Remembering one who loved to eat

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.

Martha Schlesinger, left, and her little sister Edith, c. 1928

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.

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26 responses

  1. Alex,
    Isn’t it amazing how the flavors and smells of a dish can bring back the memories of those we have lost? I know that your mom’s Posole Matzoh Ball soup will forever remind me of Sukkot spent sitting next to your grandmother and grandfather. Your grandmother always had such a big smile on her face. It is such an honor to have known her and your amazing family is a testament to the remarkable woman that she was. I love you guys.
    Carina

  2. What a beautiful tribute to your grandma, Alex. We all loved her and were blessed to share many meals together at your parents home. I think Anita resembles her in that picture…don’t you?

  3. Just beautiful,Alex. Thanks for sharing with all of us. I told your mom that because of the blog and your NPR piece, I feel like I knew your grandma even though we never met. The beauty of her life lives on in you and your siblings.

    • What a compliment, Donna! I am so glad she came through a little in the stuff I’ve done. Thanks so much for your note and for listening…

  4. She lives on in all of us that loved her. I’m sure that the first bites of any of her favorites will bring tears. That just becomes a measurement of how much love we have in our hearts for this remarkable woman and those she inspired.

    The world will be a poorer place without her light, but she did such a great job in planting that light in all of you that no one will ever forget and we who love all of you continue to bask in that light.

  5. Dear Alex: I loved this wonderful tribute to beautiful grandma. You are a perfect grandchild, one of grandma and grandpa’s 9 perfect grandchildren. 9 for 9, a 1,000 batting average. Says it all.
    Love, Gary

  6. Dear Alex and family,
    How wonderful that your grandma, Martha, left all the “A” grandchildren and the others with wonderful delicious memories.
    Kathy Lebovic Shechet

  7. I have so enjoyed reading your blog! My heart goes out to you with the passing of this wonderful woman. My Hungarian grandma passed away about 10 years ago. I too remember the chicken paprikash, palascinta and butter cookies called kfiles (sp). She recently appeared to me in a dream, after all of these years, to reassure me during a very difficult time. I lived in Mexico City with relatives during the 60’s, so also have enjoyed your writings about those simpler times! Keep blogging! I have sent the link to your blog to my relatives, too!

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