Tastes To Remember: Blogging Event

Sarah over at Homemade is hosting a blogging event this month and I have decided to enter. I haven't been feeling creative in the kitchen lately, but my binge on frozen food is over and I'm back to getting used to my new kitchen. There still isn't enough space to do anything, but I'm trying my best.

I decided to enter the event because I began to cook because of my childhood. I come from a matriarchal family and my grandmother was at the helm. I was by her side as she went to the grocery each day to buy foodstuffs for dinner and at the stove and she whipped up tried-and-true family dishes. Food and the kitchen has always been a huge part of my life.

Me at age four.

This recipe is an ode to my grandma, Betty Faison Miller. My grandmother passed away nearly a year ago on June 3, 2007 and I've been dealing with her death ever since.

**I won't subject you to the story unless you'd like to read it. It will be below the recipe for the event**

What is more homemade than pasta, sauce, and cheese baked in a casserole and served with a nice crisp salad, buttery garlic bread sprinkled with paprika and a glass of cold, whole milk?

I make my own marinara sauce. Prego is my #1 favorite store-bought sauce, but making it myself is infinitely better.

Marinara Sauce
4 tablespoon olive oil
8-10 garlic cloves, whole
3 medium onions, julienne
2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes in juice or 8-12 roma tomatoes diced, seeded
1 bunch basil

Heat olive oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and cook, stirring, until onions are translucent and cooked down. Add the tomatoes (with juice if using canned). Stir to blend and reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour.
Rip basil and add to sauce after simmering is done.
1) puree sauce in blender or food processor
2) strain or put through a food mill to create a smooth consistancy.

Baked Pasta Dish

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green or red bell pepper, chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 tsp truffle salt
16 oz white button mushrooms, sliced
1 pound ground lamb
1 16 oz bag, Torino Mother-in-law's Tongue pasta, cooked and drained
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
4-5 slices Muenster cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large skillet, saute onion, pepper, mushrooms in oil until onions are transclucent and peppers are soft. Add the marinara, mushrooms, and oregano. Add ground lamb by breaking it up as you place it in the pan. Add truffle salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until lamb is no longer pink. Place the pasta in a greased baking dish. Top with sauce. Place Muenster cheese slices on top of sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake, uncovered, at 350° F until heated through and cheese is melted.

Mother-in-law's Tongue pasta. It's a "designer" pasta. It has ribbons of green, purple, and orange, yellow streaked throughout the pasta.

My marinara and lamb getting busy in my pan.

Ooey, gooey, crispy, melty goodness that is my baked pasta.

It was eaten very quickly. I didn't get a chance to plate it and take a pic!

*My grandma's plight*

My grandmother, she had diverticulitis which led to lacerations in her large intestine. That led to an iliostomy and restorative care (ie nursing home) for nearly two years. Afterwards, she was able to come home and live with us. She had chronic diarrhea, but that's a great trade-off for one's life, I think.

During the next five years, I realized grandma was getting on in years, but I assumed she be around for at least another 20. I wanted to be able to make her a great-grandma. Greater than she already was. Her adult-onset diabetes led to hypertension and kidney failure. She was losing circulation in her toes and feet and she was in great pain. So much pain that she elected to have both her legs amputated to rid her of the pain. I knew deep down that it was the beginning of the end. My grandma has always been very mobile and a globetrotter. The picture above is of us in Hawaii Christmas 2006 (Mele Kalikimaka!)

The loss of her legs was like the loss of a beloved family member. She had a shunt put in her arm for subsequent dialysis a few years back and because of the operation, she had to go on it sooner than we had planned for. Being shuttled back and forth three times a week to dialysis is not fun. When you're sick, depressed, dependent on others for your care and well-being, tired, thirsty, pissed off, any, none, or all of the above as well as not willing and ready to surrender all of your faculties, dialysis is not where you want to be. She suffered from panic attacks. She was on heavy, heavy pain medication because of the amputation. Her wound on her right leg wasn't healing well so a wound care nurse had to come and dress it, and it was painful. My grandmother was the embodiment of a stoic and she only cried out when it was absolutely unbearable. I think I only saw her cry once. Ever.

When she began to exhibit signs of failing health I always thought back to my strong, independent grandma. My grandma who'd till her own garden using a Toro tiller from like...1962. My strong grandma who fixed the plumbing in our house when the pipes burst in the basement, filling it like a swimming pool. My strong grandma who would would 12 hours as a nurse during 3rd shift at a nursing home and then come home to pick up to take me to school. My strong grandma who reminded me of my dream to own my own restaurant or have my own cooking show on television when I told my family I wanted to go to culinary school. I had forgotten why I loved food so much.

She was the reason why.

And she still is.

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About the author

Nikki Miller-Ka

Nikki Miller-Ka

Ms. Miller-Ka is a classically trained chef with a BA in English from East Carolina University and a Culinary Arts Associate Degree from Le Cordon Bleu-Miami.

Formerly, she’s worked as a researcher, an editorial assistant, reporter and guest blogger for various publications and outlets in the Southeast. She has also worked as a catering chef, a pastry chef, a butcher, a baker, and a biscuit-maker. Presently, she is a food editor, freelance food writer, and a tour guide for Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours.

Leave a reply

  1. Great tribute to your Grandmother. I come a family similar in that the women rule!And food is so inporrtant because it brings the far flung family together.

  2. Hi Nikki,

    Great tribute to your Grandma! She's proud of you...Hugs... I understood your feelings because I too lost the pillar of my life - my mom before I could share my happiness & success in life with her. Until now, I still missed her and as if she's still around.

    We keep their memories with us as a guide thru our lives. We're now their legacies and we should continue to do so for our own generations...

    Take care and smile always! Cheers

  3. Courtney: Thanks for your sweet comment. Women DO rule!
    Pixen: Thank you! Your kind words make me smile. This post was very hard to do. I've really not discussed my feelings about her death with anyone other than my immediate family. It's very apropos to talk about her in relation to food. She really would be proud.

  4. Nikki, isn't is wonderful to have had such a grandma? Mine was so great-- she and my grandpa (who was blind) owned a diner and woke up at 4am to pluck chickens and make pies... What easy lives most of us have now compared to "back then"! She left us 17 months ago and I still talk to her almost every day. :)

    We are lucky.


  5. Yes, Vicci. We *are* lucky. I haven't talked directly to my grandma in a while but I think it's time to start.

  6. Your Gma sounds like a great lady and what a nice tribute. I was at first afraid of the Tongue pasta, thinking cow tongue, ewww. Now I realize it has no tongue in it!

  7. Thanks, Cheryl. She was a great lady. Everyone who ever met her immediately liked her. And her food. My husband would say, "I wish you could cook like grandma." And I'd say, "I wish I could cook like grandma, too!"

  8. Oh wow! Nikki this got me teary. Your grandmother seems like she was an amazing woman and, clearly, you are carrying on the tradition with your culinary talents.

  9. Lys: I aim to please and I believe I'm carrying on her traditions too :)

  10. As you come up on the anniversary of your Grandmother's passing, I wish you and your family peace, and I hope fond memories and happy pictures fill your hearts. She sounds like a remarkable woman-- you were blessed to have such a wonderful influence.

  11. This is what it is all about keeping the memories and traditions alive to pass on to future generations.


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