An introduction

Nonnie on the beach

We called my mother’s mother Nonnie. Not because my family is Italian — we’re basically the Mousekewitzes from An American Tail, give or take a hundred years of assimilation — but because that’s how Queen Victoria had her own grandkids address her.

At least, that’s the story I remember. (A cursory Google reveals that it may, in fact, be total bullshit.)

In any case, “Grandma” wouldn’t have seemed appropriate. Nonnie wasn’t exactly the warm and fuzzy type; she smoked like a chimney, dressed like a model, and thought most people were idiots. (A partial list of her nemeses: the phone company; the L.A. Times; anyone who would dare touch her washing machine or air conditioner without express permission.)

Obviously, she could be tough — but as my brother said in the eulogy he delivered almost two weeks ago, when Nonnie told you she loved you, you knew she really meant it.

She also had a sentimental streak that went much deeper than any of us anticipated. As we sifted through her belongings after the funeral, we discovered a treasure trove of mementos — not just loose pictures and lovingly assembled albums, but yellowed Mother’s Day cards and birth announcements and programs from each of her children’s high school graduations.


And on her kitchen shelf, wedged near an ancient volume called Thoughts For Buffets and the 1958 edition of Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette, I discovered the real motherlode: a busted green binder containing dozens of hand-typed recipes. It was the original copy of the homemade cookbook Nonnie gave my mom as a wedding present, a fascinating time-warp featuring old-fashioned recipes delicious (chicken soup with matzo balls), disgusting (“Sauerbraten and Ginger Snap Gravy,” the very thought of which makes me shudder), and everything in between.

Which brings us to “And Such Small Portions!”

I’m planning to cook my way through the book and document the results here — the terrifying lows, the dizzying highs, the creamy middles. I’ve set a few simple rules for myself:

  1. I’ll (eventually) cook everything in the book at least once.
  2. I’ll do my best to follow each recipe exactly, without deviating from Nonnie’s instructions.
  3. I’ll use all ingredients as listed, without substitutions — unless they’re impossible to find in the 21st century, or I get lazy (but I’ll really try not to get lazy).
  4. Oh, also: I hate oranges, so they’re an exception to Rule #3. Sorry, Nonnie.

For a peek at what’s ahead, here’s a list of all the recipes contained within the binder. As you can see, I’m gonna have to get acquainted with veal, Jell-O molds, and weird ’50s appetizers sooner or later. (At least Nonnie had the good sense to cross “Deviled Ham Puffs” out of the table of contents.)

Oh, and margarine. There’s so much margarine, you guys.


Wish me luck.

One thought on “An introduction

  1. Hello. . .
    I’m a friend of your uncle David here in San Diego and he told me about your blog.
    What a wonderful thing to be doing! Your Nonnie sounds like she was quite the spitfire. I just lost my mom at Christmas time, she was just a little younger than your Nonnie, and she was a powerful presence as well. I’m going to really enjoy keeping up with your journey into the culinary past, and especially your humerous asides! Thanks for doing this.
    Laura Knox


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