Sifting Through

November 27, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Posted in Family | 11 Comments
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I made dressing and cornbread for the first time this Thanksgiving. Recipes from my grandmothers.

It’s more complicated than that, though, in that way that modern families are. It’s a story about blood lines and life lines intersecting. About an adoption 52 years ago and a marriage 30 years later. About two women whose courage and strength I inherited, even if our DNA doesn’t match under a microscope.


One is my step-grandmother, according to syntax. She raised three boys and buried her youngest when he was 18. She spent holidays mixing and chopping and pulling pans in and out of her two ovens. Always, always, there was buttermilk in her fridge and sequins in her closet.

The other is my mother’s mother. The one who birthed two children she never got to hold. The one who sewed my dolls a wardrobe that my own daughter now plays with. The one who loves chocolate as much as I do.

I found myself years and miles away from these two women this Thanksgiving but so connected I could feel the brush of their apron strings. I walked from my pantry to my laptop to my pantry, dodging abandoned toy trains and dropped marker lids, semi-oblivious to the chaos of my three children simultaneously playing school, gas station, and tag around me. I gathered oil, cornmeal, and broth. I chopped celery, green onions, and French bread loaves. I read the notes my mother had e-mailed me after years of making these dishes herself.

As I stood there, I felt something more than the sweat on my forehead from my preheated oven. I felt the simple but profound power of tradition — three generations of women preparing a meal, the same meal, for their families. My grandmothers cooked, in part at least, because they were expected to. And I cooked because they had.

But I also cooked because I wanted to. Because I’m thankful no one expects me to roll my hair and reapply my lipstick when I’m finished. And because I recognize the kind of nourishment that a hand-written, flour-dotted recipe gives my soul.

What did you cook for Thanksgiving this year? What are your favorite family recipes? And are you still getting by on leftovers?



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  1. Being away from my family, I cooked an acorn squash dish to take to another persons dinner. I didn’t cook any family standby’s. There would be enough of those dishes. I cut my squash up, sprinkled it with Sunny Paris seasoning, Panko crumbs, and shredded parmesan. Added a bit of butter and baked until soft. It was amazing an I’ll be making from now on. I cook the left overs, scrapped them from the rinds, and mashed them like mashed potatoes. I then sprinkled a little cayenne on them, a little more panko on the top, and a little more shredded parmesan and reheaded in the microwave. That was delicious too. I highly recommend it.

  2. This is so beautiful … love the sentiments here. Thank you for sharing.

  3. This is such a beautiful post. It’s amazing how traditions and connections aren’t always by blood. Maybe some of the strongest are chosen. Your picture is beautiful. I made my vegetarian pot pie for Thanksgiving, and I still have some frozen in individual meals to take to work.

  4. Thank you for such a wonderful, sweet story today. Brought a tear to my eyes as I recall fond memories of my mother and grandmothers who shared Thanksgiving in Heaven. I have recipes that I cherish, written in their handwriting. Blessings to you and your family!

  5. I loved reading about the way your connections to the matriarchs of your family came through in your Thanksgiving preparation. Here we had a house full of sick vegetarians so we forewent (is that even a word?) the usual Thanksgiving traditions and ate sweet potato gnocchi. On Saturday. xo

  6. I loved the imagery this created. There are not many recipes passed down in my family, but there is the cooking tradition and I can’t wait til my kids are old enough to appreciate the holiday foods.

  7. What beautiful imagery – three women toiling away…different kitchen, different generation, same recipe. That is how traditions are made isn’t it? I wish I came from a culture of recipe followers and writers so that we can actually pass something more concrete down to the next generation. How I envy you your strong, tangible bond with the women of your past.

  8. You’re such a beautiful writer. I love how you wrote of your layered connection with your grandmothers. I’ve been thinking a lot about traditions, and how it’s time we established some of our own. Our business has traditionally hijacked me during this time of year, and for the last few years it’s been “take out” Thanksgiving (precooked, frozen…ugh). This year I took most of the day off and made prime rib, one of my husband’s favorites, and in huge part to thank him for having taken such good care of me and the house since I had my accident. He loved it and I think we may be doing that from now on 🙂 I hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  9. This is such a lovely post. I didn’t make any recipes from my grandmothers – but now I’m feeling inspired to do so for this Christmas.

  10. That gave me chills. I don’t have any grandmothers and I miss them so. I wish I had a recipe. I’m so glad you were able to think on the importance of those recipes.

  11. Reblogged this on realism redefined and commented:
    The author of this wonderful post and this great blog about being a mother to her three children was in my seventh grade class at one time, a long time ago. She has kept up with me–what a wonderful thing–and has shared her writings over the years. This post spoke to me and took me back to my grandmother’s kitchen and memories galore. Enjoy!

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