She stared at my forearm. Icy blue eyes narrowing behind her round bifocals. Pupils as black as the ink on my skin.
“Is it permanent.” Not a question, really. A statement. Pushed through her pursed lips, words hotter than the bright kitchen lights burning above us.
Yes. It was. That’s the thing about tattoos – they tend to stay put.
And my grandma had never been a fan of tattoos – it was a well-known fact. To be honest, I hadn’t been a big fan of them either for a very long time. I’d seen far too many bad tattoos from seedy small town tattoo shops – scarred, blurry, uneven.
But this one wasn’t. It was small, straight, even. The steadiest hand had drawn it, applied it. Permanently. It was my first. It was sweet. Literally. I had gotten a small sugar molecule tattooed onto my inner right arm. And I loved it. And I’ve loved every one since. Falling deeper, my affection growing with each addition to my collection.
My latest one is my most beloved. It’s a recipe. Written in my grandma’s handwriting. Of a cake she used to make me every year on my birthday. She hasn’t made it for me in years, and every attempt I’ve made has fallen flat. But this tattoo, this tattoo was a success.
Because this tattoo my grandma doesn’t hate.
My sisters knew before she did. And my mom. My dad. My boyfriend. She didn’t see it until my nieces’ first birthday party. We were all gathered in the living room – watching the girls play on the giant stuffed unicorn my brother had bought for them. My grandma sat on the couch taking photos with her ancient digital camera, turning it off and on and off and on in the hopes of it working.
We were all laughing, all talking, having a good time at the expense of babies, when my dad turned to me, “Why don’t you show Grandma your arm, Amanda?”
“What? What about her arm?” she asked, looking up from the half-inch screen in her hand, a blurry photo shot in a whopping 12 megapixels. It was out of batteries, it was always out of batteries.
I crawled across the carpet toward her – not wanting to get up, wanting to appear childlike, innocent, loveable. I rolled up my shirt sleeve – nervous, anticipating. Anxiety rolled off of the rest of my family, one of my nieces took a tumble off her unicorn.
She looked at it – momentarily perplexed, unsure of what she was reading. Because she was indeed reading. Her own writing. On my arm.
“Oh, it’s a recipe! Lamb cake! My lamb cake!”
“Mom, that’s your handwriting,” my aunt said. Wanting to make sure Grandma was seeing the tattoo in its entirety.
She did a double take, looking again at the skin under my shirt. Blue eyes filled with water. Happy, hopeful, wondrous tears. I held back tears of my own, looked around to my family.
“I’m going to live on.” Not a question, really. A statement.
Yes, she was. As so many grandmas do – through their writing, their recipes. This recipe is from a grandma. Not mine, but Kris’s. He taught me how to make a version of it last year, working beside one another in the GB&D kitchen. It has the hallmarks of a grandmother’s recipe – things measured by feel, made by memory, filled with love. And whenever it’s made (before service or before dinner), wherever it’s made (a professional kitchen or a rented one), however it’s made (to the letter or by best guesstimation) she lives on. She loves on.
2 cups fine ground cornmeal
1 TBSP sugar
1 TBSP baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ cups full fat buttermilk, more depending on thickness
2 TBSP unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk together the cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and soda. Whisk in egg (mixture will be lumpy). While mixing, begin pouring in buttermilk. Add just enough to create a mixture that’s the consistency of pancake batter (Kris’s exact words). Allow batter to rest.
Place a cast iron skillet over medium heat and add butter. Cook until bubbling, swirling pan so the butter doesn’t burn. When butter has browned pour into batter and stir to combine. Pour batter into warm pan and bake in preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown and the center is cracked.
Serve warm with honey and softened butter.
*If you don’t have access to full fat buttermilk (most store bought isn’t), an equal mixture of whole milk and low-fat buttermilk will work.
*The browned butter is my own adaptation of his grandmother’s recipe; she originally just used canola oil. Feel free to do the same.