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Memories of my grandmother are rooted deeply in the kitchen, around the food she made with love, and the conversations we had as the apple pie baked or the creamy potato soup simmered. Her German accent never left her, and her hands never forgot how to make homemade bread. Making her Chicken Chow Mein last week, straight from the handwritten recipe card she had passed on, brought me as much joy as any meal I’ve ever made.
Ruby Jane made things from scratch, and that was her specialty. She used real cream, the lard she rendered, rhubarb jam from the plants alongside her garage, and sought out fresh peas & sweet corn from farmer friends.
When my parents would leave for a vacation, I packed my bags with excitement knowing I was going on my own vacation to grandma’s. I couldn’t wait for us to play lots of cards, spend time at the park and cook together.
Since my grandfather passed quite early, she enjoyed having another hungry tummy to feed when I came to visit. Instead of meals for one, we could make some of her family favorites like Chicken Chow Mein. (Even my 10 year old self found it ironic that her German palate loved this americanized Japanese dish that became popular in the 1950’s.)
While I stood at the stove sautéing the garlic and mushrooms in lard, just like she had, I thought about what the kitchen embraces for everyone, in all parts of the world. We live, play, cook and celebrate in these parts of our home, and they shape who we are. It’s one of the most honest forms of gathering we have, a place where traditions and memories are created.
The kitchen is the heart of the home – and so much of life plays out in it, in its least studied, most honest forms.
There is so much beauty in that.
There is so much beauty in taking a recipe from the past and letting the handwriting and abridged notes tell stories.
I garnished the plate with green onions and cilantro for a burst of freshness, and served it over a bed of cauliflower rice. The classic flavors were just right, the crunch from the water chestnuts and bamboo shoots the perfect texture contrast.
As I sat and savored this powerful comfort dish, I couldn’t help but wish Grandma and I could cook together just one more time. But that’s what kitchen memories are for.
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This is AMAZING! It tastes just like chicken chow mein at a Chinese restaurant. You rock! Thank you so so much for sharing your family recipe with us. My whole family loved it.
Yay Christine! So happy to hear the WHOLE family liked the recipe. Sometimes that’s not easy to do. xo
Thank you for this! I thought an AIP chow me in would be impossible. NOT SO! I’m glad to have stumbled upon your blog, Amanda!
Thanks so much for accepting Amanda – can’t wait to try your recipes!
Hi Amanda – it’s so nice to read about how your grandmother cooked! And I absolutely love the photography – especially the one of the recipes cards against the blue cloth.
Thanks so much Louise, and appreciate you inviting me to your pinterest board. It is so fun to recreated passed down recipes in our own kitchens today. This chicken chow mein was such an unexpected and pleasant surprise.
What a touching post, Amanda. Your grandma (I love her name, btw) seems like she was quite a special lady. You’re so right that cooking is more than about the food itself–it’s about the memories that go along with it too. I always think of my grandma whenever I eat lemon pie, since it was her specialty! Your writing and photography are beautiful, as always. Xo
Oh, thanks for stopping by Julia. Did your grandma make the lemon pie with meringue? That was how my grandma did it, and I can never get it the same. Hope you are doing well! xo
This was a beautiful trip down your memory lane. I particularly loved the multicultural gastronomic journey that this classical Chinese-American dish took to end up in your German grandmother’s kitchen. Thank you so much for opening up about it!
Hi Ksenia! Thanks for stopping by — always fun to read about how your culture plays into cooking for you now too. No matter where we are, or what backround we come from, the kitchen always brings people together. xo
Gah- that comment box deleted my comment above:(
I LOVE this post and I love how this recipe brings in such vivid memories of cookie with your grandma (Also – Ruby Jane?! What an adorable name!!). This is such a pretty recipe!
Grandma memories are the best! And I think I know what my next cat’s name will be :) xo
It is sad that the food spattered, hand-written recipe cards of my upbringing will be almost non-existent for my kiddos! It is like going back in history perusing my family’s tattered, well loved recipe cards. And the the really old ones follow a similar style to my cooking now-a-days…whereas the ones from my generation focus heavily on low fat (and super high sugar)…and some sort of weird ingredient found in a box or made in a lab. Thanks for sharing, it is fun to go back!!
ps, tried leaving a comment in the box above with no luck, it would not submit)
I love this, Amanda. I have to tell you, your grandmother’s cursive looks so similar to my grandmother’s handwritten recipe cards, it is uncanny! Beautiful post. xo.
gah! and what’s ironic is that i compared her handwriting to her sister’s and they were identical. i think it was a part of that time period, where handwriting was of high importance and they practiced a lot. i’m glad you liked the post, it was memorable for me to write. xo
Awww, I love your grandma memories. We both share the German accented grandmother who loved to cook, and made us cooks in the process.
Thanks for stopping by Heidi. If only I could learn how to make meringue like she did, that rose a mile high. And yes, so grateful for her influence in the kitchen. xo
Oh how I love this post! So wonderfully written, what memories. You must cherish those recipe cards! I would love to see more of your Grandma’s recipes on the blog, I bet she has some amazing traditional German ones that would be interesting to see adapted AIP/Paleo.
Thank you Steph, wonderful memories indeed. The next one I want to try and remake paleo style is what she called, “My Own Apple Dessert”, which makes me chuckle too thinking how they named their recipes. xo
This is such a lovely post, Amanda! It’s so special to have those recipes that make us feel close to loved ones, and your story reminded me of the times that I’d get to spend a few weeks with my grandma during summers when I was little too. Still, blueberry pie, a certain salad dressing, and a chicken dish with a sweet type of sauce all remind me of her! This one sounds delicious, and I love that you were able to adapt it to meet your dietary needs – you’re becoming quite a pro with AIP! xo hope you’re feeling well by the way!!
This post warmed my heart and almost brought tears to my eyes! I, too, cooked with my gramma all the time growing up. Even cleaning the dishes with her was fun! A few years back she gave me a small box of some of her favorite handwritten recipes. It is one of the most valuable things I own. Thanks for this post Amanda!
What precious memories and how wonderful to be able to use her handwritten recipes to take you right back into the past. Such a treat and thank you for sharing with us.
It truly was special Kathryn. I’m so glad she had passed some of them on. It will be fun to continually try and recreate some of them, like her “Own Apple Dessert” as she called it. xo
What a sweet post Amanda!! How I wish I had my grandmother’s recipes. By the time I was old enough to ask for them she couldn’t remember any of the details…it’s a bummer, but true. What I wouldn’t give for one more bowl of her beef vegetable soup!! It was THE BEST. Treasure them — what an amazing gift. xx
Oh thanks Rebecca! Doing this really makes me want to write down some of my own recipes. I love the ease of having them digitally, but there’s nothing quite like the stories that the handwriting and stains tell.
Oh Amanda, what a beautiful post, it melted my heart. It’s sooo awesome how you adapted the recipe to your needs. The kitchen does create wonderful memories. Grandma is smiling down you!