If you follow me on Twitter, you most likely are aware that my Grandmother died on Christmas Eve. She was 100 years old and the most magnificent woman in the world. And that is not an exaggeration. She was truly amazing. She was the first person I remember telling me how important it was to get an education and engage in a fulfilling career. She was the person who taught me to cook, taught me to pray and taught me to be proud of my Lebanese heritage. She taught me to be progressive, never stagnant. Despite her age, she never rested on her laurels. Always moving with the times, trying new thing and embracing change….all the while holding on to her faith, heritage and traditions passed down from her parents. She was the youngest of four sisters, daughter of Lebanese immigrants and a pioneer in this city. She and two of her sisters owned and operated a restaurant and tavern in North St. Louis at a time where not only women didn’t own business but rarely worked and had just earned the right to vote. She was generous and philanthropic, continually giving to charities close to her heart such as St. Jude’s Hospital and American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities. She was a devout Maronite Catholic and a champion for her parish, St. Raymond’s Church. But above all, she was most proud of her family and harbored a love for us that saw no end. It was a love that I will cherish until the day I die…and one that I hope to shower upon my children and grandchildren someday.
I had the distinct pleasure of being raised in multi-generational home, surrounded by family. I shared a room with her and slept next to her in our little double bed until I left for college. I remember crying in my dorm room, feeling alone and missing having her there with me….despite only being 3 miles away. When I decided to accept a position in Texas after graduating from nursing school she supported me fully. Despite wanting to keep her granddaughter close to home, she let me set sail to see a different part of our country and experience life in a new way. I stayed away 5 years, coming home often to visit. But, in the end, I realized that St. Louis was home and it’s where I really wanted to be. I feel so blessed that I was able to share my first home with her, introduce her to my husband and have her present at my wedding..married in the same church as she was. She was also present when I completed my graduate degree and passed my Nurse Practitioner boards. She saw our farm and was so excited for us.
I understand when people say she lived a long life and we were so lucky to have her with us as long as we did. I understand that she was ready to die but I cannot help missing her terribly. If I could make it that she lived another 20 years in good health I would’ve done it. She loved being with us just as much as we loved being with her. Never a burden, always a joy.
So, when Saturday rolled around and I found myself alone and missing her I decided to cook. Saturdays were my usual day to spend with her. We would most often cook or bake. If it was baseball season, we would spend the day together cheering on the Cardinals…her in her usual spot at the kitchen table and me having a beer right next to her. I figured why should this Saturday be any different. The rest of my family was out of town or busy doing other things so it was just going to be me.
First up was making room in the freezer for the quarter of Berkshire pig that will be arriving next week. We still have A LOT of beef left over from the whole heifer purchase this past fall. Last week I roasted beef bones and made stock. This week I decided to render all the beef fat I had. So out came the almost 6lbs of beef fat and onto the cutting board. I let them defrost just a bit for ease of chopping. I hauled out my BIG LeCrueset dutch oven and in about 20 minutes had all the fat diced up and melting away. I have never rendered beef fat before. Grandma and I used to spend Saturday mornings when I was little, trimming the fat off pork chops from the butcher to render the fat and make cracklings. God, I love pork cracklings wrapped in Lebanese bread with catsup. Sometimes we’d make fried eggs and dip the bread/cracklings in the yolks. It’s amazing how certain foods can evoke such strong memories.
So, I was pretty much winging it. I added alittle water to get things going and brought the fat and water to a boil, lowered the heat and let it pop, crack and sizzle away until I was left with mostly clear fat and some brown bits. Took about 4 hours b/c I had so much fat and I did it really low and slow. I filtered the fat through a chinois, metal of course. The fat was a beautiful liquid gold. Clear and unctuous. I poured the slightly cooled fat into various sized Ball jars and one leftover plastic container from my pho from Mai Lee. I didn’t know how much fat would render and was not prepared for the large amount. So..there are about 5 various containers of beef fat in the fridge now. It solidified into a snow-white lard. It looks really pretty… if fat can look pretty.
While the fat was rendering I made sweet dough for cinnamon rolls. The recipe came from a Betty Crocker cookbook Simon inherited from his Grandmother, Joyce. It was from the 50’s and has some really great recipes. Fabulous hand drawn illustrations and basic instructions on how to butcher your own animals. The sweet dough turned out beautifully. Golden yellow b/c of the fresh eggs I used that we got as hostess gift from our friends out at Berger Bluff Farm when they came into the city for a night of fun at the loft. I let the dough rise twice, slathered it with butter, cinnamon and sugar and put half in the freezer in anticipation of a BIG snow storm that is headed our way this week. I baked off 4 rolls for Simon and me to have as a treat… and a treat they were. Perfect.
I also marinated some beef short ribs in a conglomeration of all things Asian from the pantry/fridge. The involved ingredients were soy sauce, hoisin, sambal oelek, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, spring onions, rock sugar, rice wine vinegar, oyster sauce and some other odds and ends. That marinated overnight and I chucked it into the slow cooker this morning and hope to come home to a delicious mound of spicy/sweet meat tonight. Toppled over rice and covered in a blanket of coriander…braised Asian short ribs will give us comfort as the city ices over and the snow rolls in.
As I kept myself busy in the kitchen, my mind would drift to Grandma…knowing she was there with me as I tackled my recipes and made my messes. I miss her. I miss her everyday but I take solace in knowing that she loved me more than seemingly possible and continues to do so from her bird’s eye view from heaven.