Summertime seems to be able to take us all back to some favorite childhood memory. Mix summertime and food and that memory can be intense! Memories can inspire new recipes, (even for something as simple as grilled cheese)! Something about the time spent together, preparing and sharing a meal — the flavors, the aromas — is incredibly powerful in solidifying memories of laughter, conversations and fun. It’s why I feel, so strongly, that spending time with your family — cooking and eating together is wildly important; and I promise, they are the moments your kids will never forget. So many fabulous, “teachable moments” come out of those times and your children will know you, and themselves, better, because of them. You’ll have conversations that you didn’t expect and laugh in ways that will still make you smile, twenty years from, now. Better yet, your kids will smile twenty years from now, and tell the story to their own children, while they stand in their kitchens or sit around their dinner tables. When you start viewing food, the preparing and sharing of it, as more than something you have to hurry up and get done, you will enjoy some of the most precious times in your family history and begin a legacy that can span generations. What you’ll learn is that it’s not so much about the food, but about the people you shared it with and the memories you made, together.
My Grandma Bonnie was a gifted artist. God wired her to be great at it and to love creating beauty on canvas. She painted bold, vivid landscapes that made you feel you could be standing in them and more often than not, the smell of oil paint was the first one that greeted me, when I entered the dining room at her house. Her easel would be sitting in the southeast corner, soaking up the best light, near the large picture window. I was fascinated with her paint palette and watching her mix shades of paint from the dozens and dozens of tubes scattered across the marble-top buffet to create the perfect shade for whatever she was painting. Painting was a great passion of hers and I have seen her artistic gift passed through many generations, in our family. I was able to enjoy her paintings in a sort of gallery that Grandpa created of her work, in their family room, but also in our own home, and in the homes of aunts and uncles when I visited them — ALL of them.
You see, my Grandma was an artist of another sort, too. She had eleven children. My dad was fourth from the oldest, and I, well I was fourth from the oldest of more than 40 grandchildren, the majority of whom, grew up in the same small town. We grew up more like brothers and sisters, than cousins, and Grandma’s house was the hub of a great many of our childhood memories. Grandma artistically wove the threads of an enormous family into a single fabric that even four generations later, still has her fingerprints pressed into its fibers. Believe it or not, every Sunday of my childhood, we ate dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s — ALL of us. When church was over, the 1/4 mile long driveway would be lined with cars and the yard and pasture bursting with kids (that was us 🙂 ). No matter how many there were, Grandma had a gift for making each of us feel welcome, loved and that we had a place there. It has been my lifelong goal for my home to always be as warm and welcoming as she made her own. And specifically, I LOVED her kitchen!
On Sunday mornings, I would run up the steps of the front porch, and bang through the wooden screen door to the kitchen and every Sunday, I was greeted by the same glorious scene — Grandma and my aunts, her daughters and daughters-in-law, bustling around the kitchen, preparing the noon meal that would soon feed “the masses”. I was generally set to work somewhere along the length of a center island counter. This was NOT like the islands of today’s kitchens. My dad, grandpa and uncles had custom built it to accommodate the needs of our very large family. I don’t know the exact dimensions, but it had to be somewhere between 10 and 12 feet long. It had cupboards floating above it and all the drawers in the island were the size of dresser drawers. I even have memories I could share about all those drawers and cupboards, but this story is about Grandma and her kitchen, so I’ll get back on the right trail, here. 🙂 I would stand in my spot at that very long counter, usually peeling apples or slicing grapes for Grandma’s apple salad, watching and listening to the buzz in that kitchen — the perfect hum of so many hands working together to create a “masterpiece” meal. Grandma was usually “steering the ship”, in front of the stove and all the other bodies in that kitchen moved in a well coordinated dance that she had choreographed over years and years of teaching, conversation and passing on her skills. I learned much of what I know about cooking, standing at the counter in that kitchen, just soaking up “the dance”. Every dish and meal prepared there was full to the brim with laughter, conversation and love. Everything Grandma cooked spelled l.o.v.e., to me. Again, not necessarily because of the food itself, (though it was EXTRAORDINARY), but what went into preparing and sharing it.
I tell you all those things so that you can “know” my grandma a little bit and so you see what an impact that family-time, in the kitchen, can have. It’s funny, then, that the memory of her I want to share with you, today, does not take place in THAT kitchen. lol It WAS, I guess, a “kitchen” of sorts. My family, the then seven of us, had traveled to Colorado, camping, with Grandma and Grandpa. The memory that inspired this recipe, is waking up each morning, stepping out into the mountain air and being greeted, first thing, by the smell of toast browning over an open fire, and Grandma in a light jacket, to cut the coolness of morning air in the mountains, bent over a campfire, tending every perfectly golden slice – removing it just at the peak of perfection and smearing it with butter that melted into every pore and crevice. It was heaven! If you’ve never toasted bread over a campfire, you’re missing one of the great pleasures of life! She used thick, Texas toast slices and oh my — the smoky coals in an open grill, the aroma of bread baking in the fresh air of the Colorado Rocky mornings– those are smells you never forget (and never want to). As I was preparing this cheese-themed post, something brought all those early-morning, summer-in-Colorado memories flooding back and I knew that grilled toast simply had to be part of what I made. And so, I give you this delicious twist on grilled cheese, literally grilled, outside over a coal fire — Apple Bacon Grilled Cheese Sandwiches – cheesy deliciousness! When you make and eat this recipe, I hope you’ll be sharing it with people you love and making memories that will span generations, in your family. Enjoy!
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