Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sugar Packets and Chicken Tetrazzini

Sugar Packets, Anyone?
[Disclaimer:  For this story to make sense, you need to have this information.  On my mom's side of the family, I am the oldest cousin.  There.  I said it.  OLDEST.  My youngest cousin is 9-years-old.  I'm not going to tell you how big of an age gap that creates, but it spans upwards of two decades.]

Any time my cousin can join us for any type of adventure, or even just coming over to play at our house, it is a very good day.  My kids absolutely adore her (as do I) and any fighting or bickering between brother and sister instantly evaporates the second she walks in.  She is creative and funny and loving and patient and all-around incredible.

She is also a big part of an "everyday" kind of moment that became "extraordinary" before my very eyes.     

A couple of weeks ago, my cousin joined us for a grand adventure to the Children's Museum.  How do you follow such an outing?  Well, by going out to lunch, of course.  So out to lunch we went.   

I ordered our food, then got the 3 kids settled at a table while I ventured off to gather silverware and drinks.  (This whole process was made entirely possible by having an awesome 9-year-old there.  Had she not been there, I'd have been trudging my kids all over to get drinks,, wait right there.  Had she not been there, I would have zipped them through a drive-thru on our way home!)  After getting everyone's drinks, utensils and a huge pile of napkins, I headed back to the table to wait for our food to be delivered.  I started to lay everything out on the table and was listening in on the conversation at hand.

"And then you can take one sugar packet or the whole row.  You get to pick.  But if you take the last one, then you lose."

I instantly knew what my cousin was talking about.  I didn't have to see what she was doing or ask any further questions.  I knew.  I knew in my head.  I knew in my heart.

I looked at the table, and sure enough, she had sugar packets laid neatly in rows of diminishing lengths between her and my almost five-year-old son.

She was patiently teaching him a game my grandpa had taught me many, many years ago, when I was about my son's age.  It was one of many classic restaurant games my grandpa had taught me over the years.  It ranks right up there with York Peppermint "suckers" on toothpicks, too.

I think my granpda has taught that game to every single one of his nine grandkids, and played countless matches to keep the peace and pass many, many minutes of waiting for food over the years.  

It's hard to find the words, but to see my cousin teaching it to my son was amazing.  Amazing to see part of my own childhood being passed on to my son.  Amazing that despite our age gap, my 9-year-old cousin and I have this piece of shared history, of common experience.  Amazing that certain things pass the test of time, and will continue to be shared and passed on to generation after generation.

I'd Know That Tetrazzini Anywhere
My grandma on my dad's side of the family made hands-down the best chicken tetrazzini of all time.  

Of.  All.  Time.  

I am not exaggerating or elaborating here.  This is just a fact.  There is something about it that was just delicious.  The noodles.  The mushrooms.  The chicken.  The sauce...oh, the sauce!  I am getting hungry just thinking about it now.

I know some people a lot of "food memories" from their childhoods.  I am not one of those people.  

My grandma's chicken tetrazzini, however, is the exception to the rule for me.

The funny thing is, I had no idea that I actually had even a single "food memory" from my childhood until I got married.

From one of my bridal showers, I had received lots of recipe cards in an adorable little recipe box as a gift.  Cooking is neither a passion nor a talent of mine, so I clearly remember hauling that box of recipe cards out like it was a lifeline when I was a newlywed.  (Wait, what?  We're supposed to eat?  Like real food and real meals?)  

As I flipped through the cards one week, I came across a recipe for chicken tetrazzini, scribed in my aunt's unmistakable handwriting.  I pulled it out, thinking "Hmm, that sounds good.  Even better, I actually know what all the ingredients are on this very short ingredient list.  Sold."  I added the necessary items to my grocery shopping list, and was off to Meijer.

I will spare you the details of actually making this meal, but when I sat down to dinner with my husband and took my first bite of chicken tetrazzini, I was in shock.  It was like I traveled back in time 20 years and was sitting at her dining room table.  I could picture the white dish she used to serve it in.  I could picture the chandelier over the black dining room table.  I could picture my sister, my dad and my grandpa sitting around the table as she carried the meal in from the kitchen.  (Not the rolls, mind you.  Never the rolls.  Those were always forgotten...another cherished family story!)    

Needless to say, this had nothing to do with my cooking.  I simply carried out the steps written on the card by my aunt.  But by sharing this recipe, my aunt has re-shared with me part of my childhood I didn't know I had forgotten.  This dish has taken me there in an instant.  It was a gift she had given me, passed down from her mom to her and from her, thankfully, to me.  

Generation to generation to generation.

My grandmother passed away when I was 11 years old.  That was not nearly enough time with her, but I am thankful for those 11 years.  I am thankful for all she shared with me...her kindness, her compassion, her humor, her wisdom, and her amazing chicken tetrazzini.  I will forever think of her every single time I make it.

When the Everyday Becomes the Extraordinary
I feel beyond blessed to have these precious moments, these pieces of everyday life, to serve as reminders of those who have come before me.  I am so very thankful to be part of incredible families that have generational ties and connections.  I consider it a privilege to have been given memories and experiences and stories from my grandparents, great aunts and great uncles; from my parents, aunts and uncles.  It will be my honor to continue to pass these things on to my own children, and someday grandchildren, and to add our own new memories and experiences and stories to the mix, too.

It doesn't have to be anything special or anything grand.

It is shared with family, and then re-shared and re-shared and re-lived and re-lived countless times.

The everyday becomes the extraordinary.

Sugar Packets and Chicken Tetrazzini.

You Are a Good Mom, and just as there were Good Moms before you, there will be Good Moms after you.   What have you received?  What are you passing on?  When life and love and laughter are passed from generation to generation, extraordinary things happen.


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  1. Her same aunt also just reverse-engineered Carrie's great-grandmother's amazing apple pie recipe, too! That pie was gone for over 20 years! It is back in the family and it is more than just apple pie - it is a time machine!

    Carrie has an incredible gift to see the extraordinary in the ordinary events of our lives. Her talented blog blesses all of her readers and helps us each have an extraordinary day!


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