April 21, 2016


While I've recently been wistfully considering returning to this blog, and ticking through the spate of ideas for potential postings, this isn't one of them. It's not about the kitchen at all, except for the ways my cooking has been influenced by my grandma (i.e., pie, jello, old Menno cookbook) and the way food brings family together. 
I wrote this tribute for Grandma's funeral on April 16, 2016, when I said goodbye to her for the last time, a few days after the last time I actually talked to her. The opportunity to read this as part of the service was a huge honor to me; I didn't expect to be able to physically get through it, but I looked up from the words on the page only once and somehow made it to the end. 
I just needed a place to share this, because I want to tell you about my Grandma Mayer. She's gone now, but not her legacy and her testimony. I want to tell you about her, because I want to honor her life and her impact in my life. 

“Oh, we’ve just been busy covering chairs.” In the past few years, this has been my grandparents’ standard cheerful response to my query about what they’d been up to that day. It was realistic of their reduced ability to be active, but also full of humor and positivity, in a way that I feel is characteristic of my grandma’s approach to life. I hope to echo some of those values in my tribute today: to acknowledge my deep sorrow in the face of her death, while also acknowledging the joy of this truth.

            There is definitely sorrow. It sounds silly to say “my heart is full,” but it must be, because sometimes it trickles over out of my eyes. You would be sad, too, if your grandma were as awesome as mine and she weren’t going to be around anymore.

            She won’t ride over with Grandpa in their golf-cart-Cadillac anymore, and I won’t get to bend over to give her a short little hug anymore. I’ll miss making pots of seafood soup for them, chuckling at her newest ways to bend the rules in a card game, sitting down to a motley lunch together, and talking about what’s coming up in the garden. Shoot, I’ll even miss her unique grape jello laced with slices of banana, talking to her (and everyone else in the room) on speaker-phone, and her perpetual preference for Ladies’ Golf even though that’s what we played the last fifty times we visited.

            Sure, I have some things from her. My favorite blanket is so not-me girly, but it’s from her and the one I always use anyway. There’s the classic old-school Mennonite cookbook, spattered and pencil-marked, placed prominently on my shelf; I told her she didn’t really need it anymore and that I did need it. And of course there is a lifetime of photos and memories.

Some of those stories I wasn’t there for but still know, like how she was woken up on a long car ride by Grandpa proposing, and how she awkwardly didn’t answer him for the rest of the trip. Or how she squashed a frog in her bare feet; started dozing during a sermon and had a grandchild loudly admonish her; or sat in the car twenty minutes waiting for Grandpa, who was sitting waiting right beside in the truck.

The best stories I have, though, aren’t as much stories as they are facts. Her candy drawer. Christmases at their house. Danish pastries and pecan twists. The familiar smell of their basement. Picking up sticks in the orchard and going out for ice cream afterwards. Playing cards shoved “hidden” under the doily on the table. Cats and popsicles and Rummikub and salsa-canning and French vanilla creamer and bread soup. Organizing her pantry and cleaning her already-clean house.  

Inseparable from the memories about Grandma are the heritage, values, and example of one of my best friends and one of the most beautiful women I have ever known. Some things are less significant, like the knowledge that coffee isn’t worth drinking if it doesn’t scald your mouth, and how to crimp pie edges, and that wearing old slippers is the best way to get around the house. Some things I didn’t get from her, like her preferences for cleaning rather than cooking, for Amish fiction, and for green-onion butter sandwiches.

There is a whole list, however, of ways I hope I become like her and of qualities that I will always remember in her. Grandma had prodigious patience, and ample opportunities in which to exercise it. Trust me, with grandchildren like she had—I’m referencing my cousins, of course. We brought kitties into the basement, causing an unfortunate flea infestation, yet continued to plead for their allowance in the house anyway. We ransacked her candy drawer as soon as our feet crossed the kitchen threshold; we tracked dirt all over her clean floor; we threw apples at each other instead of picking them and ate raspberries instead of bucketing them. And we were always noisy. But I don’t remember my grandma ever reacting negatively or even speaking critically. She was gracious, longsuffering, and gentle.

She was so sweet because she loved so much. Family was obviously one of Grandma’s top priorities, and you never had to wonder if she loved you. In fact, the only time I can think of Grandma saying anything slightly negative were some of the comments my poor husband got when she was getting used to the idea of him taking me 850 miles away. But her love for family still got the best of her, and soon Brian was accepted and loved, too. Going over to Grandpa and Grandma’s for holidays or playing games is just part of life; the idea of feeling anything less than completely welcomed at their house is an entirely foreign concept to me. You just ring the doorbell and walk in. Actually, if you didn’t want to come over, you couldn’t let her know you were around or she’d hunt you down.

At the apex of her love for family is her love for her husband, and if you’re here, you know exactly what I mean. It’s been hard for me to keep this tribute about Grandma because so much about Grandpa is intertwined in my thoughts about her. When I think of a solid marriage, I think of theirs. Loyalty and faithfulness are words for concepts that they lived out every day in their almost 63 years of marriage, and I will always look to the example they left for me. Sure, Grandpa dreamed Grandma was a cow in the middle of the night, and she backed into the gas pump once, but they still held hands when they walked together, even in their 80’s. You missed out if you never saw Grandpa and Grandma playing Wii bowling or husking corn together or heckling each other in a competitive round of SkipBo. I feel like I’ve never seen them separately, and I don’t know how to understand the idea of one without the other. The hardest part of saying goodbye to Grandma has been thinking of Grandpa without her. She loyally supported him through a lifetime of ministry and he faithfully cared for her until the very end.

Another aspect of Grandma’s influence on my life that obviously can’t go unnoted is her relationship with God. The majority of times I would walk into the living room and my grandparents were busy covering chairs, the book she would put down would be a daily devotional or the Bible. Her promises to pray for me were not perfunctory remarks, and her life of grace and service were reflections of Christ’s presence. Any woman who codes in a hospital bed and then shows back up to sing her favorite hymns has some pretty clear priorities. Lines from the song, “Heaven is calling out to me, my soul longs for a city of peace,” keep going through my head.

I could go on and on about my beloved grandma. I think I already have. But you’re here; you knew her and loved her, too. It always amazes me that no matter where I travel, somebody will know Willard and Esther Mayer. You know how sometimes people are hesitant to be known by their family? It has never crossed my mind not to proudly name-drop. Yes, I’m their granddaughter. And even though she’s not here any more, I’ll always be her granddaughter. I have 26 years and 364 days of stories and memories with her so far, and someday, we’ll hang out together again. Until then, I’ll keep on valuing family, making pies, supporting my husband, drinking scalding coffee, and being thankful for my grandma.

April 22, 2014

The Incredible Edible Egg (and many diversities therein)

We couldn't help it. Just as our precious chickens began to increase their daily production to nearly two dozen eggs, a certain booklet serendipitously arrived at our front doorstep. [Well, it arrived at our storage room doorstep...told you it must be more than coincidence.]
"50 Deviled Eggs," the coversheet screams, accompanied by a bright photo of a perfect classic example.
Inside, pages are lined with variation upon blessed variation on the foundational mashed-yolks-in-white method. We can choose from the odd Frito Pie to the clever Green Eggs and Ham to the dubious All-White to the upscale Bagels and Lox.
Actually, we can't choose from those; so we choose them all. One batch a week.
Initially in the heat of the moment, Brian and I decided to nix the ten least appetizing recipes to reduce our egg-intake from nearly a year down to 40 weeks (since that is so much shorter). After consideration, I have a feeling that once we make it that far, we'll push through for the last few.
We're not just making and eating these half-shell morsels of goodness, of course. Immediately we constructed a rating system, allowing each variation a score of up to 20. 10 points for taste, and 5 each for texture and presentation. The two of us will share and average our private ratings.
I anticipate a pretty broad range of results, although one must consider that each one is a deviled egg. It's going to have to try to not be delicious.
It was only appropriate to start the eggcitement with an obvious success--California Roll. It delivered what it offered, rolling in a 15 (texture was the main downfall). Presentation banked a 5 from both of us; check it out.
Soy sauce, wasabi, and diced cucumber added to the mayo and vinegar, topped off with flaked crab, chopped avocado, and dried seaweed.
Not as good as actual sushi, but what is?
I'll try to keep you updated as we continue on this eggscellent journey.

February 16, 2014

'Snow Day Like Today!

That was my overriding personal opinion when the excessive snowfall effectively shut everything down. Oh the joy and possibilities of a surprise day at home!
With the help of some leftover coffee, I was in project mode all day long. All of sudden, my latent creativity screamed for release.
So I made a shelf! No impressive carpentry nor actual technical skill involved, but I don't feel like I need to hide my slight hubris at the results.
Take some boards from your in-laws' dairy barn. They may or may not retain a slight "aroma," if you know what I mean.
Then take some bricks from your landlords. Prior consent is recommended, but running upstairs and asking while your husband is in the process of bringing the bricks inside may also be effective.
Clean the bricks, because they just might be real dirty.

Next you alternate stacks of bricks with boards, which is a neat trick with bricks and blocks, sir. You can also make a quick trick brick stack, then a quick trick block stack. (Dr. Seuss shoutout!! I couldn't help it.)
Stuff wads of used crossword papers in between the bricks when the wobbling is just too much to ignore or the boards just decide to stay warped.
Then you have a shelf!!! And you can fill it with your favorite things.
Like old Mason jars and cookbooks.

January 16, 2014


High five if you read the title in an appropriate Fiddler on the Roof voice.
I love traditions. There's just something right about certain things always being.
Especially when holidays roll around, I think more about how much I enjoy traditions. Asking others what their traditions are lets you catch a glimpse of who they are; we can all be celebrating the same day or event yet with that individual flair that makes it something much deeper.
I look forward all year to my family's Christmas Eve with seafood chowder, spinach dip, and It's a Wonderful Life. (I considered making this post about the chowder--but then I realized if I spilled the secrets, our family wouldn't have a monopoly on the recipe, and then where would we be?)
Now that I'm married, I get to share my family's traditions with Brian, experience his family's, decide which ones to incorporate into our lives, and make up new ones just for us. Last week we celebrated with the Millers and what Christmas tastes like to them: mini pizzas, baby carrots and ranch, and Reese's peanut butter trees.
Considering this is only Brian's and my second Christmas together in a "normal" setting (i.e., not in Kenya), we haven't set a prolific number of traditions in stone yet. So far, we have rather arbitrarily decided that our Christmas meal must always include seafood, mangoes, and creme brulee--for this year at least. Here are Tuesday's results [having effectively postponed our festivities so as to prolong the joy of the holiday...] :

Poached catFISH with sweet rice and tropical/MANGO salsa, citrus green beans, and sweet potato crescent rolls.

Sweet potato CREME BRULEE and (decaf!) espresso.
 Mmm. The creme brulee recipe (I made up the rest...), coming up soon. Until then, find chances to honor the moments in your day by both commemorating in tradition and expressing in spontaneity.

December 21, 2013

Mishaps and Such

I've got it. What about I plan to post every other Saturday or so? That's totally not overdoing it nor completely forgetting it and gives me a structure. And as an added incentive, helps me put off finishing cleaning the house! Which is pretty much what I'm all about by the time the weekend hits.
Besides, I've already (almost) cleaned up the extra messes I've made so far today (a quart of yogurt lassi all over the floor/rug, anyone? oh, you broke your husband's special mug? why does it smell like you left the granola in the oven too long?), so the vacuuming can wait.
Speaking of mishaps. I was considering posting an album of visual illustrations of what goes on in this house when I'm left alone in it. But I'm trying to keep my posts a little shorter and more manageable, and anything close to slightly indicative of the litany of chaotic instances would be a tome worthy of Crime and Punishment comparison (in length; perhaps also in subject matter). Thankfully, I've also slacked off in the photography element necessary for this feat, so it's just not going to happen this time.
Except for these three photos I found stashed away in the annals of the summer past. Enjoy laughing at my expense (don't worry, that's my only effective coping mechanism anymore).

Exhibit A: When you cook beets in the microwave, check on them every now and then. Unless you want it to look like something very bloody died.
Exhibit B: Ah, the bucket. The bucket of fresh peaches that got turned into emergency salsa because the leftover pickling juice spilled over in the fridge and dripped down when we were gone for a week. Voila! Pickled peaches. Nom.

Exhibit C: is not from the kitchen, but still a classic. I was so careful to wash Brian's crisp white dress shirt on the delicate cycle blah blah, so proud of myself to be paying attention. Just should've paid more attention to that bright coral scarf I also wanted washed carefully...
 There are plenty more where these came from. Trust me.