My grandma developed diabetes in the early 80s. She was the plump Italian grandma who cooked like a master and thoroughly enjoyed hearty meals and sweet desserts. Diabetes was a nuisance. She had to learn to reduce sugars and those luscious carbohydrates.
My mom and I thought it would be fun to bring Grandma to an adult-ed class and learn how to cook in a new way. The nearby school offered a class in Chinese cooking. Grandma was willing to go. If nothing else, it would be a night out.
The class was popular and hosted by a local teacher who fancied himself a fine chef of French, Italian, and Chinese cuisine. He wore a starched chef jacket and had an impressive knife set and experiences to impart.
Throughout the four classes, we learned to wrap wonton, stir fry lo mein, prep pork, identify different mushrooms and cut tofu. I did not realize the variety of textures tofu came in. None of them was pleasing to touch. Grandma agreed. There was a good deal of chopping scallions and julienning carrots.
Grandma’s knife skills paled everyone in the class including the instructor’s. He tried to offer tips and insights, but Grandma’s style proved more efficient and easier to follow. As the instructor introduced us to ginger, hoisin sauce, and allspice, Grandma nodded politely at the exotic aromas and ingredients. She sat at the table, deftly dicing and julienning. We laughed at the instructor’s puns. When I took her on our weekly grocery shopping, she stocked up on the familiar garlic and basil.
The last class involved cooking up a pot of hot and sour soup. This dish, according to the instructor, was what separated excellent Chinese cooks from the wanna-be-s. He described it as an orchestra of flavors and textures. The ingredients were amazing. Straw mushrooms, Tiger Lily petals, different kinds of vinegar, and yet another type of tofu were a few of the exotic ingredients. It took a lot of prepping. Grandma steadily chopped and sliced.
Finally, when the soup was complete, the instructor brought the first bowl to Grandma.
“Tell me what you think, Mary,” he said. He so wanted to impress her. She sipped and nodded. “It’s very nice,” she said.
“Do you think this is something you would cook at home?” Grandmother took another sip. “It’s very nice,” she repeated feigning old lady hearing.
She whispered to Mom and me, “If I liked this soup I could go to Hoi Ming. My zuppa di fagioli is better.”
I did add ginger and allspice to my grocery list. For a while, I used my wok, cooked up dim sum, and fried egg rolls a few times. Instead of applying her newly discovered spices and tofu, Grandma tried to limit her macaroni and cookie intake.
Welcome to my Blogging A-Z April 2018 Challenge. My theme is Food Stories Remembered because there is always a story when food is involved. I consider myself a good home cook with a great appetite for hearty food. I have witnessed the creation of favorite recipes in friends’ kitchens and have learned from the best—my mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law. Recipes may be included. I am remaining uncommitted on this because when I cook, I seldom measure. If you try any of my recipes, you are cooking at your own risk. Grab a glass of wine. Hope you’re hungry!
Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.