My grandmother Lillian – “Grammy” – was an accomplished pianist, largely self taught, who delighted in performing, and did so almost up until she passed away in her 90s. She taught music at a high school in Springfield, Mo., and we recently learned the school song she wrote is still in use there. She accompanied Brenda Lee, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and other music luminaries when they would come to town.
I mainly knew her of course as my grandmother, who could rip it on the piano and loved to bring people together to hear her play. Born in 1918, she – and society – had traditional ideas of her role as a wife and mother, and her priority was family. At one point when I was younger and contemplating my career, she said, “I guess you’re just not going to ever settle down and keep house.” It wasn’t critical – more contemplative.
Yet she was also quite progressive – a strong liberal with a broad collection of friends, many artists, spread across many generations. She died before texting was what it is today, but she emailed like a pro and lived independently for close to 20 years.
She was spicy, too, often saying to me and my sister, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” Then she’d wink, flash a big grin, and say, “You know that gives you a lot of room.”
Like most of us, she was a woman of many facets. I sometimes wonder what life my grandmother would have had if she were born in a different time. Hers was a massive talent. Where might she have gone?
But then my mind goes back to her at the piano, delighting me and my sister as my grandfather played the Ukulele and we danced around the house. And also to her kitchen, which was always full of something delicious simmering on the stove, often her spin on Goulash, and how happy she was in those moments of being together. Where would we be without her?
Careers are long – a marathon, not a sprint. They’re full of opportunities, ones we jump at or pass by, ones afforded to us or future generations vs the ones before us, influenced by choices made by our parents or family members that may affect our own.
I have Grammy’s Goulash recipe, hand written out in paragraph form – no list of ingredients followed by instructions. Just notes. While traditionally a Hungarian meat and vegetable stew, this is her version, a simple, pantry-style weeknight meal that’s slightly elevated from the “American” version you’ll find in a Google search.
It’s the “simmer and hold if necessary,” part in the recipe that really gets me when I think about my grandmother’s life and talents. I’ve coached many women who have put their career aspirations and talents on hold to serve others. The pandemic extended that holding pattern for many, halting returns to work or career changes, as they doubled down on caregiving and providing a steady foundation for their families during a tumultuous period. (I’d argue that quiet quitting is yielding a generation of workers simmering their talents versus putting them to work.)
Often when the women we coach come to me, they’re worried they have kept these talents on hold for too long. It’s a mix of frustration at circumstances and sometimes themselves. But there’s power and value in simmering talents because they are still with you, and represent an opportunity to reset and rethink what’s next. Today’s job market presents opportunity to be sure, with 1.7 job openings per job seeker.
So what talents or skills or desires are you simmering or have on hold right now, talents that will be there when you’re ready?
I encourage you to make a batch of Goulash and nourish those talents or plans you have on hold. Think about those before you in your family, their talents and where they could have gone… What do these lessons mean for you? And how will they inspire you forward?
Grammy’s Goulash Recipe
My grandmother’s super easy goulash recipe comes together with just a handful of ingredients and can be made ahead. While this recipe is good for four people, it’s easily doubled and can feed a crowd, too. I made it once for a Halloween party because kids like it, too, just go easy on how spicy your chili powder is.
Part of the charm of this old recipe is that it’s written in instruction form — a lot of both of my grandmother’s recipes present this way. The handwriting is part of the charm and you can see her original notes above. That said, I’ve added a few steps to make this extra scrumptious.
1 yellow onion, diced
2 TBSP olive oil
1 pound ground beef (or substitute of your choice)
2 cans of diced tomatoes
2 TBSP chili powder (I’ve been using William’s Chili Powder for some extra umph)
1 package spaghetti (I usually like to use carb friendly pasta but regular pasta absorbs the flavors better in this case)
Salt to your liking
- Brown the onion with olive oil in a dutch oven. At same time, boil water for the pasta in a separate pot and cook in the regular way.
- Brown the meat in the dutch oven.
- Add the chili powder and salt to the meat.
- Mix in the two cans of diced tomatoes to the meat mixture and simmer.
- When the pasta is ready, reserve some pasta water and set aside before straining.
- Add the pasta to the meat and add a ladle or two of pasta water. Mix and serve!
If you hold and simmer for a bit, keep the pasta water so you can add a splash now and then to keep the dish from getting dry.