Boxed Brownies and Other Food Memories

After completing my homework for the rest of the week today, I noticed that there was a box of brownie mix on the counter. My mom mentioned sometime in the last few days that today was her blind friend Jesse’s birthday. She cooks for him and usually makes him something special for his birthday every year. But this time, she has a migraine and I imagine that she was going to bake the brownies for him before that.

So, I looked to see that we had enough oil and eggs and started mixing them up. As much as I hate to admit it, I love boxed brownie mixes because they’re simple, they taste good, and it doesn’t require a lot of waiting to have warm brownies ready for some vanilla ice cream. So I found a second box.

The first box is already out of the oven and cooling off, soon to head over to the birthday man’s apartment if I can rouse someone to deliver it.

The very first time I made boxed brownies was with my paternal grandma. She couldn’t have sugar (I actually didn’t find that out until I was around twelve) but the simple joy of mixing something was what made it special. I probably wasn’t even old enough for school yet. Grandma let me lick the spoon, but when I made brownies with my Aunt Nancy and cousin Whitney, we weren’t allowed. My memories of those times are special to me because I haven’t seen my aunt and cousin since I was around twelve; as a matter of fact, it was also the last time I saw my grandmother, who passed away a few years ago now.

I remember best, though, making grandma’s potato bread. I was the only grandkid there, a big deal when you think about how many children and grandchildren she had! Best, I remember squishing the potatoes up with my hands, and folding them into the dough, rolling it out on the counter in flour. Baking isn’t really something my mother enjoys doing, aside from the occasional chocolate chip cookie batch.

Grandma visited us as often as she could, but with us living in Virginia (or Tennessee) and her in Michigan, it was difficult for her to do so. I never once visited my paternal grandmother in Michigan. With so few visits and so long ago when they occurred, it’s no small wonder that I don’t remember many details about her. She was very small and her hair was cut short. She had really pretty eyes. I remember that, but I don’t remember what color her hair was, and I’ve only been told that I inherited her eye color. I don’t remember it.

But I remember baking brownies from a box with her and baking bread from boiled potatoes. I remember stuffed risotto cheese in a big pasta seashell. I remember gluten-free pancakes, which were surprising delicious in a time when I knew it didn’t have sugar in it. I remember beach sandwiches with wonderful new flavors in them — like apple pieces in chicken salad.

I remember very little of what my grandmother looked like, but I remember her cooking well. I remember that she had a beautiful smile, even though I couldn’t tell you how thick or thin her lips were, or even if she wore dentures or not. She had a wonderful laugh, too; but I couldn’t describe its sound.

So instead I remember her every time I open up a box of brownie mix to make for someone else, hoping that maybe it will be a trigger for their memory too.

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