June 10, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Granny

Just a few months have passed since my last blog post. Between October and December, my only excuse is that this was my first year with three different courses to prep, and it was stressful. From December on, though, it was a question of self-discipline.

My grandmother died in December (three days before Christmas, in fact), and I told myself that I wasn't allowed to blog about anything else until I had sorted out a goodbye to her. Her influence over my life as a food lover is almost unparalleled, and I couldn't come up with a topic more important to discuss here than her. Shortbread or Granny? Spinach soup or Granny? There really was no contest.

After a couple of failed attempts to write something that felt like it did this great lady justice, I decided to give up until inspiration struck. It finally struck today.

Today would have been Granny's 97th birthday. I took her ashes to a beach in Cohasset, Mass., where she played as a child. I scattered them there with little incident other than my slipping on a seaweed-covered rock and almost sending the both of us unceremoniously into the water.

Afterwards, I went back to the car and cried behind my sunglasses for exactly the length of Mychael Danna's "The Blood of Cuchulainn," which I played because it was the only remotely Celtic thing I could find in my entire music library, and Granny was, among other things, a proud Scot. Then I shook it off and drove away, because Granny wouldn't have approved of a scene.

I miss so much about my grandmother. The way her ice-blue eyes, sharp until the very end, twinkled at me whenever Dustin Pedroia ("Dusty," to her) got up to bat. Her chuckle. Her sky-blue Buick Skylark, named Benji. That she teared up whenever my mother made her a painting. Her appreciation for tacky postcards. The soft way she spoke when she presented me with a blanket she had knitted because she heard my dorm room window was drafty. What I miss most, though, are the food moments, because it was through food that Granny most consistently conveyed any "warm fuzzies" she harbored toward her family.

Other than the enchantingly candid conversations we had over cocktails and Lays Original potato chips during reruns of As Time Goes By, the main reason I spent nights at Granny's house was the bacon and eggs I got to eat the next morning.

I'd wake up to the smell of bacon permeating the house, and would shuffle into the kitchen, where the bacon fat lay waiting in a small frying pan, with the perfectly browned bacon resting on a translucent bed of paper towel and two slices of cinnamon raisin toast sitting on a plate nearby. Bacon and toast were as far as she ever went, though; Granny's belief was that eggs were personal, and each person should cook his or her egg to whatever degree he or she felt necessary. The only requirement was that the egg be cooked in warm bacon fat.

No matter what my eventual cardiologist tells me, I will spend my life cooking eggs the way Granny taught me. I turn the heat to just-above-low and let the bacon fat (more tablespoons worth than I care to repeat here) heat up in a small frying pan. I crack my egg into the bacon fat, and watch as the white slowly transforms from clear to milky to solid. I flip it once, gently, and count to twenty, and then I transfer it to a plate where two pieces of cinnamon raisin toast and three (let's be honest: four) pieces of bacon await.

I will also spend my life regretting that I never kept my promise to bring Granny a pizza so she could try it for the first time.

That's right. My grandmother never, ever ate a piece of pizza. WASPy fear of "ethnic food" aside, her real concern was that it would contain too much garlic, an aromatic that offended Granny to the very core.  About two years before she died, we had the pizza discussion, and she promised to try some if I could promise that it wouldn't contain "any of that horrid garlic." I promised, and then forgot to bring the idea up again, out of equal parts absentmindedness and selfish craving for Granny's cooking.

That this ranks low among regrets felt by the bereaved, I am sure. But to have passed up the chance to watch my wonderful, tough, hilarious, thoughtful grandmother discover something as truly and deliciously comforting as bread, cheese, and tomatoes cooked together at high heat when she presided over so many important food moments in my life feels wasteful.

So the next thing I post about will be Granny Pizza: just the right balance of crust, tomato sauce and cheese to convince a lifelong abstainer to acknowledge the beauty of a good pie. Making it, and eating it, will be lonely, but it will give me the closure I know I should have felt when I sprinkled her ashes into the Atlantic ocean today. And I will omit the garlic, just for her.

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