Monday, October 15, 2012

A night on the town with Aida

a new low in photography
Thank you for the funny and poignant comments on the last post. I loved them all. My grandmother, who is 100, has always hated having her picture taken and when forced to endure a photograph, turns her face in profile because someone once told her that it's her most flattering angle. In pictures she is often gazing worshipfully up at the person beside her, no matter how unworthy of worship that person is, as in the photo above which I took on Saturday night. You might need a magnifying glass because the light is dim and my grandmother has become so small, but she is gazing adoringly at Owen. Vanity is ageless.

About a year ago a commenter on this blog recommended Cafe Rehoboth, an Ethiopian restaurant in San Jose. Owen, Isabel, and I made a date to take my grandmother to dinner there on Saturday and when we got to her house we rang the bell repeatedly, then I called on the phone, which no one answered, then we rang some more before she finally appeared at the door, tiny and dear. This is standard operating procedure. She was dressed in a gray skirt and sweater with a scarf and a barrette in her hair and she looked snappy, but she immediately said, "I feel so sick and tired! I don't know what is wrong with me. Suddenly I was getting dressed and I felt exhausted. I am so glad you are here because I thought I was going to faint."

I never know whether to take her seriously or cajole her. I said, "Why don't you sit down and I'll get you a glass of water."

Grandmother: "Maybe a little glass of rum? It is good for the heart."

Cajole.

I brought her a tablespoon of rum in a tiny crystal glass with an ice cube, the only way my grandmother drinks anything, including wine. She sat in her wing chair, took bird-like sips, fretted.

Grandmother: This might be my last day, you know.

Jennifer: Then let's make this the best day ever.

Owen: Maybe you should take her pulse.

Jennifer: Ok. . . oh no, I can't find it. She must be gone.

Ha ha ha.

She wanted me to write down the number of a specific ambulance company in case she fainted at the restaurant. She made me look in a drawer for the number, but the drawer was full of Christmas napkins.

Cafe Rehoboth sits in the middle of a half-abandoned street and the carpeted dining room, very humble and homey, is tucked behind a defunct bar. The hostess treated my grandmother like a queen, which made her happy. My grandmother is soft-spoken and gentle, but very regal; my grandfather used to say that her political leanings were "monarchist."

She was disappointed that the restaurant did not serve cocktails, so she ordered mango juice. It came in a pint glass without ice and this bothered her deeply. As I said, she likes to take liquid from dainty glasses, with ice and she could not stop talking about that enormous, stupid pint glass.
By the time the food came, she'd almost finished the juice.
The food was fantastic, spicy and rich, and the injera, made with teff, was tangy and spongy and all was exactly as it should be. My grandmother ate, ate, and ate, and was eating long after the rest of us were stuffed. Owen began teasing Isabel and doing irritating things with his feet under the table and the bickering started.

I hissed at Owen, "If you do that one more time you are going outside to wait for us on the street!"

My grandmother said, "He's just having fun. Be nice." Then she reached for another piece of injera and Owen started teasing Isabel again. It went on like this for about 20 minutes and I too wished that Cafe Rehoboth served cocktails.
beef, beef, chicken, cabbage, garbanzos, homemade cheese, salad
Eventually, my grandmother decided she'd eaten enough, I paid the bill (she asked how much it was and gasped -- standard operating procedure), and we drove away. "I didn't like that so much," she said. "It was not very delicious."

In the backseat, Isabel laughed. My grandmother always complains about restaurant food after she eats us all under the table and we wouldn't want it any other way.

To finish the evening, we went to Nirvanaah, an Indian ice cream shop I'd read about on Chowhound. If you are ever within 100 miles of Sunnyvale, California you need to come here. I ordered a scoop of thandai ice cream without knowing what it was. What it was: a wildly delicious fruity, nutty, aromatic dessert that I must eat again soon even if that means replicating it in my own kitchen. There were other seductive Indian flavors, but  my grandmother ordered a vanilla ice cream cone which she ate with relish. She seemed to have forgotten all about fainting and dying. 

68 comments:

  1. Love her. So glad you relish her.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Your grandmother sounds wonderful and you write about her beautifully. Makes me miss my grandmother, nicknamed "Bootsie." But funny enough, the name on her birth certificate is Aida. She was very tiny too. And also liked her drinks (bourbon) on ice in crystal glasses.

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  3. Priceless. If you can find rose "peddle" and make that thandai ice cream please post the recipe :) There is an injera recipe in November's Food & Wine--I wonder if it will work?

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  4. Oh, Jennifer, this post is wonderful, but probably not as wonderful as your grandmother! She got more attention than the food, so she must be pretty enjoyable. The food sounded pretty darn good to me, especially that ice cream. What a great night out on the town. I'm jealous, truly.

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  5. Oh, Jennifer, this post is wonderful, but probably not as wonderful as your grandmother! She got more attention than the food, so she must be pretty enjoyable. The food sounded pretty darn good to me, especially that ice cream. What a great night out on the town. I'm jealous, truly.

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  6. your description of your grandmother sounds exactly like my mother, so i felt like it was a peak in the future! also, if you're ever in l.a. and need to have the most rich, delicious ice cream, you have to go to mashti malone's, where they make iranian style ice cream. to die for! http://www.mashtimalone.com/

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  7. What a treat for your grandmother! To go out to eat - at age 100! - with an granddaughter and two great grandchildren. She is a lucky lady. and you 3 are lucky!

    BTW the food looks delicious.

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  8. i lost my mother last year at 101 and a half, and reading this delightful vignette brought it all back to me.
    she dined out with us until very near the end. and when it became just a little too much for her, it seemed like she was ready to go.
    maybe one lesson here is that eating out is an indulgence we all take for granted until we see it through the eyes of our ancients.
    may your clan have many more successful outings.

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  9. What a wonderful post! I loved your description of your beloved, quirky grandmother. My own grandmother, who died aged "almost 96" (she was one month shy), never left the house without lipstick. I can't quite live up to that, but I admire the way she never gave up on her appearance.

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  10. We just moved to San Jose from the East Coast, and I'm very excited to have this restaurant recommendation. Sunnyvale is on the schedule for Saturday night!

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  11. Jennifer, I'd go out for a drink with you and your gramma anytime. She's my new hero. I want to live life with as much gusto as she does--not when I'm 100 but right now. Fabulous. BA

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  12. Jennifer, I'd go out for a drink with you and your gramma anytime. She's my new hero. I want to live life with as much gusto as she does--not when I'm 100 but right now. Fabulous. BA

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