… on cooking with granny

This morning I was awake just as the sky was beginning to glow in the east.

We’re having friends to dinner tonight so I decided it would be a great thing to make my chosen dessert in the morning, knowing it has to rest (well, freeze… I don’t know how much it’s going to rest while it’s in the process of freezing) for a few hours before I can take it out to… continue to rest on the countertop… which means it will unfreeze. It’s complicated. Delicious, but complicated.

Anyway, I came downstairs and poured myself a cup of coffee from the pot John made when he pitter-patted downstairs in the still-pitch dark. The sun was still below the horizon, the sky leaning toward pink, when I opened up my cookbook to be sure I pulled all the right ingredients.

I have not always cooked in such an organized fashion.

Don’t get me wrong, the photo above shows you I am not even close to meticulously organized when I cook (note the red spatula by the mixer, next to the butter (which looks as if I’ve assaulted it)… and I think I found the spoon I thought I’d lost under the paper towel I used to wipe a smear off my arm) . That said, I must confess, I am the most organized when I am baking.

This is because, several years ago, the family gave me an online, Zoom-type class with the amazing Christina Tosi for Christmas (if you do not know her, please leave this blog and go immediately to Netflix and watch the first episode of Volume Four of Chef’s Table (and yes, I know the exact episode off the top of my head, which would be creepy if Christina Tosi knew that so please do not tell her when you are watching her be totally down to earth, and knowledgeable, and creative, and amazing)). Anyway, it was Christina Tosi who taught me to keep my station organized when I am cooking. I have taken liberties with the word, ‘organized’.

So, this morning, I was making her ‘Crack Pie’.

It is no longer called Crack Pie, however, it is now called ‘Milk Bar Pie’. This is, I assume, because ‘Crack Pie’ – the name – may be perfectly acceptable to a chef’s ‘kitchen family’, but one probably doesn’t want to have to explain to the general public why your four year old takes their third bite of your pie and says, “Oh my Gawd, Mommy. This is as addictive as crack.”

Also, probably, you wouldn’t want to explain drug addiction to said four year old, as a prerequisite to explaining the name of your pie.

But I digress.

So I pulled my ingredients, and my bowls and the scale and other measure-er thingies. The sky was brightening quickly now, cotton candy clouds reflected on the water beyond my kitchen windows.

I paused for a sec, to sip my coffee again and survey my island domain, which was when Granny chimed in.

With a chime.

Allow me to explain.

Ever since Granny left this place, six years and a few days ago now, one of the lights hanging above our island will ‘ding’ every once in a while. Sometimes these ‘dings’ happen at really coincidental moments – maybe when we are talking about her, or it’s her birthday, and almost always at some time during the day on Thanksgiving. Other times, we might hear it from the other room, or as we are walking by. In any and all cases, though, we respond with something like, ‘Hey Granny!’

So, early this morning, I responded to the little ‘ding’ with a quiet ‘Good morning’. And my brain began to fill with images of her cooking… my memories are of her making New England boiled dinners and pies (and the cinnamon swirls she would make with the left over pie dough) specifically.

I would walk into a delicious-smelling apartment, and she would be there – with an apron – chopping or rolling or peeling… puttering away. I can’t remember what apron she wore… I just remember that she had one, and she would often ask me why I didn’t wear one.

Most of the time she asked me why I didn’t wear one when I was complaining about some greasy stain I’d gotten on my sweater or sweatshirt or any other top I might have been wearing while I cooked. It would make sense that I ought to wear an apron, as I am terribly prone to getting partially prepared food on myself when I cook. I also spill and splatter on myself. And sometimes I manage to flip a perfectly content spoon, from its resting place, onto me. The spoon is often coated with something especially stain-y. Tomato sauce comes to mind.

And so, after this morning’s ‘ding’ filled my mind’s ballroom with dancing memories of Granny, I headed over to the hook by the kitchen door, the one that holds – among other things – the only apron I have ever owned.

This apron came home with us, from Australia, in 1996. I’d bought it at Red Hill Estates – a winery on the Mornington Peninsula outside of Melbourne, apparently in a fit of ‘I am going to be a much more organized, and clean, cook’ inspiration-slash-rage.

And I never wore it.

It’s hung in each of our kitchens since first gracing the one at 1571 Malvern Road in Glen Iris (the beautiful little Edwardian era house and award winning cottage gardens having made way for… modern condominiums that I can see, courtesy of Google maps, any time I want to (oh my heart)), so that makes this the fourth home it’s had.

I slipped the apron over my head and tied it ’round my waist. And I did not feel at all guilty when I spilled cream on it, wiped butter on it, or accidentally turned the mixer on too high and sticky oatmeal cookie crumb stuff flew all over me.

Sadly, that really happened.

Turns out Granny often had some pretty good suggestions.

And it only took me a few decades, plus one day, to listen.

Thanks for readin’ ❤️

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