For her 11th birthday, my granddaughter Abby asked to cook with Nona (me). This will be done. We sat down to discuss a meal plan, and she knew what she wanted: steak kabobs, grilled shrimp, individual taco salads, fruit sticks, and a hot dog for her youngest sister Kate. Abby is always mindful of looking after Kate and middle sister Claire; she does this with love and focus.
I explained that when working with raw meat, she should wash her hands and tools immediately afterward. Since the knife was very sharp, I took charge of cutting the right sized chunks of beef for marinating, but then she announced, "Step aside, I've got this.”
Cooking together was a flashback to my mother’s kitchen, with garlic, tomatoes, scallions, and lettuce supplied by her garden, which was surrounded by marigolds. She let me stir and watch whatever was on the stove—sometimes my favorite meal of halushki: cabbage cooked down in butter with onions, then mixed with egg noodles and lots of salt. If it was Sunday supper after church, there was a feast: some sort of pasta with meatballs, maybe fried chicken or pork chops. Plenty of leftovers fed us for the week; then meatless Fridays meant pasta fazul, Spanish rice, or a codfish sandwich from the local bar.
My mother’s parents had arrived in Ellis Island from Italy, and my dad’s family came from Croatia. Dad became a coal miner in Harwick, Pennsylvania, where everybody knew your name. He was a tough, shot-and-a-beer kind of guy—hard-working, God-fearing, not so nurturing. There was a membership-only place called The Polish Club, where I was sent to bring him home on many occasions. Getting food from the government was not unusual in our neighborhood—powdered milk, huge chunks of American cheese, a "log" of bologna (or “jumbo” as we called it). There was a company store operated by the coal mining company. You could charge against a "ticket" but had to pay it off each month.
I was the youngest of four children. My older brother Joseph had died of whooping cough at age one—a tragedy that was never discussed in our home. I was something of a black sheep in the family—a tomboy who would rather play with the boys than the girls, and I’d get into trouble for charging Reese's peanut butter cups at the company store. I didn't want to ask my parents for money to send me to college, but I took the "secretarial" classes in high school and was hired by Westinghouse, making it up to the executive offices. Once we moved to South Carolina, the company was not for me—a site surrounded by guards, where everyone ate a half-hour lunch in the cafeteria. That's when I found my true calling in sales, before retiring to help care for my mother-in-law. She was from Richmond, Indiana, as American as they come, her style so different from my immigrant family, and a huge influence on my cooking. She taught me to try recipes from magazines and newspapers, to portion food into small pretty bowls, a little something for everyone.
Now I pass the traditions I’ve gleaned from both cultures onto my granddaughters. (Their mom Kim is a wonderful chef in her own right and has taught me several recipes. The accumulated culinary acumen goes back and forth across generations.) For some reason, my granddaughters think I know what I'm doing in the kitchen. Well, I'm the one who says, "Dinner is ready—I hope it's okay."
Lorraine Puz Morgan is a retired lighting design consultant, occasional pro-shop manager at the historic Aiken Golf Club, and volunteer at the local soup kitchen in Aiken, South Carolina.
2 lb. sirloin steak, cut into 2-inch chunks
3 white onions, quartered)
3 bell peppers, cut into pieces
12 cherry tomatoes
McCormick Grill Mates Smokehouse Maple Seasoning
Preheat grill to 400 F.
Put all ingredients on a baking sheet.
Sprinkle generously with good olive oil and seasoning, tossing to coat.
Pour into large resealable plastic bag and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Starting with the steak and alternating with the vegetables, push pieces onto large metal grilling skewers (preferably with safety handles),
Grill for 6 minutes on one side, then flip and grill 5 minutes more (for medium doneness).