Old lady food – things like sardines, egg salad, braunschweiger, crackers, etc. – has always conjured affectionate memories in my head. I’m, of course, thinking about my Grandma Barbera who continued on for seventeen years after my grandfather died. She never remarried. To my knowledge, she didn’t date. I’m pretty sure she thought men were full of shit; even the polite ones in her assisted living complex who flirted with her. On a good day, she would just roll her eyes and half laugh about the newest codger trying to heat her up. Otherwise, her tired gaze implied oceanic volumes that could only be punctuated further if she had still smoked. I think about her when I get cravings for old lady food because that’s usually what we ate when we visited; well, that and Lean Cuisine or Marie Callender’s frozen dinners. And Pepperidge Farm coconut layer cake, which I still can’t eat without tearing up.

I was grocery shopping the other day when the rose-tinted glasses slipped a bit. I think I was standing in the frozen fish aisle, feeling particularly victorious because smelts were $2.99 for a 1 lb. bag. It occurred to me that old lady food wasn’t just a matter of solving the cooking for one problem or a sweet reminder of how we continue to eat the foods we grew up on. Old lady food is also about living alone on a fixed income – cheap protein sources that can be stretched out over a week and augmented with the addition of whatever produce is on sale. It’s a smart way to shop and eat, but a little frightening to think that the only other options are a return to ramen and scrambled eggs or worse. As I’m wont to do, this bit of information pinged back to the first thought of my grandmother, which looped back to present times and, suddenly, I was caught in my own emotional feedback; worrying about little old ladies who feel alone and scared and blocking the aisle. Thankfully, it was early on a weekday morning. This still didn’t assuage the urge to go back in time and hug my grandmother or, better yet, show up at her door with some Singapore noodles or, even better still since we’re talking of fantasies, take her to lunch in Chinatown. Millie would totally dig Chicago’s Chinatown.

Egg Salad

Get thee:

8 large eggs ($4.83 for a dozen?!!! Goodnight, Josephine!)
3 kitchen spoons of mayonnaise (kitchen spoon = the ones you eat dinner with)
1 kitchen spoon of dijon mustard
red onion or shallot (I chose shallot because I had one in my fridge)
capers (or pickled green peppercorns in the event that you grabbed the cheapest bottle of “capers” without looking at the label)
dark rye bread


1) Place 8 eggs in a saucepan. Cover with cold water. Bring to a rolling boil, then immediately turn off the heat. Let sit for 10 minutes. (Do some sun salutations or play laser pointer with the cat.) Run cold water over them for 2 minutes.

2) While the eggs are bathing under their waterfall, finely chop about 2 tbsp of shallots. Set aside.

3) Drain eggs. Peel and chop them. I don’t have one of those cool wire egg cutters, so I just did them by hand. It results in a coarser salad, but whatevs.

4) Mix chopped eggs, chopped shallot, 3 kitchen spoons of mayo, 1 kitchen spoon of mustard and 3 tsp of “capers” in a tupperware container so as not to dirty a bowl.

5) Spread two kitchen spoons of salad on toasted dark rye bread. Top with leftover bag salad for roughage. Serve on a paper towel.