Monday, May 16, 2005

My Grandmother

What she thought over cookies

I'm working on putting my thoughts together for a memorial book about my grandmother who recently passed away. In the coming weeks, my family will be gathering to celebrate her life. A lot of my memories of my grandmother involve food. She was no stranger to restaurants, to cooking for days on end for an event, to mixing groceries together for an evening meal. It's clearly part of our family culture to cook and entertain.

Maybe someday this will be more eloquent, but for now, here are a few memories and my list of the places in the DC area she would have enjoyed.

Cajun Night

I must have been about 14 and she had come down with a mad PBS crush on Justin Wilson, the cajun cook. She decided we should do a big old meal for the family. Now, I don't recall anyone ever particularly liking cajun food at that point, but that was beside the point. We were, for the most part, adventurous eaters, so why not.

Now it's been many years at this point, but, if I remember correctly we made chicken in wine, a turnip souffle, and hand-cranked vanilla ice cream with a Benedictine and raisin sauce. There were definitely other dishes, but these were the most memorable. I remember thinking it was so subversive to make the sauce with Benedictine! It was delicious!

Something was wrong with the turnip souffle. It still tasted good, but we left something out. It was the eggs or the turnips. It ended up being more aptly called "side dish."

In DC, I have yet to have a wonderful cajun dining experience. We did have a few nice meals at the cajun place in Woodley Park. I think it's called Lex Cajun Grill. Definitely worth going to, but when I crave cajun, I think I'll stick to making my own. We are always hunting for the best etouffe and gumbo recipes. I think she would like the ones we've tried.


She lived at Irene's. My god, did that place have another name? Peking Something? Irene's was the longtime Chinese place in the strip mall up the street from her house, and later her apartment a block away. Irene was a tough woman from Taiwan who did not take any guff, could match my grandmother's feistiness word for word and headline for headline, whose husband did the cooking and knew his way around a sweet potato and a pile of green beans.

We usually went for lunch. Nothing spectacular but usually good enough. Fried rice, green beans, a spiced chicken, and her favorite-- almond cookies ( I think it surprised her the day I brought her a box from the Asian Market. Sure, they weren't served warm off the hot bar, but there was a whole box of them!

Later in life, as my grandmother got slower, Irene would bring her food, or take her home. She loved Chinese food. If she had come to DC and wanted Chinese, I would have taken her to City Lights of China on Connecticut. She was amazed by tofu and they have some admirable tofu dishes. I think she would also have gotten a kick out of Rockville's Vegetable Garden-- the vegan Chinese place near White Flint Mall. The mock orange beef is yummy although no masterpiece. I think it would have suited her just fine.

Falafel House

I found this place through friends whose older brothers had started hanging out there years before. Falafel House was an amazing restaurant serving some of the best middle eastern food I have had to this day. Delicious falafel, garlicky hummus topped with a thin coat of olive oil and a few olives, deeply spiced shawarma and a lemon lentil soup you would dream about and taste for days after even a small bowl. The baklava was delicious but they also had this honey-soaked shredded wheat dessert that was amazing.

The most charming thing about Falafel House was that the owners took a particular shine to my grandmother, and she to them. She would stay for hours, talking to MAry, one of the owners, and reading the newspaper.

In DC, I would take her to Levante's. It's not as homey, but I've has some good meals there. I'd also serve up my own hummus which she really enjoyed when I would make it for her. I'm looking for another great middle eastern place. Any ideas?

As for places where the people recognize you and will chat a bit, I would have to suggest Aatish down on the hill. They have delicicious Pakistani food, but the manager Rafik knows his clientele quite well and has made several spot-on suggestions for me.

Dale's Snow-Cones

I think this is more a memory for my mother than for me, but I do remember going to Dale's and craving the delicious, and to me dangerous, FIREBALL flavor. It was green. It just made it that much cooler. I'm pretty sure my mom, aunt, and uncle grew up going there too. I was reminded of Dale's years later when my folks lived by a drive-around place that sat just off to the side of a 7-11 where you could get snow-cones and barbecue. From the same place. Damn Gina.

I think DC could use a snow-cone place. Maybe a cute little stand just off of Dupont Circle or Eastern Market. My favorite flavors, coconut (blue!), wedding cake, banana, cherry, and of course FIREBALL! Does anyoneknow of any places?

Fried Chicken and Chili Cream

She was really known for some signature dishes -- her vegetable soup, her chili cream, and her fried chicken. I'll see if I can find the chili cream recipe. It's a lot of chili, a lot of cream, and a lot of cheese. It's enough to destroy my lactose intolerant gut, but it is definitely one of my favorites from childhood.

This woman knew how to fry a chicken. Seriously y'all. I grew up not really liking any fried chicken but hers. Flaky crust, well seasoned, tender and delicious.

I hear good things about the Fried Chicken at Georgia Brown's. I haven't had it having only recently decided to eat more meat, but friends and family have and have said good things.

I suppose that's it for now. I'll be adding more to this as I think of things. WE have a couple of reviews to write to catch up with our adventures. Look for those tomorrow night.


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