Photo by Jason Holland
Vivian El-Salawy, Pie Bar
When it comes to bad handwriting, physician's tend to be the butt of the joke. But let me tell you, although I love my grandmother to the moon and back -- I think the script in her recipe book takes the cake.
Explaining my roots can become complicated sometimes -- my dad's side is a mix of Egyptian and Ukrainian, my mom's side is mostly Armenian. Long story short -- many a languages are spoken and written in my family, with Russian being our household tongue.
I grew up speaking pretty casual Russian, but when the time came for my grandmother to pass long some of her recipes for my favorite home-cooked meals and baked goods of hers, I think my eye visibly began to twitch.
Her scribble scrabble (although tasteful and beautiful -- if y'all don't know what cursive Russian looks like, google it) was incredibly difficult to decipher, so it was then that I decided to sit down with her the next time I visited my grandparents in Florida to verbally review her recipes that she wanted to pass down. Get some clarity, make sure everything made sense, ya know.
Lawd, if you have ever followed a grandmother's recipe, you already know what's coming next.
Me: "Wait, how many cups of sugar do you add?"
Grandma Nelli: "Oh, you just eyeball it."
"Eyeball what? Like, approximately how much sugar would one add?"
"However much feels right."
"Well, what feels right to you?"
"Ehh I don't know, it's different every time. You know how much it is when you feel it."
"You know. It just feels right."
Needless to say...each and every time she bakes, her pastries are flawless. And each and every time I bake...well, let's just say that there is always room for improvement.
But nonetheless, I think that's what makes family recipes special. I think the secret ingredient is quality time. It's spending that hour or two with your loved ones to figure out what in the heck "however much feels right" means. It's spilling sugar all over the counter and then sneakily wiping it into the trash bin below. It's learning that each and every time, your dessert may not come out perfectly, but it's the places where your mind gets to wander, or the people you get to smile with that really make the recipe worth writing down.
UPDATE: I have persuaded my grandmother to share more "accurate" depictions of her recipe and ingredients with me. Yes, it was considerably difficult for her to have to have "exact" measurements. And yes, my quality of baking has significantly improved since then.