May 31, 2012

Notorious S.H.R.I.M.P.

As anyone who knows me or has read this blog for any length of time knows, I just will not shut up about my grandmother. She was graceful, tough, smart, adaptable, and just about the best female role model a little girl could possibly have been lucky enough to have.

One thing she couldn't do--and really, this is a pretty harmless tradeoff--is cook.

This was passing strange, considering the fact that her parents were in the restaurant business and her mother was an exceptional cook. I guess some traditions skip a generation. (I, for instance, never picked up my mother's skill at all things textile related... I can't sew, and my short-lived attempt at getting good at needlepoint was needlepointless. AND I can't operate a spool of curling ribbon to save my life.)

My mother makes an amazing sticky bun. My great-grandmother made a gorgeous pie. Grandma made a fantastic dinner reservation.

One time, the cleaning lady opened up Grandma's oven, and moths flew out*.

Grandma did, however, love entertaining. There were a few go-to recipes in her arsenal, mostly weaponized forms of cream cheese. One of them was a brick of cream cheese with some brown goo poured over it. Mom and I have speculated through the years as to the nature of the brown goo. It wasn't quite like soy sauce, but it was definitely umami-heavy, not that any of us thought in terms of umami back then. We think it might have been Marmite, but we are too frightened of Marmite to test this theory.

Grandma's signature appetizer was shrimp dip.

You might think that preparation of this dish would involve shrimp.

You underestimate the ingenuity of the Poppy Cannon era.

Shrimp dip was assembled from pickled artichoke hearts, cream cheese, and undiluted Campbell's Cream of Shrimp soup. (RELATED: There is such a thing as Campbell's Cream of Shrimp soup.) Preparation: Mash. Serve cold.

There was usually a dish of salted almonds as well. They were very popular.

Nobody, I am certain, went to Grandma's parties for the gustatory delight of it. But when I look back on those days, I remember the sound of a roomful of people having a wonderful time. I remember warmth and laughter (some of it, quietly, about the shrimp dip).

Like I said, it was a pretty good tradeoff.

*Really. People always think that this story is one of those Erma Bombeckian / Phyllis Dilleresque comedic exaggerations. On the upside, between underuse and the aforementioned cleaning lady, Grandma's kitchen was always spotless... at least until I got my grubby mitts on it.