Thursday, February 3, 2011

For my Gram

My grandmother is the type of lady who lunches. Don't get me wrong: she's not a society queen or a Boston Brahman born with a silver spoon in her mouth. But she definitely frequents cafes for her noon time meal. Gram loves food and company to eat with. She also lives in Orange County, California, and from what I've observed, this seems to be the norm out there for the retired set. My grandmother hosts luncheons for her lady friends as well. She also has my uncle to lunch frequently. For these lunches, she makes things I have only heard about in my Cold War-era history classes and lectures incorporating details about 1950's housewives or what I gleaned from Julia Child's vivid descriptions of food she was privy to before learning to cook in France: a pale yellow pineapple circle, on a piece of wilted iceberg, filled with chunky cottage cheese; shiny jello molds with canned fruit suspended like astronauts within a space dome; powdered raspberry iced tea with lots of ice and a wedge of lemon.

Personally, I love the kitsch of it all. I experienced this first hand about a decade ago, and it's very much become embedded in memories of my Gram. I was completely undecided about anything my life, starting in my senior year of high school. The only exception being I decided I wanted to have an exciting life. I had lived in NYC for a spell, attended Parson's School of Design on scholarship, and got my first taste of freedom. Picture it: 1998, East Village, NYC- new age hippie teen living in apartment five blocks from Washington Square Park, with three teen roommates. My mother just sent me a monthly check to buy art supplies and "rations." I had a fake id and got my groove on at Tunnel, Life and all those 90's clubs I had read about. I was studying "The Ahhhts" at Parson's and was good enough to get a scholarship (booyea). Oh yeah, my head was big. I knew I could never go back home after this and just go to a Massachusetts state school, do my laundry on the weekends at my mom's, perfect my Boston accent. I wanted to stay the heck out of dodge, and college seemed like the reasonable way to peace out.

I didn't think that anymore in Pennsylvania in September. I hated living there, I hated the school, hated it all. Looking back, I don't think I would have loved anywhere at that point in my life, but not going to college was not an option; people where I lived just didn't do that (or at least that's what I was told by my mother). I had viewed freshman year as a continued escape like my time at Parson's; however, going to school in PA was a million light years from living and taking art classes in NYC. Fast forward to Spring semester, finals' week: after my 3-D design final, my last, I skipped to the Registrar's office.

"I'd like to leave the university. Is there something I need to sign?"
" Oh, you'd like to take a leave of absence? We have a form for that. Let me get it for you..."
" No, sorry. You misunderstand me. I want to drop out. I never, ever, EVER want to come back here again. Do you have a form for that? Or can you just, like, delete me now from the system? I would like to keep my grades though- I did pretty awesome this year." <-- big head still intact. And now I was a Dean's List College Drop-out. Who didn't tell her mother she unenrolled in college until the mother asked where the tuition bill was. Or that she was moving to Montana for an internship. Or that said internship was in the middle of the Pintler National Forest, 26 miles (and 4 cattle guards- the 18-year old me didn't know what a cattle guard was) down a logging road on a homestead ranch. For a nonprofit, bipartisan voter education project (You can imagine this was all lost on my East Coast Mother- she thought I was going to work for a militia cum cult because "what else does MT have to offer?"<- direct quote). My mother is normally a very sweet, laid back woman, but after sharing this information, I thought it best to spend some time in Socal with Gram. You know, so my mother could get used to the idea of me living on the West Coast. And also so she had some time to bring down her blood pressure and re hinge my bedroom door after it fell off the frame from her slamming it upon hearing the news of my dropping out.

I had visited my Gram before, but this trip was really fun. And my Gram loves to have me around to shop with, to watch Law and Order with, to iron with, to feed, to dote on. She calls me "#1", and has, like, a billion grandchildren. So fun is my Gram's, that I decided that after my internship, I should come back and live with her and my grandfather, attend community college like all the OC kids, and work at a health food store. This was the way to have an exciting life. Even when I thought of, think of, California, I picture the Santa Monica mountains at night, and instead of the Hollywood sign, California is written in bright white stars. My Gram always tells me I am so visual and creative. She helps keep my big head inflated.

After I finished my (first) MT adventure, I meandered around the West in WY and UT for a spell. I landed back at Gram's for the start of the new semester in January. My Gram has lived on the West Coast since I was about 11, so I hadn't spent a lot of time with her, just hanging out. This was when I came to observe her lunching habit and hosting prowess. While I am not a fan of Jello or raspberry iced tea, I do love pineapples and cottage cheese. Gram also concocted this delicious crab salad that I would wolf down should I be lucky enough to not have classes those afternoons she hosted company. She also made a curried chicken salad once that I have not forgotten. I never thought I was one for curry powder until that day, but now, I adore it.

I have mentioned this diet I am on (10 weeks, 10 weeks...), and I need to get creative so as not to suffer through it's duration. My gram has inspired me to create a curried chicken salad that will work with my restrictions. I don't know how she made her's, but I am guessing Miracle Whip and Pepperidge Farm thin-slice bread was involved. I will put mine on a bed of red oak leaf lettuce and frisee. Add an iced tea too- hold the raspberry. And please, no Jello molds (but I will take the canned fruit and cottage cheese). My Gram would be proud that I am sticking to my diet. And she will be pleased as punch I blogged about her- she knows her way around the Internet better than many people I work with in the technology departments of school districts. She'll probably link to this from Facebook. Because that's how cool and great my Gram is.

Curried Chicken Salad

This is a recipe for a wonderful chicken salad (not my diet version). It's great on a bed of salad greens or pocketed in a whole wheat pita. Also, these are my measurements. I am not a huge mayo person, so if you love the stuff, you can leave out the Greek yogurt (but that does give it tang) and use all mayonnaise. These are simply guidelines. Tweak away. I can hear my Gram saying now, "Good job, Jen!"

2/3 cup rotisserie chicken, shredded
1 tablespoon diced celery
1/2 cup halved red or black grapes
2 tablespoons silvered toasted almonds
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon course grain mustard
2 teaspoons curry powder
salt and pepper to taste

Combine mayonnaise,yogurt, mustard and curry powder in a bowl. Add chicken and celery until well drenched in the dressing. Gently fold in grapes and almonds. S&P it up. Serves one. Multiplies like a dream.

If you don't have rotisserie chicken, any cut of chicken would be fine. I am sure green grapes are good too, just not as pretty. Dried cranberries are awesome as well! I guess raisins would be ok, if you like raisins (I don't, unless they are alcohol-soaked, but that's a different post). This salad really needs lettuce and tomato, so if it's not on a bed of greens with cherry tomatoes, add some to the sandwich. And be sure to serve on china with a linen napkin and placemat. Cuz that's what my Gram would do.

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