For a teenager, there’s nothing quite as monumental as the day dental braces are removed. My youngest daughter had the date memorized and was counting down for half the summer. I was excited for her, but I was not prepared for her first, brace-less smile.
When she jumped in the car and smiled at me, it was a smile streamlined down several generations. It wasn’t what her smile looked like that surprised me, it was who her smile resembled.
At that moment, I keenly understood the expression “heaven smiled down on me.” Her new smile was one I had not seen in several years. My mom and grandma passed away within two years in 2018 and 2020. My daughter’s newly straightened smile surely came straight down that branch of the family tree.
My grandmother was born the daughter of a coal miner in 1928. I imagine she had a joyful childhood living in a coal company town with many brothers and sisters, but also often difficult. Coal mining was a dangerous occupation with long working hours that stressed the whole family.
Her father, my great-grandfather, eventually left the mining industry and moved the family to Ohio. They lived on a small farm similar to today’s homesteaders, raising animals and growing their own food.
The farming lifestyle provided all the ingredients needed to make most meals. Sunday family dinners were a family tradition that continued into my childhood.
Like most of my grandma’s recipes, her homemade chicken and egg noodles didn’t follow a written recipe card. It was passed down by doing and seeing rather than in handwritten notes.
Making it was a skill learned through repetition and rote memory. Garden fresh celery, onions and carrots were washed and diced. Eggs were gathered and the perfect chicken was selected.
A flair for drama is also an inherited trait. She told me her siblings would watch a headless chicken twitch and flail before it was plucked and brought inside.
I don’t make my grandma’s chicken and noodles often; it is quite a treat when I make the meal from scratch. We have some shortcuts for our ingredients. Our garden produced celery and onions, but we didn’t plant carrots this year so they came from the store. The eggs were gathered from our coop. The chicken used for meat was the largest chicken grown for my youngest son’s 4-H poultry project.
The meat chickens start as soft, fluffy chicks but rapidly turn into awkward eating machines. I didn’t feel any guilt about butchering them, a chore we leave to professionals. Along with indoor plumbing, avoiding the steps of butchering animals is a modern convenience I embrace.
My hands moved as if on autopilot as I added flour and a little salt to a bowl. Then I made a well in the center. My daughter had already cracked the eggs, the yolks were a dark golden color only found in farm-fresh eggs. She whisked the yolk and whites together, all I had to do was pour them into the center.
The wet and dry ingredients made a gooey mashup in the bowl. Eventually, I tossed the spoon aside and mixed the ingredients with my hands. With a little more flour added to the counter, I began to roll out the dough with my mom’s granite rolling pin.
When the dough was rolled out into a flat sheet, I began the folding pattern I had watched my mom and grandma do for years. Folded once in the middle, and then folded again and again, making a thick, rectangular shape.
I had the girls take turns cutting strips into the dough and then unfolding the long noodles. We coated them with flour again and laid them on the counter to dry out. We never have had a fancy contraption to hang noodles on to dry. I left them on the counter for a few minutes and then put them in a bowl with the extra flour.
The chicken had already been cooked, cooled, de-boned and then tossed back into the broth with the veggies and seasonings. Once the noodles were added to the pot, the ultimate comfort food was complete, it just needed a little time to simmer.
We always eat the noodles over mashed potatoes. In a world that shouts fewer carbs, we delight in the carb-on-carb concoction.
Just like the matching smile that was passed down several generations, my daughter is a natural baker. She baked what my grandma called gobs for dessert. The rest of the world knows the sweet cake sandwiches as whoopie pies.
After eating, the only thing left to do was quite a chore. It was time to “red” up the kitchen. To my mom and grandma, the expression “red up” means to clean up or to make ready.
I am so thankful for all the time we worked together in the kitchen and then gathered around the table at mealtime. Sometimes love is realized in familiar smiles and meals from scratch.
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