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The Silly Gene

(by Grace Witwer Housholder)

Mom always said she wasn’t much of a cook, but she strongly believed in family gathered around the dinner table in Indiana. When I thanked her for a great meal, she brushed off my compliments, saying something along the lines of, “I just put things together.” Often she added, “The people make the party.” She was shy but quite social, with a gift for a warm welcome—there always seemed to be a new exchange student coming for a meal.

Her own mother was especially creative in the kitchen (perhaps influenced by globe-trotting with a husband who worked in the travel industry), and my mother inherited an inclination for trying new things. My siblings and I were encouraged to experiment—we attempted recipes from an illustrated cookbook for kids called Cooking Around the World or clippings from newspapers and magazines. But I vividly remember a few of Mom’s culinary frustrations or disappointments. Her piecrust always fell apart, making a mess. The pragmatic lessons I learned were: (1) don’t make pies; (2) if a pie is required, make a graham cracker crust; (3) if a graham cracker crust won’t do, buy a pre-made crust; (4) make cobbler.

Grandmother Booth was an inspiration to all of us. She was beautiful, vivacious, tiny, thrifty (she made her own yogurt from powdered milk); and curious (a huge, unabridged Webster’s dictionary was part of her kitchen because she loved words). She always woke before dawn and used those early morning hours to get a head start in the kitchen, later taking freshly baked brownies to a new neighbor or a friend who was ill. To me, the raw batter was even better than the finished product (nobody worried about raw eggs then), and when Mom made them, she indulged me in licking the bowl—a tradition I passed along to my children.

There were rules for good behavior at our dinner table: napkin on lap, no elbows, and everyone seated before eating commenced. But each fall, right before school started, Mom decreed “Bad Manners Day.” My three siblings and I could be as rude and messy as we liked—even feet on the table were not forbidden. The idea was to exhaust our mischievous inclinations so that we would be well behaved for the rest of the year. I thought Bad Manners Day was silly, but Mom loved silly things. Eating spaghetti with our fingers on one day of the year was just fine with her.

I would have preferred my favorite pasta dish: macaroni sauté. With a fork. I think I inherited the adventurous, curious, and thrifty genes, but the silly gene stayed with Mom.


Grace Witwer Housholder is a reporter/columnist/editorial writer for KPC Media Group in northeast Indiana, and creator of a website about the funny sayings of kids. She is a volunteer for AFS-USA and a coordinator for the YES program sponsored by the U.S. State Department; she and her husband are hosting their sixth exchange student.

Macaroni Sauté

2 c. elbow macaroni, uncooked

1/2 c. vegetable oil

1/2 c. chopped onion

1/2 c. chopped green pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

3 c. tomato juice

salt to taste

pepper to taste

Worcestershire sauce to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan.

Sauté macaroni, onion, green pepper, and garlic until macaroni is golden and vegetables are cooked, about 5 – 8 minutes.

Add tomato juice, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce.

Bring to a boil.

Cover and simmer about 20 minutes.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

(Meat, cheese, olives and/or hot peppers can be added.)

Grandmother Booth’s Brownies

8 oz. butter

4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

4 eggs

2 c. sugar

1 c. flour

2 heaping t. vanilla extract

1/2 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Melt butter and chocolate over low heat or in a microwave.

Beat eggs and sugar together.

Stir in flour, blending well.

Add chocolate mixture, vanilla, and chocolate chips.

Press into a buttered 9 x 13 pan and bake for about 30 minutes. Do not over bake.


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