What Would Grandma Say?

[Welcome to my new look. I was getting a little tired of the old one. Besides, I couldn’t resist something called “Choco” – it sounds very close to my favorite food.]

My mom’s mother lived in a retirement community that had a potluck once a month for quite a while. While Grandma really enjoyed the potlucks, she had two complaints. The first was people who brought only enough of their dish for three or four people. On the one hand, she had a valid point; unless you rushed to the table, there were certain dishes you never had a opportunity to try. On the other hand, our family gatherings always had enough food to feed Oliver Twist’s orphanage.

The other complaint was that people brought store-bought food and said they made it. Grandma didn’t have a problem with someone picking up a frozen pie and heating it up or using a cake mix, but she did not consider that home-made. She said that it wasn’t home-made unless you made it from scratch. She baked until she was in her mid-eighties, so she was entitled to her opinion.

As often happens through the generations, my mother used many more convenience foods than her mother, and then the pendulum swung back with me. I am a cooking snob. You cannot tell me that taking frozen hash browns and melting cheese on them makes it a home-made dish. Similarly, cutting up cooking dough from a tube and heating it is not baking home-made cookies. Some of my attitude comes from Grandma, some comes from all the preservatives and additives in prepared foods, and some comes from the cost of ready-made dishes. My attitudes have changed over time; when we were first married, I was a much bigger fan of frozen stuff.

The holidays always highlight the various ways we can decrease our time in the kitchen. A woman caught me off-guard the other day. She asked me where she could find the Rice Krispie treats that were formed into a flat sheet and could be cut out into shapes. I love Rice Krispie treats. They’re so sweet, I can’t resist. I even like the pre-made ones you can take in your lunch.

But I could not imagine buying a sheet of it and using cookie cutters to make shapes. What do you do with the scraps between the shapes? They must be your reward for working so hard. How many sheets would you need to make enough cookies to put on a plate? Sometimes it hard to tell what shape a sugar cookie is (who designs some of those reindeer cutters?). I would imagine that a Rice Krispie star would look an awful lot like a Rice Krispie Christmas tree.

These questions must have even occurred to the Rice Krispie people; the product is no longer available. The woman truly looked crest-fallen. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that she could make her own treats in any thickness she liked and cut them out. I knew that she would tell me that mixing the cereal and the marshmallows together was too messy and too much work.

There are several Christmas displays right across the aisle from where I work. One of them has gingerbread house kits. I can appreciate the idea behind these. I tried to make one from scratch once and discovered that I am not coordinated enough to hold the sides together while they set. Or detail-oriented enough to get all the pieces the same size to actually fit together. I never would have been able to lure Hansel and Gretel. But it did taste good.

A year or two later, I was still fascinated by the idea so I bought a kit. Like most pre-made food, it was considered edible for six months after its holiday. I still had trouble getting it to stay together. Obviously, I am not the one who fixes things around the house. Finally, I got frustrated and walked away. I decided to eat one of the candy decorations. Apparently the emphasis should be on decoration. I almost broke a tooth. I tried the gingerbread; it tasted awful. Not only would I have trouble luring Hansel and Gretel, they probably would have poisoned themselves on the house. And who wants to eat poisoned children?

I noticed that one of this year’s models was larger than the previous ones. It appeared to have a yard as well as the house. It also came with LED lights so you could back-light your house. I was impressed. The company has accepted that the product is inedible and is now trying to sell it based on your being able to have the only gingerbread house in the neighborhood with Christmas lights. Looking into the future, I can see tiny inflatable snowmen and reindeer on the roof. Scout troops can start having competitions as a fund-raiser.

Another lady came up to me and said that she couldn’t find the gingerbread cookies in a tube. I helped her find them. She told me they were so good that she always stocked up at Christmas and stored them in her freezer. That way should could have them year-round. I refrained from telling her that hoarders like her were the reason other people had to do without gingerbread cookies at Christmas.

I think those cookie rolls used to only come in one size. (Even my mother drew the line at cookies in a plastic tube.) It seems like the diameter was somewhere in the 1″-1 1/2″ range. Now you can get that size, but there is also a tube that appears to be about twice that size. I wonder if tubed cookies work the same way as the ones I make. It doesn’t matter what size I make, people generally take two or three.

There are also lots of flavors: chocolate chip, sugar, gingerbread, peppermint, cut-outs in the middle of the round. I’m guessing some are more popular than others. The other morning I came in and was checking my aisle for miscellany left during the night. I found an open tube of cooking dough with a bite out of it. Apparently the person tried it and didn’t like it. I suppose there was no reason to steal it if they weren’t going to enjoy it.

It’s true that my stuff doesn’t look as symmetric as what comes out of a tube. But I can buy the ingredients any time of year. So I don’t have to fill my freezer with tubes of cookie dough that have the potential to fall out, breaking one of my toes.