and said “Oh, gramma! Your skin is so soft.” Her clucking laugh sounded like a chicken. Although knowing my grandmother as I did, she was probably thinking, “Scram, what’s-your-name.”

My friend Jean (Jeanne, in French) brought me a Georgia peach. I waited 4 days for it to reach the proper skin-so-soft. Then I refrigerated it and ate it over the sink. You have to. They are soooo juicy and luscious, to fully enjoy it, you must endure the disturbing ignominy of the eating procedure.

It’s not about the bread

I made bread for Easter. It was my assignment. I could have bought some but I have a psychotic need to make things difficult for myself in many ways, most of them not involving cooking at all. In reality making bread is not all that hard but it’s a process, and it’s baking, so there’s the automatic stress that is involved with anything that requires precision ingredients, timing, and cooking, or, more particularly, baking. Grandma did it without measuring and probably without a clock, just sayin’.

But that’s not the point. The Cook’s Complicated, er, Illustrated instructions call for letting the dough rise “loosely covered with plastic wrap.” Or in an oiled bowl “tightly covered with plastic wrap.” And “inside a clean plastic garbage bag” at various stages of the complex procedure. What the hell did Grandma do before there was plastic? Why can’t people just put a bowl over it, as I did, or use these silicone cover things that are infinitely reusable? OK, most people don’t have these which is too bad because they are awesome, but there are plenty of other ways to cover rising dough and I am not sure why we need to use anything disposable when making bread. And while I realize that not using a few scraps of plastic wrap is not going to solve the world’s plastic waste problem, you have to start at some point because this is where we already are and it ain’t getting better. (This website is positively sobering but also hopeful.)

As it happened, the baguette turned out to be tiny but there was enough other food at Easter dinner that no one mentioned it. Grandma would have.