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May 12, 2019 12:22 +0000  |  Family Grandma Lidia

As I write this, it's been a week since she died, and I'm still not clear on what I want to say.

I loved my grandma, so very much. I want to write a beautiful eulogy for her because she deserves it, but I'm just so consumed with loss that I can't seem to find my usual composure for something like this.

Grandma Lidia was love -- in all the forms imaginable. She fed me when I was hungry (and often when I wasn't), she hugged me when I needed it, she even lectured me when I had it coming. She opened her home to me when I started school, and later when I was living alone, would send me home with giant pickle jars of chicken soup because she knew I wasn't eating right.

She brought the family together every Easter with a cacophony of food: salată boeuf, stuffat, turkey, sarmale, and crème brûlée.

Hristos a înviat!
Adevărat a înviat!

Sure, my grandfather sat at the head of the table, but everyone knew who was running the show. Big family gatherings were where she shined and we loved her for it.

My grandmother supported all of us with a deep sense of love and responsibility that's hard to put into words -- especially when I'm still grieving her loss.

It's a sign of the value of a person really: the scars they leave when they die. These wounds are deep, and the scars are part of all of us now. I know that one day I'll be alright with all of this, but right now it's just unbearable.

I'm sorry I couldn't do better Grandma. I'm just so sad you're gone.

May 05, 2019 11:15 +0000  |  Family Grandma Lidia

I wasn't ready for this.

I suppose that statement sounds absurd on its face, but the truth is that every death of someone close to me has come with substantial advance warning as their bodies gradually failed them. My paternal grandmother even chose the date and hour of her end so precisely that I could literally put Grandma Dies into my calendar a week before it happened.

This was different. It was sudden, and jarring, and just thinking about it makes me terribly sad.

My grandmother died suddenly on Friday, at home, alone. I don't know what the circumstances were yet, but I'm holding out hope that she was as surprised by her own death as I was when I received the phone call, or as my mother must have been when she dropped by and found her body on the floor. I can't shake the image of her struggling to stay alive, alone in her home with no one to hear her calls for help. No one should have to die like that. No one should have to find a loved one after that.

But she died. Alone. My wonderful, warm, loving, nurturing, grandmother, who spent so much of her life investing herself in the people she loved, died on the floor of her living room.

She was the last of my grandparents, but she was also my favourite. Don't misunderstand, I loved all of them: The Wise Old Man, The Impossible Caretaker, and The Unyielding Activist, but Grandma Lidia was the one I wanted to hug and never let go, the one I called regularly just to check in and make sure she knew she was loved. The world isn't just emptier without her, it feels darker, even faded, and I don't know what I can do about it.

I'm just so terribly sad right now.

April 26, 2019 18:21 +0000  |  Family Food Grandma Lidia 2

I've written about my grandmother's soup before, here and here, but those are both attempts to capture a special Romanian soup called "chorba". That soup is quite complicated and can be a hassle to throw together when all you want is something warm & nutritious to help fight off a coming cold so I wanted to share her typical chicken soup for my dear friend Noreen who's in need of such a thing right now.

Ingredients

Required

  • 1 whole chicken Generally for this sort of thing, bigger is better, but as it forms the base of your soup, you want a proper oily one too. I tend to opt for a free-range one over a larger battery-cage type one as these tend to be a little less... I don't know, sterilised.
  • Some carrots I usually opt for a minimum of 3, but will happily add as many as 8. Honestly, there's no downside to adding more veggies as it only makes your soup tastier and healthier.
  • Some parsnips See the above rules for carrots
  • 1 bunch of celery: Again, volume is good here, so don't be stingy as this stuff is pretty cheap and adds a lot of flavour.
  • 1 large white onion
  • Lots of salt: Don't be stingy.
  • Pepper
  • A fist full of fresh parsley: You really can't overdo this, but generally I take a pack from Tesco and dump the whole thing in.

Optional

  • Garlic (chopped up and tossed in with the veggies)
  • Olive oil (in case your chicken doesn't have enough oil in it already)

Instructions

Over the years, I've adapted my grandmother's recipe to suit Christina's and my tastes. Where the two methods have diverged, I've noted them below, but honestly, you can mix and match and the results will still be yummy.

1. Stock

It's pretty simple: get a big pot and put your chicken in it. Then, fill that pot with enough water that it totally covers the chicken by about 3cm (~1" for the American savages that haven't yet figured out metric 😜). Put that pot on the stove and crank it up to medium heat.

A note about the heat at this stage: this step has two purposes: cooking the chicken (salmonella is a bitch) and creating your stock. If you crank the heat to maximum, you'll cook the chicken alright, but you won't have enough time to leach the goodness out of the skin and bones. If you're in a hurry, you can crank it up to 75% at most, but a tastier soup comes from a slow, even hours-long boil at a low heat.

Add some salt while it's cooking. How much? Lots. Take what you think a soup should have in it and triple it. I have one of those boxes of idodised salt in the cupboard and I open the mouth wide to pour about 5 turns of salt into the pot myself.

Cover it, and let it slowly come to a boil. Depending on how impatient you are, this can be about 30 minutes or 3 hours. If you've got the time, I highly recommend the patient route. Besides, you have other things to do while you wait.

Note that while it's cooking, some white fluffy goo might float to the surface (it varies by chicken). Just scoop it off with a slotted spoon every once in a while.

2. Vegetables

Now that the stock is doing its thing, lets get to the other tasty bits. But first, a note about divergence.

My grandmother's recipe calls for all of the ingredients above, but notably, she doesn't put the onion & celery in the soup. They're added for flavour, but removed before serving. Christina likes these bits though, so we chop them up with the rest of the veggies and leave everything in.

Given the above, if you're going Grandma's route, you'll wanna chop the onion in half and chop the celery stalks into halves as well. She also tends to cut the other veggies unusually large... that's your call I guess.

If you're going with my adaptation, then you'll want to cut all of the veggies down into bite-sized chunks (and the onion even smaller: diced). Dump them all into a big bowl or two and wait for the chicken to finish.

3. Chicken Out, Veggies In

You've just spent a bunch of time sucking the tastiness out of your chicken and into that salt water. You can tell we're ready because there should be little bubbles of oil floating on the surface of your water and the chicken skin should be showing signs of peeling back from the flesh.

A note about oil bubbles: This is the sign of some good broth: a good oily chicken tends to produce lots of yummy bubbles, so if you feel like your broth doesn't look sufficiently bubbly, even after an hour of cooking, feel free to add a tablespoon of olive oil at this stage.

Remove the whole chicken from the pot and put it aside. As it'll have a lot of water in it, I don't recommend just plopping into a cutting board, but rather I tend to favour putting it in a casserole dish to cool down. Be very careful as (a) the chicken is very hot, and (b) it's likely hiding pockets of boiling water. Use big long metal tongs or something. Be creative, but safe.

Once it's out and cooling down in the open air, take all of those veggies you chopped up and toss them in the water. Regardless of whether you opted for the veggies-all-in option or the flavour-only-subset, everything goes in right now.

Put the lid back on, reduce the heat, and let it simmer on low. The timing after this point isn't all that important. So long as your veggies simmer for at least 20 minutes, you'll be fine. If they simmer for an additional 4 hours, that's cool too.

Chicken Back In

Once your chicken has cooled down, you'll want to cut the meat off and into bite-sized pieces. Go through the whole bird and take as much as you can, making sure that you don't accidentally include any bones or inedibles. Put all of your edible bits right back into the soup.

Garnish

That's basically it. We've combined the two age-old food groups: salt and fat, with some vegetables & domesticated bird meat. It's yummy, but it can still be a little better.

Chop up your parsley as finely as you can and dump it all into the pot. Then, grind some black pepper into the pot for taste. I usually do about 12 turns of my grinder and then add more to individual bowls, but I love me some pepper.

Noodles!

I always forget this part, but it's critical: the noodles are cooked separately. Pick a noodle type (we tend to favour fusilli, but my grandmother prefers angel hair pasta.) toss it into a pot of boiling salted water and cook whatever you want for this sitting.

Put a handful of cooked pasta into each bowl and then ladle your soup from the big pot into each bowl. Do not put the noodles in the soup pot unless you intend to eat all of it today (unlikely, you cooked a whole bird). Generally you cook the noodles you need for each sitting

That's it! Enjoy your foodz, and let me know how it goes! If you like it, I'll let my grandmother know you appreciate it :-)

December 06, 2014 13:30 +0000  |  Family Food Grandma Lidia 1

This is my second attempt at documenting my Grandmother's so-called "sour-soup" or "chorba" as is apparently the appropriate word for it. I've been trying to replicate it for years, but recently, she and I sat down and worked everything out (while i video recorded everything) and I've finally managed to reproduce this amazing dish. I present it now for you in the hopes that it will brighten your day too:

Note: my grandmother isn't big on measuring, so I'm afraid I don't have much to offer in the standardised quantities department. Instead, I'll be listing the ingredients in the very same way she provided them to me: in practical use cases.

Ingredients

  • Some meat.
    • Turkey is good for this, but you can get away with chicken or even beef (big chunks, not ground). Ask yourself how much you want in your soup, and that's how much you'll need.
  • 4 Parsnips
  • 4 Carrots
  • 1 Bunch of celery
  • 1 White onion
  • 1 Red pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • A handful or two of some kind of pasta or rice.
    • I typically go for orzo or white rice, but you can also use angel hair pasta.
  • A handful of Lovage
  • A handful of parsley
  • Some sour cream
  • Salt
  • Pepper (fresh ground black pepper, none of that powdered stuff)
  • A big spoonful of vinegar (for the garnish step, below)

Directions

This is a two-part system, and it's probably best if you do things one at a time. Pros like my grandmother who have been doing this for 50 years can do things in parallel, but if this is your first or second time trying this out, pace yourself and do one pot at a time.

Preparation

In this two-part system we have vegetables we're going to eat, and vegetables we're using for flavour only, so we're going to break up our veggies into two groups:

A Warning

Throughout this whole process, it's important to note that the pot should always be covered, or you'll lose too much water and you'll end up with a more stew-like soup than you probably want.

Group 1: Flavour Only

In this group you have:

  • 2 Parsnips
  • 2 Carrots
  • 2 or 3 stalks of celery
  • 1 White onion

You chop these into big pieces, no less than 7cm long. For the onion, you just cut it in half. Leave these bits on the cutter board 'cause you'll need them soon.

Group 2: For Eating

In this group you have:

  • 2 Parsnips
  • 2 Carrots
  • 2 stalks of celery (if you're into eating celery in your soup)
  • ½ Red pepper
    • I usually just throw out the other half, but you can use the whole thing if you really like red peppers.

These are all chopped into bit-sized chunks. Put the chopped bits into a great big bowl for now.

Cook That Meat

You need to quickly cook the meat to seal in the good stuff, and you also want to clean the ugly bits out of your soup before you actually start making broth so...

  • Put your big chunks of meat into a proper soup pot. You probably want something capable of about 6L or more of water. Don't worry about the size of the meat pieces yet, we'll make them mouth-friendly later.
  • Fill up said pot with water until the water just covers the meat.
  • Add some salt and pepper.
    • Don't be stingy with the salt. If you skimp out on salt early, you'll have very exciting-looking water masquerading as soup.
  • Cover the pot and crank the heat up to 10, stirring occasionally so the meat doesn't cook all on one side. When the water boils, drop the heat down to 5. If any gunk floats to the surface (this is excess fat and other undesirable bits) scoop it off with a strainer or slotted spoon.

Completing the Stock

  • Now that you've got the beginnings of your stock, add your "flavour only" vegetables. Let them hang out in the water there with the meat for a bit. Drop the heat down to 3 or 4 and let things slow-boil.

Vegetables for Eating

Now with the stock pot simmering on the side, we're going to work on the veggies we intend to eat.

  • Dump all of your for-eating veggies into a deep pan or pot. Make sure that there's room to stir stuff around because you're going to be doing a lot of that.
  • Add some olive oil. How much? Enough to sauté the veggies. Typically I start out with a little bit and add until I feel that all of the veggies are getting enough love.
  • Run the heat up to 5 or 6 and stir frequently to make sure that all of your veggies get cooked properly.

Bite-Sized Meat

Going back to your stock pot, it should have been simmering there for a good 10-20 minutes. It's time to remove everything that doesn't belong.

  • Open the pot and remove all of the vegetables. You might want to keep them around to eat separately, but they don't belong in your soup anymore.
  • Now remove the meat and place it on a cutting board.
  • Put the lid back on if you haven't already.
  • Chop up that meat (careful, it's hot) into edible bits. Go ahead and sample some if you like, but my experience has been that the meat by itself at this point isn't very tasty. All the good stuff is back in the soup. At this stage, the meat is mostly for texture.
  • Dump your chopped meat back into the stock pot
  • Dump all of your newly sautéed vegetables (along with any remaining olive oil) into the stock pot

You're almost done.

Starch

At this point, you've got a pretty functional soup, but it needs something starchy, like pasta or rice, so let's do that.

If you're going the route of orzo or rice, I highly recommend that you rinse it first to get off all the excess starch. Otherwise you risk clouding your soup. It won't taste bad, but it'll be less pretty.

If you're going the noodle route, you'll want to break it into tiny pieces so it's easier to eat.

Either way, dump your chosen carb into your soup, cover it, and let it boil at a low temperature until the pasta/rice is ready.

Garnish

At this point, the soup is edible, but not yet exciting. You need to add all of the lovage and parsley at this stage:

  • Finely chop or rip the lovage and parsley into the soup
  • Stir it a bit and let it settle for another 5-10 minutes on a very low heat.
  • Stir in the vinegar as well

Serving

Finally we're ready to eat. Portion out the soup into bowls, and just before you serve, stir in a spoonful of sour cream. I can't tell you how much better this makes things.

That's it! The portions listed above should serve about 4 bowls, but I usually double things so we have enough soup for a few days.

November 04, 2010 03:05 +0000  |  Family Food Grandma Lidia 5

So now that I'm unemployed, I suppose I have time to catch up on stuff here. There are a lot of posts I've been meaning to save here, and there's no time like the present to post them all. I'll start with the recipe for my grandmother's chicken soup.

My grandmother (on my mother's side) is the Chef-as-Matriarch of the family. Since I was a kid, she's had the family over for these massive European-style feasts. 4-7 courses, turkey, pork roast, cabbage rolls, roasted vegetables, soup, green salad, egg salad, pie, cake, and sometimes crème caramel if it was my grandfather's birthday.

All of these are amazing, but what she's known for, practically worshipped for in this family is her soup. Below is the recipe for her sour soup. For the most part, the mechanics are the same. You can swap out the stewed tomatoes for any kind of meat you like. The key is the first line, those vegetables make up the base that's used in all good soup. This incarnation is my favourite though. The sour cream step make everything fabulous:

  • carrot, parsnip, celery, onion (one of each, she calls this "miroquois")
  • Sauté in pot with oil until the onions are translucent
  • Add ½ a can of stewed tomatoes
  • Add 2 tomato cans worth of water
  • Add salt and pepper
  • Simmer until veggies are done (about 15minutes)
  • Take 1 big tbsp of sour cream and combine with a small amount of broth and mix until smooth and return to pot.
  • Add parsley for taste
  • Add some noodles

Now that's the recipe, but I've yet to actually make it work. I suppose now I have some more time to experiment.