My Turn: Sweet memories of hunting dandelions with Grandma
In the eyes of passersby in Great Neck, the sight of my grandma and I digging through the tall bushes and grass while holding giant woven baskets must’ve looked like a special kind of crazy. But, to my 9-year-old self, whose eyes were glued to the ever-expanding green beneath her feet, the only thing that mattered was finding dandelions for breakfast. Though the plants are regarded by many as a pesky weed that infects lush yards, to me dandelions are a special delicacy for salads and soups.
“Look,” my grandmother said, pointing to the small bush of dandelions hiding in the grass. “That’s it! Pull it out, give it a try!”
I sank my fingers into the soil and pulled the dandelion plant out by its roots with a satisfying pop and tossed it into my basket. Something about collecting my very own trove of dandelions made my chest puff with pride and my face break into a grin.
My grandmother chuckled at me.
“When I used to get tired from working, I’d just go right outside my doorstep and grab a fistful of dandelions to chew on,” she said.
Her eyes sparkled with mischievous joy, as if she were again 12 years old and standing in her backyard and savoring the bitter aftertaste of dandelions on her tongue after a long day of working around the house, cleaning the floors and chopping firewood.
My grandma never finished her elementary school education; instead, she took up a knife and a pot in the kitchen, whipping up meals for herself and her uncle at the age of 12. After she married my grandpa and had four daughters, she continued cooking.
Her expertise in the kitchen is easy to see. With the swish of a knife she skillfully separates thin, brittle bones from the flesh of fish; she knows just how much salt and soy sauce to throw in the pot to give the meat an appetizing color without the flavor becoming overwhelming.
My mother, brother and I were always with her in the kitchen around mealtime back in China, watching her dance-like routine among the cabinets and the stoves while helping her wash and chop the vegetables over carefree chatter about the day.
But the dandelion salad was a dish my grandmother fully entrusted me to prepare. I’d easily spot the dandelions’ special blade-like leaves infiltrating a grassy field and throw away the browning or decaying ones. Then I would thoroughly wash the greens — through several changes of water — before combining them with honey Dijon dressing and whatever vegetables we had left in the fridge that day: baby tomatoes, onions, turnips and, one time, a very poor decision on my part, with Cheetos.
Since I moved to America at 9, the only time my grandma and I have been able to scavenge for dandelions together was the one time when she was visiting. But even while she’s in China and I’m in America exhausted by my high school studies, I daydream about scavenging for dandelions in the backyard. I imagine the bitterness on my tongue and think back to the chilly and dew-heavy spring mornings we spent together — and it gives me refreshed vigor to dive back into my homework and writing.
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