Hello again, gentle readers! This past week, in honor of the veil’s thinning at Samhain, I’ve been spending some time with my dear departed grandma, Gayle. She had the ability to drive me up the wall in a way nobody else could, but she also was a pretty wise old lady who showed me how to craft with love (not the witchy sort of crafting, but magical nonetheless) and keep my people close.
The past couple of weeks have been a bit draining with mundane jackassery, so I didn’t do any type of formal ritual this season. Instead, I just said a short prayer to the Powers that Be thanking them for the ability to be close to my grandma again on Samhain proper and I set aside a few minutes every day to read a few pages from my grandma’s memory book.
Let me tell you now, gentle readers – if there’s a relative with whom you have a good relationship, do yourself a favor and ask them to journal their thoughts and experiences for you or your children. They can do this on their own with a blank journal and prompts from the internet, or you can gift them a book specially made for this purpose (they’re readily available at gift shops or even on Amazon and are relatively inexpensive). I gave my grandma hers when I was around 16 years old on a whim – I think it might even have been something I ordered for her out of my school’s fundraiser catalog — and I had no notion of how precious I would hold it 25 years later. My grandma, however, did have a notion – and she diligently filled it out for me over the course of the next several years. I remember her giving it back to me, completed, for an early-20s birthday gift. I was very surprised that she’d filled it out and appreciated the work she’d put into it, but it didn’t register with me yet.
Now, 10 years after her death, while I’m parenting a child on the verge of turning 16 himself, I have sat every morning for the past week and gleaned a lot of the love and wisdom she poured into those pages. As I read some of her stories, I felt the warmth and comfort that I used to feel when I was in her physical presence. Can I swear her spirit was in my house with me? No. Did it feel good to remember her and spend time with her memories? Damn skippy it did. And I’m sure that if I read it again in another 10 years, I’ll find even more to sift through. It is truly the gift that keeps on giving, and if you get the opportunity to do the same, I highly recommend the experience.
Besides spending time with my grandma’s memories, I’ve made a few recipes this past week that would’ve made her a very happy lady in my kitchen as well. First on the menu was a crazy flavorful Instant Pot Rosemary Pork Tenderloin (rosemary for remembrance!) from Once a Month Meals, which I paired with super easy and super delicious Instant Pot Cinnamon Apples from Lisa at This Pilgrim Life. These were not recipes that were handed down from my grandma, but I have come to firmly believe that, as culinarily challenged as she was in life, she would’ve fervently adopted the simplicity of the Instant Pot as her favorite form of cooking.
Then, on Halloween proper (sorry, Samhain, in this house Halloween is still king on October 31st!), I indulged in a very nostalgic treat – Planter’s Cheez Balls. These salty little nuggets, inexplicably but delightfully back on the market at my local Kroger this month, hold the very essence of my elementary school weekends. Every Friday immediately after school, my folks would drop my brother and me off at Gayle’s house, where our great-grandpa Pa would be eager to start a game of pinochle with us and our great-grandma Beck would warming Campbell’s chicken noodle soup in a little red saucepot and providing us with soup and Cheez Balls for an afternoon snack. It didn’t matter that Gayle was also cooking some kind of dinner for us, to be served at 4:30 p.m. because that’s when her elderly household ate dinner – that soup and Cheez Ball combo was MAGICAL. I must’ve eaten my weight in those things over the course of my preteen years.
I used my trusty Instant Pot again to create an updated version of one of Gayle’s favorite go-to meals for us kids – Hurst’s 15-Bean Soup, which of course, consisting of 15 different kinds of beans, produced 15 different kinds of farts, all of which we would name proudly as they manifested themselves later that evening. (I am grinning ear to ear as I type this memory, y’all.) 😀 I left out the flavoring packet in my version and added rosemary and thyme for remembrance instead, but otherwise it was just as magical as I remembered it from childhood.
Lastly, in honor of my grandma’s ongoing love affair with bread (something that emerged later in life for me but is no less fervent for the delay!), I made some sourdough bread with a recipe from Tiffany at Living Sweet Moments. This ingenious method involves cheating with Greek yogurt as the starter, proofing it in the Instant Pot on the Yogurt setting, and finishing it off in the oven using a Dutch oven to attain that perfect crunchy crust on the outside and soft, fluffy goodness on the inside. I honestly think that of all the new skills I’m fostering in adulthood, my ability to bake some really damn amazing bread would’ve pleased my grandma the most. (Yeah, parenting a decent kid is right up there, but it’s all about bread, people.) 😉 And paired with that amazing 15-Bean Soup? Cozy, comfortable, and everything a trip to Gayle’s house used to be.
How did you celebrate your ancestors at Samhain? I’d love to read about it in the comments or in the Half-Assed Circle on Facebook. Until next time!