Hi friends and dear readers,
Alex here. We have some sad news to share with you today. My maternal grandmother, Martha Schneider, passed away late last week. You may have heard her mentioned on this blog before. Martha Schlesinger was born in Budapest in 1923, moved to Tampico, Mexico at age 4, to Mexico City at age 18, to New York at age 24, back to Mexico at age 27, and finally to Los Angeles at age 41, where she lived and raised her 3 children (including my Mom, Susie) until she passed away on January 13th. If you caught the NPR story I did involving my grandparents, you got to hear her voice.
My grandmother, like me, was not someone who particularly enjoyed cooking. She was fiercely focused on work, deciding to go to college at a time and place where it was unusual for women to do so. Eventually, she built an impressive career in fashion, first opening her own retail shops in Mexico, and later as a buyer for Bullocks near the company’s peak. Preparing meals wasn’t a big priority for her.
When I’d drive up the mountain to my grandparents’ home, with its bright blue pool and views all the way to the beach, my grandma would heat tortillas, warm some refried beans and whip up a bit of guacamole — similar to what you might find me eating when I’m sitting in my apartment starving away. But, like me, she loved to eat. Some of her favorites were steak and veal, standard old tacos, slowly sipping on a little shot glass of tequila, and the Hungarian dishes that my mother prepares, chicken paprikash and nockedli. When we’d have dobosh for dessert at Shabbat, it was always a cause for celebration.
Of all the places my grandmother lived and the cuisines she sampled, Mexican food was perhaps the strongest through line for her. I don’t think that’s too surprising. While much Eastern European food certainly is delicious, there’s a whole other rainbow of colors in Mexican cooking that can open up your palette. Those colors were scary for my grandmother at first, as the little girl and her littler sister, Edith, stepped tenuously into the streets of the Mexican port city where her family docked. But eventually, she found she couldn’t imagine life without those tastes.
There are so many “takeaways” from my grandmother’s life, but when it comes to food, here are mine:
You don’t have to be a gourmet chef to be a big part of the food life of your family, and you don’t have to enjoy cooking, either, for food to mean a lot. Loving food is a sign of someone who loves life and, in my grandmother’s case, it was a proxy for love of family. To her, a meal was always an excuse for us to “enjoy” — which, come to think of it, is one of the words she said most throughout her life.
Grandma, I’m remembering you and the food you loved — today, and always.