For my Grandma

Ann Marie Dvorak, my strong-willed, faith-filled, Curves connoisseur and fiercely independent boss of a grandmother, spent 28 years working for the Catholic Universe Bulletin. She began working with my great grandfather Lawrence—the circulation manager for the publication—delivering papers in exchange for ice cream cones.

In 1988, she became the curator for the biweekly food column and featured favorite local recipes. Some were hers and some were from individuals with whom she spent afternoons as they shared their homes and traditional dishes with the Universe Bulletin community.

Her love of food and passion for all things bacon, bakery, butter, and bread combined with her faith in humanity and hospitality created the perfect recipe for her career.

Below are a few of the cookbooks that she edited and sweet messages she wrote over a decade ago (she did this for all of her grandchildren) that I will cherish forever

I have been so fortunate to be raised by families—on both my father’s and my mother’s side— who place such a high value on food. I don’t mean the value of the Instagram-worthy presentation of the food on the plate, but the genuine appreciation of the hearts, history, and hands that built the story of the meal and all the sweet, salty, and savory sentiments.

Food has and always will be at the center of all our family gatherings. One of my first life lessons: Never think about being late to the dessert table. Everyone has had that one holiday where the half slice of Dobos Torte they had been thinking about since the last holiday never made it on their plate. I will never forget my grandma, sitting at te corner of the table, slicing through the torte with her electric knife, while we all waited in a poor excuse for a single-file line as she unapologetically licked the sweet frosting off her fingers while plating the layered delicacy.

I could go for a slice right now.

About a year ago, I was exploring Seattle, when I received a phone call from my dad that my grandmother suffered a stroke. In one day—in one split second, really-—her life as she and as we all knew was over. She no longer has the ability to walk and complete her activities of daily living independently, let alone the ability to fry us up a package of bacon on a Saturday morning and serve it with a side of her famous nut horn cookies and a can of Vernors.

Food? She still loves it, perhaps now more than ever. The mechanical soft diet, those hospital Mighty Milk Shakes, and the thickened water? She would never leave this earth with those as the last treats to tickle her taste buds.

I remember when she was in the ICU at Fairview Hospital, although alert and oriented only to herself and intermittently a few of our faces, she spoke so clearly about how someone should open a bakery in the hospital.  How much joy and comfort she thought it would bring to all of the patients.

Man, she’s the best.

So, in tribute to my dear Grandma Ann Marie, I wanted to share a side dish of hers, just as she used to share in her column. This ridiculously simple meal has become a classic Dvorak staple: Noodles and Farina.  She recommends pairing it with fried chicken. I went with baked chicken drumsticks [olive oil, salt and pepper, rosemary, garlic, sage, and thyme, baked at 425° for about 30 minutes, turning the drumsticks halfway through].

Noodles and Farina

Here’s to good food, good cooking, good eating, and good health.

Nina Dvorak