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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

In Memory of Grandma Lilly

My Grandma Lilly passed away on Saturday. She would have been 91 in just a few weeks. The funeral was yesterday, so just 10 hours after we returned from San Diego, Max and I headed out to NY to be with my family. Grandma Lilly was an awesome woman whose entire purpose in life was to provide for others. She has impacted me in so many ways, from my superstitions (no open umbrellas in the house, no hats on the bed) to my determination to fix all ills with food.

I posted the below article last year (and wrote it a year before that), but wanted to share again:

Would You Like a Little Nosherai?

We came up with the bet in the car on our way home from the mall. We were visiting my grandparents for winter break and had escaped for some afternoon shopping. I’m sure it was my Dad who suggested it. “Let’s take bets on how long it takes Grandma Lilly to offer us food.” We all jumped at the chance.

We walked into the apartment, and Grandma Lilly was upon us like a vulture within nanoseconds. “How was the mall?” Ah, she was skirting the topic. “Did you buy anything?” Getting closer. “Did you eat anything?” We all smiled knowingly at each other. “Would you like a little nosherai?” Bingo! My brother David won. 30 seconds.

It is impossible to spend any time with my Grandma Lilly without eating or being harassed about eating. She is obsessive and overbearing on the subject, and we all learned years ago that the best way to deal with her is to take a deep breath and just pile it in. The nagging, if you don’t, is almost too much to bear.

It’s easier for the grandkids. My brother and I didn’t grow up with my Grandma Lilly, so her extreme nourishing is more amusing than anything else. My dad and Aunt Susan did grow up with my grandmother, and they are psychologically scarred for life.

They both resist large piles of food on their plate. My dad says it brings back memories of being force-fed throughout their entire childhood, and they start to hyperventilate when they are presented with a plate that has no white space.

Grandma Lilly has good reason behind her food mania. She had a traumatized childhood. Her mother committed suicide when my grandmother was just a little girl. She subsequently developed a coping mechanism to deal with her daily heartache; she took care of others. Grandma Lilly spends her time providing and nourishing those around her. This allows her to avoid talking about the sadness of her past – my dad is 63 and he only found out a few years ago that his real grandmother killed herself. Yes, Grandma Lilly is often overbearing to the point of being obnoxious, but how can you fault her for that?

My brother and I never lacked for food or love in our home, but we certainly never ate as much as when we visited my grandparents every winter break. Sure, we looked forward to the sunshine and lazy days by the pool. But, we also looked forward to dessert after every meal, a closet filled with snacks and Grandma Lilly’s special fruit salad every night before bed. I’ve had fruit salads made with tropical fruit in Singapore, and fruit salads made with ripe Michigan cherries and blueberries, but there will always be something special about Grandma’s concoction; a combination of fresh Florida citrus (with not one iota of zest or pith) and canned fruit cocktail.

Even rainy vacation days in Florida were better for us than they probably were for other kids visiting the sunshine state. When the skies opened up, we either went to the movies (with our bags and pockets stuffed full of contraband butterscotch candies and M&M’s) or stayed inside and watched “The Price is Right” while eating chicken noodle soup. Grandma Lilly’s chicken noodle soup is different from what the typical “from scratch” masterpiece that you might expect from a Jewish grandmother. Grandma opens a can of Rokeach chicken soup and heats it up. In another pot, she boils very thin egg noodles and overloads the soup with them. On those rare rainy days, I’d end up with a bowl filled with soup-dampened noodles, happily watching Bob Barker and his beauties in a living room darkened by hurricane shutters.

Lunches on sunny days were great as well. My brother and I would run from the condominium’s community pool and sit, soaking wet, on towel-covered chairs while my Grandma served us a veritable feast. The table would contain a basket of sliced, soft, pumpernickel bread; a plate of sliced tomatoes and onions; margarine; butter; farmer’s cheese; bialys and a giant bowl of her famous chopped egg salad. I can still taste and smell the chopped egg on the dense, moist bread at any point, and I’ve grown fond of making it on my own, though it’s never quite the same as Grandma Lilly’s. I could eat chopped egg salad every day, and when we visited Grandma Lilly, I did. For both breakfast and lunch.

Grandma Lilly's Chopped Egg Salad Sandwiches

3 to 4 servings

These are ideal for a casual brunch, and they are best when prepared to order just before eating.

1-1/2 teaspoons canola oil
1 tablespoon dehydrated minced onion
6 hard boiled eggs, finely diced
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon mayonnaise
6-8 slices pumpernickel bread
1 tomato, sliced thinly
1 sweet onion, sliced thinly

Heat a nonstick pan and add the oil. Add the minced onion. As soon as it starts to sizzle, count to 15 and turn the heat off. The minced onion burns very easily, so care must be taken that it doesn't cook too long. Let the onion cool for five minutes. Add it to the egg along with the mayonnaise. This makes a very dry egg salad. More mayonnaise can be added to taste. Serve with a basket of pumpernickel bread and a plate of sliced tomato and onion, allowing guests to make their own sandwiches.


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