Just Like Grandma Used To Microwave

"Just like grandma used to make."

Mmm. Just hearing that phrase conjures up a sweet, shimmering miasma of freshly churned butter, cinnamon, gingham, pirogi, pie crust and chocolate chips -- with a turkey leg on the top.

OK, so maybe it's more of a nauseating miasma. Still, the idea of Grandma's making -- whatever -- evokes comfort and warmth like nothing else. While "just like Grandpa made" may conjure up a pocketknife, wood shavings and a hand-carved rocking horse ("Wa-a-a-! I wanted 'Call of Duty 4'!"), Grandma's got him by the dumplings when it comes to gold-drenched memories.

Too bad those memories are about three generations out of date. (As is the vision of Grandpa whittling -- especially if in that vision he's smoking a pipe.)

"What does Grandma make for us that's special?" asked my neighbor Jordan -- a girl, natch. "Chinese!"

She slaves over a wok?

"No!" said the 9-year-old, stunned at my stupidity. "She orders it when we visit. Spareribs and those wonton things in soup."

"One time, we were staying over at my grandma's house for a week," recalled my neighbor's daughter, Yona. It got so late that Grandma didn't feel like cooking, so she slapped together a sandwich of cheddar and sour cream. Says Yona, dreamily: "I loved it."

"My grandma gets me electronics," said another Jordan (yes, another girl; it's a generational thing).

In fact, grandparent memories are a generational thing, too. Though you can find about a billion bed-and-breakfasts all claiming to be "just like Grandma's" thanks to their constant supply of cobblers served on a dizzying array of doilies, I've been hard-pressed to find any actual human of grandchild age who associates crocheted gewgaws and stewed fruit with his own beloved grandmas.

That's because today's grandmas pop the nuggets into the microwave. Or, under strict orders from their health-nut progeny, they pop the kale into the juicer. (Then, when the health nut leaves, she pops the nuggets into the microwave, and the kids actually eat.) But no matter what she cooks -- or doesn't -- it doesn't really matter anymore, because grandmas get associated with a lot of other things now. They read to the kids or challenge them to tennis. They Skype from Costa Rica or pick them up at day care. Who has time to cook?

"Just like Grandma used to make" can be -- and is -- used to sell everything from overpriced jelly to kettle-fried potato chips. But the phrase really derives its power from the intense love we feel for our grandparents and the way our grandparents give (or gave) it right back.

Yes, some of it was edible -- red velvet cupcakes or slow-cooked barbecue. But if today it's pizza and a yoga class or a bag of contraband Cheetos, those grandkids will reminisce just as intensely. I know that my own children will forever associate my mom with the slightly icy chocolate ice cream she'd fetch from the freezer.

She was too old to make a meal by the time they came along, so they'll never remember food "like Grandma used to make." But they still got what she was giving them: a heaping serving of love.

And that's really what counts.



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