My Grandmother's Kitchen

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My grandmother was a powerful woman; managing an apartment in Queens on her own (including all of the work of painting and fixing up the apartments between tenants, collections and all the rest).

We didn’t visit much, but I remember my grandmother’s kitchen from when I was a little boy. She would start preparing the day’s meal in the early morning, and would serve a perfect meal by evening.

She was a butcher’s daughter, so she knew how to pick meat. I still remember her at the butcher. She would look through the chickens for the white meat showing that they were grain-fed (as opposed to the yellow meat suggesting that they were corn-fed), insisting on seeing the chickens “in the fridge in the back” that the butcher had -- rather than just looking at the stuff out front “that they were trying to push because it was getting old,” and asking them for any chickens that had been gray-feathered (she swore up and down that gray-feathered chickens tasted better).

When she used ground meat, she would select just the right cut and put it through her meat grinder, rather than buying pre-ground meat (this also allowed her to cook ground beef rare, without guaranteeing the worst disease from the 200 or so cows that are all packaged in the same pound of factory-farm beef).

I never really learned her recipes -- but I fondly remember her chicken soup, her roast chicken, her stuffed cabbage, her “fried matzohs” (matzah brei) her kugel, and, especially, her meatballs. Years after the fact, with the help of an aunt, I attempted to recreate her sauce and her meatballs. I know it’s not perfect, but I think that we came close with Grandma's Spaghetti and Marinara Sauce.

My grandmother believed in big flavors. I could always smell the fresh ground black pepper, the sweet fresh peppers, the cans of condensed tomato soup (which she used as a better-tasting and lower-priced equivalent of tomato paste) and the garlic. My first real lesson in cooking was walking into the kitchen and seeing her crush two entire roses of garlic to rub into a chicken’s skin and cavity before putting it on the rotisserie.

Her kitchen was an attitude to life. Work hard, find things to laugh about and enjoy as you work, but don’t stop working. Work at the thousands of details that make others' lives better -- don’t seek praise, but live a praiseworthy life.