Dinner was a stable ritual in my childhood home in southern California. We ate together as a family of four—meals that were delicious and healthy, as mom was a vegetarian and used simple ingredients that felt good on the belly the morning after. Mom was a terrific cook, but her emphasis was on nourishing the body rather than yielding to temptation, and the lack of decadent desserts and white bread left me restless for Sundays with Nannie.
Nannie (June Fingerhutt Wilson) was my mom’s mom, and she loved to cook. What’s more, she loved to cook for me. Unlike my mother’s claim as sole proprietor of the kitchen, where I was banished to celery-chopping or water-pouring, Nannie let me help her in the creation of our meals, and Sundays with Nannie were a real gift: stirring, mixing, seasoning, and—oh, joy—tasting.
Nannie would greet me at the door wearing a blue terrycloth house frock. Her kisses were abundant and her hugs full of warmth—a stark contrast to my mother’s terse embraces. Her apartment teased the senses with a symphony of aromas—buttery garlic bread toasted to crispy perfection and ripe Roma tomatoes with a splash of Stoli vodka. The table was always set with great care: white china plates, crisp linen napkins, and glasses of Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda filled to the brim.
A few rounds of gin rummy always followed our dessert of chocolate fudge ice cream. Despite Nannie’s expert skills, I somehow managed to emerge victorious in the final hands. Story time was the main attraction, and I was transported to the century’s turn when a nickel bought a young girl two hot dogs, three pickles, and a double feature. Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy were true talents. Family stayed close. Her suitors included moguls, musicians, and even a Wrigley brother. She could have been a great actress, if only….
My mother was embarrassed by Nannie’s tall tales. She found them simplistic—strewn with half-truths and ridiculous impossibilities. Yet I greedily begged for reruns, relishing each word. The twinkle in Nannie’s eye was worth any tiny fib. But when Mom picked me up from a Sunday visit, our drives home were strained. “Did she give you white pasta?” “That ice cream has so much fat in it.” “If only she would read the ingredients. It takes just a few seconds.” My mom was an only child, and her meals with her mother were often spent without her father, a successful character actor often out playing the horses. She ate that same spaghetti sauce and bread, which turned her into a chubby young woman. She grew tired of listening to the same stories—what she called a “fistful of little white lies.”
Nannie dreamed, and Mom kept her feet firmly planted on the floor. I suppose a little of both is necessary to keep life balanced. I would have liked to share the kitchen with the three of us. I learned something significant from both my mother and my grandmother. I’d like to think they learned from each other as well.
Shauna Bloom is a New York-based actress and writer, who was appeared on TV in "The Mentalist" and "American Horror Story," as well as Off Broadway in The Wild Project and The Tank. She can be found at www.shaunabloom.com.
Nannie’s Garlic Bread
1 large baguette (a French or Italian loaf will do just fine)
4 - 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped by hand
1 T. extra virgin olive oil (Pompeian or DeCecco preferred)
1/4 lb. Kerrygold salted butter, cut into bits
1/2 c. finely grated BelGioioso wedged Parmesan cheese
3/4 T. finely chopped parsley
optional: 1/4 c. black olives, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Cut bread in half lengthwise.
Mash garlic until it becomes a paste.
Stir paste together with olive oil and butter until very smooth.
Mix in parsley.
Add optional olives
Spread paste evenly onto both cut sides of bread.
Line broiler pan with foil.
Wrap each half in foil and place on broiler pan.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Unwrap foil and let bread rest for 10 - 15 minutes before slicing.
Eat alone or dip into marinara or extra virgin oil.