I’m making progress on my 30×30 Makers List. To recap, I challenged myself to make 30 things before my 30th birthday. I have just under two weeks left. I’ve come a long way. Got a long way to go.
Here is some stuff I’ve been working on…
- PEKING DUCK.
That’s right. I did it. I made a Peking Duck at home. I dried that sucker out and coated it in a maltose solution and roasted it vertically. The last part I managed thanks to a tip from Serious Eats to stuff a beer can full of water up the cavity and stand it up in a roasting pan. 1.5 hours later, we feasted on delicious Peking Duck with all the fixings. And a side of snow pea tips in garlic.
2. SHADOW PUPPET
I started this shadow puppet years ago after returning from Cambodia inspired by the art form. I don’t know why I decided on a flamenco dancer, but I was pleased to find this recently and add it to my maker’s list.
3. Recipe for Josefin
My friend Josefin, when she last visited the US from Sweden, had a brilliant idea: that she and I exchange recipes with the stories behind them, and perhaps one day assemble them all into a transatlantic cookbook. Naturally, I agreed. When I listed the first recipe on my maker’s list, my cousin provided this fantastic start to the challenge: my grandmother’s recipe for rye crackers written in her handwriting. The story is below.
Our grandmother, Mimi, was an anomaly in our family. Mimi, you see, was always very proper, very feminine, reserved, and clean. She cared very much about appearances, much to the chagrin of the rest of us. My mother, by contrast, was very much a tomboy, always valuing athleticism, ingenuity, and silliness over traditional feminine attributes. Her grandmother, Mimi’s mother, was creative and affectionate and pleased to get dirty (or so people tell me…I never really knew her). My mom once told me the story of how she and her grandmother were in a row boat and my mom got out to swim alongside. She remembers her grandmother peering down at her from the boat above, shaking her head and asking rhetorically, “How did you ever come out of your mother?” All of us in the family laugh at this story. The idea of Mimi swimming in a lake, or even just messing up her hair, tickles us in its absurdity.
Growing up with Mimi, I hear, was much less funny. My mother constantly felt burdened to impress Mimi. Despite her efforts, she never seemed to escape the shadow of unachievable perfection she believed her mother sought from her. Whether or not Mimi actually desired perfection, or felt any disappointment with my mother’s choices, cannot be known until Heaven, and possibly not even then. However, my mother’s paranoia to please Mimi was transferred to me, and the unfortunate result was that I never felt comfortable around my own grandmother. I too always felt the need to put on a show, to dress well around her, and to hide my messes and shortcomings. It was stressful. We had so very little in common.
Very little, that is, except eating.
After Mimi passed away my aunt asked us for any happy memories we had of our grandmother. As I look back on my fonder moments with Mimi, almost every single one of them involves eating. She was no chef, but she definitely appreciated delicious things. I remember sleeping over at her house during those years she lived near us in New York. Our ritual was to go out to a fancy Chinese restaurant for dinner and then in the morning she would make blueberry pancakes with kumquat marmalade and bacon. For family dinners, she would make a beef pot roast and serve it with gravy over fluffy dinner rolls baked with significant quantities of butter. As I got older, I began to cook for her, and very much enjoyed watching her eat my handiwork. She would close her eyes and make funny little grunting noises which, from her, somehow came out dainty. She would save chocolate to regift to me, knowing I would appreciate it, and she regularly had a tin of cookies and a tin of crackers ready for snacking during our visits.
It is the crackers that I share with you today. She enjoyed eating them with cottage cheese and tomato slices for lunch. I don’t remember enjoying the crackers much as a child, but my uncle brought a tin of them to Mimi’s memorial service and I gave them another try. As strange as it sounds, tasting the crackers that day made me smile. I remember the day was sunny and breezy and everything was green. We sat outside the church, munching away. They were Mimi crackers. Despite grieving her loss I felt, for me, that they manifested in a small way a celebration of her life.
And the crackers are scrumptious.