When I was little, I remember sitting at the dinner table with my Granddad on multiple occasions at the time when most children challenge eating vegetables. Sitting there staring down at a plate of his broccoli. “If you eat your broccoli, you’ll grow up to be a supermodel.” I never questioned the truthfulness of this statement or anything he told me. I knew early on that what he said was gold and so I always ate my broccoli. I grew up to love his broccoli like it was chocolate cake.
My mom called me Wednesday, to tell me the doctor had given him less than a week. He had just celebrated his 93rd birthday the day before. I had seen him a couple of weeks before and couldn’t quite wrap my brain around the call. I told her I’d be home as soon as I could. After nearly losing my job to fly home yet again, I was headed back to California. My mom prepared me for the worst.
I arrived early in the morning, my Dad picked me up. When we got to the house and I walked back to his room. My mom was sitting next to him and he was in a deep sleep. I held his hand,”Hi Granddad, It’s Megan I’m here”. I thought I saw his eyes almost open and I could feel him try to grip my hand, my mom looked suprised. She explained that he no longer responded but that hearing was the last to go and it was good to speak to him even if he couldn’t respond. He had stopped eating and drinking and he had to be turned frequently so that he could breathe better. The terminal congestion was restricting his breathing. “He sounds like a coffee maker percolating”, I told my mom.
We all spent time sitting next to him, talking to him. I scratched his head the way he liked it and rubbed his feet. We’d sit in there together and spend time with him by ourselves, friends came to sit by him and say goodbye. I found my mom sleeping in his wheelchair propped up with a pillow next to him. One time my Aunt and I burst into hysterics at my mom telling one of the friends we should let him rest. “He’s been sleeping for 3 days!”we laughed. We were all dealing with it on our own time in our own way. We attempted to go about things the way we normally did. My aunt and mom squabbled over which wool blanket went on my bed (in the summertime). Then they each went to bed, both separately telling me, “tomorrow’s a new day”. It felt like a week, but it had only been a day. I took the blanket off my bed.
My mom woke me up at one in the morning to help move my Granddad. His skin was so hot from another fever. We sponged him down with cold wet cloths and tried to make him feel as comfortable as possible. My mom told me how strong she thought I was being. My face hurt from trying not to cry all day. His breathing had started to change, I didn’t think he’d make it through the night.
He was still there when I woke up. I kissed his head whenever I entered the room, I stole his nose like he used to do when I was little and then I’d give it back. My mom put a picture of my Grandmother next to him, looking over. His family that could be was there, just like he’d wanted.
Early that afternoon something happened and we could all feel it, his time was near.
When his breathing seemed normal again, my aunt went to lay down and my dad left the room. I picked up his beloved cat Buster in the hallway and sat him on his bed. He curled up next to him naturally. I asked my mom how we would know when it was the end. She showed me the hospice pamphlet that she’d been given. As I read the pamphlet I mentally checked off every symptom. I finally cried.
My mom said she was going to step out for just a second to use the bathroom. I moved closer to my Granddad. I reached to hold his hand. My mom had put a meditation bell in it. I held his hand.
I told him I loved him, I thanked him for everything and I promised that we’d all be okay. I looked around the room at all the pictures of our family and the family before us, landing on on a picture of my mom and her sister smiling, each holding up a finger so I could focus. A picture I’d taken when I was a kid.
I was there with him when he peacefully took his last breath. It happened so quickly. I ran to get everyone.
He was surrounded by family, in his home, with Buster the cat curled at his feet– just the way he wanted. Our Chief was gone.
I am just a bit over five feet, and I will never be a supermodel no matter how much broccoli I eat. But I am who I am because of my Grandfather and because I was smart enough to know that if I listened to him, everything would be okay. He was a wise man, the wisest one I’ll ever know. I’ll miss him dearly.
This Recipe is in Loving Memory of my Grandfather, Colonel George R. Smith.
He Passed four days after his 93rd birthday, the last thing he ate was birthday cake. This is the best Brocolli I’ve ever eaten. Sometimes he’d pay my friends who came to dinner a quarter to eat it. Bust most of us who know better–just eat it because it’s good.
1c. chicken stock
1 scant t. sugar
2 T. soy sauce.
1 t. garlic minced
1 t. ginger minced
2 T. oil
2T corn starch
Heat pan, with 2 T oil on medium high heat (This can also be done in a wok). Add garlic and ginger, till they become fragrant. Sautee broccoli for 2-3 minutes, add liquids and cover for 3 minutes. Dissolve the cornstarch in the water and add, cook at medium heat when liquid until it is thick and broccoli tender.
George R Smith
September 13th 1918–September 17th 2011
I flew home for the Labor Day weekend to Fresno where I grew up, wanting to spend as much time with my Granddad as I could. I knew there wouldn’t be many chances left.
It was a long day of airports, starting in Portland, then to Phoenix, before finally landing me in California. I woke up early to finish some things at work before I headed to the airport.
My three-hour layover in Phoenix proved fruitful, not to mention a break from flying, which I’m terrified of. I sat next to a woman dressed in purple, holding a live purple persian cat. I tried not to stare, along with everyone else at the airport.
I started the book Spoon Fed by Kim Severson, which I’ve yet to put down since I’ve started. If it wasn’t for the poor lighting in the airplane and the larger woman next to me hogging the arm rest, I would have finished it before getting to California. Another inspiring food writer.
I got into California late–my granddad was already asleep.
I had just gone to sleep when I heard the dings. My parents had given my granddad a bell so they could hear him if he needed help. Like a well-trained receptionist I answered the bell. I found my granddad in his room getting dressed for the day. He thought it was time to wake up and was getting ready. I woke my mom up, and we helped get him back in bed. As we tucked him in, he finally realized I was there. He squealed with excitement and gave me a big hug. I have never heard him squeal like that, or make a noise of that nature–I felt honored. He had a rough night waking up a few more times until it was actually time to wake up.
I caught him dozing in the morning, I asked him if he’d slept any, He said he had until my Granny told him to wake up–my Granny passed a few years ago–I told him to tell her hello for me, he smiled.
After one of his many naps, I saw him take three fig newtons from the counter. He had an impressive sweet tooth. My Granny would be pleased. My mom said that the hospice lady said at this point, to let him eat whatever he wants–I agreed.
I thought of the fig tree in the backyard, probably flooded with decaying figs that no one else had picked. I asked my dad to join me for some fig picking.
As I’d imagined, no one had visited the fig tree since my last visit. Despite the many wounded soldiers there was plenty for picking
There was plenty for jam, and some homemade fig cookies for Granddad.
I made a buttery roasted chicken for dinner, that my parents swooned over. I told them to thank the butter, it had done most of the work. I started the jam, and would finish the cookies the following day.
We all set down for dinner. My father usually says the grace, but my Grandfather asked to say it this time. Not a religous man by any means, we all looked around at each other suprised. It was short and sweet–but wise, like always. Despite his fading mind, he was still there.
“knowledge fortitude and love provide us hope and care –amen”
I made the cookies the following day, this recipe is definitely a keeper. The Jam is delicous too. My dad called them “Meg Newtons”
2 pounds fresh figs 1/2c. sugar 1 t. cinnamon 1 lemon zested 1/4c. lemon juice 1/2c. orange juice, apple juice or cranberry
Add all ingredients together, heat on medium heat till figs have completely broken down 30-45 minutes. Puree in food processor and return to heat and thicken till desired consistency. Allowing to cool and keep in airtight container.
3 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 t. salt 3/4 t. baking powder 3/8 t. baking soda 1/2 t. cinnamon 12 T. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into pieces 4 eggs, divided
Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a food processor or by hand, cut in butter pieces until the dough is sandy looking. Whisk 3 eggs together and add to the dough. Mix to combine. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours. Use the remaining egg for egg wash.
When ready to bake, heat the oven to 375F. Divide the dough into 3 equal parts. On a lightly floured surface roll out each portion of dough into a rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. Cut the dough lengthwise into strips, at least 2 inches wide. Paint around the edges of each strip with egg wash. Spoon the fig jam in the center of the strip. Using a book fold method, fold one side over the jam, and then fold the other side on top of that. Place the cookies, seam side down, on a cookie sheet, lined or sprayed lightly. Press down lightly to flatten. Brush the cookies with the egg wash and bake until light golden brown, about 15-25 minutes.
I recently headed to Powell’s after finishing Molly Wizenburg’s book, A Homemade Life: Recipes from My Kitchen Table. She is also the writer of one of my favorite blogs– Orangette.
I wanted a similar book–something to keep the inspiration flowing. Reading A Homemade Life had really encouraged me to get my blog started–she’s a lovely writer.
I didn’t exactly know what I was looking for; I hadn’t even planned on going to the bookstore, but I was in the neighborhood.
I picked up a copy of Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life, written by Kim Severson, a New York Times Food Writer. It looked promising. I thumbed through some of the used vintage cookbooks. I love looking through old cookbooks. I like how they’ve absorbed the smells of the kitchen, the spills, and I especially like the ones that have handwritten recipes. I figure…if someone took the time to write them, they must be good.
I was just about to leave, when I spotted it–a small book with a silver metal cover. The words “Ringo Starr” etched on the cover. He had always been my favorite Beatle. The Title read, “My Favorite Recipes”. Inside, 9 manilla envelopes the first one labeled: Breads & Pancakes, French Toast, the Second: Cake, The Third: Pastry, The Fourth: Candy. All but two of the envelopes were dedicated to dessert. Each one filled with hand written recipes, newspaper cut outs, shared recipes and the occasional note. I had found a diamond in the rough. I found more inspiration!
I loved the mystery behind it. I admired how well it had been kept, each recipe in its proper envelope, no pudding to be confused with a cookie. Each handwritten in elegant cursive. It was old, the pieces of paper yellowed by time, I couldn’t figure out how old, but I figured as early as the 50′s. I even found a name, one of the recipes had a note on it from a friend: Hi Mary! Saw this recipe & it looked and sounded so good…Thought you might like to give it a whirl. All well here. Time is Flying…The Kid will be home in another month. I’ll be in touch. Love, Pinky xo
It was a recipe for Cranberry-Hazelnut Pie.
I couldn’t understand why anyone would have given this away. But I was pleased to be the new owner. Wherever Mary was, her recipes were in safe hands. Someday soon I’ll share them.