My busia, Marie Szcaencina on her 90th birthday.

My Grandma ‘Cheena (long story short, as kids we said “Grandma ‘Cheena, as ‘Cheena was an abbreviation for the harder to pronounce, Szczencina) who later was known as Busia by her great-children, was a wonderful cook. She worked in the church rectory, Seven Holy Founders, on the southside of Chicago as both cook and cleaning lady to the many priests who lived there and visiting guests from the Archdiocese of Chicago. Of Polish descent, Marie was hard working and funny to the bone. She kept those priests in line (let’s not go to the dark side of priests here, please), well fed, and laughing. She was the boss of her kitchen. I remember as a kid going to stay with her for a few days and we would walk down the block with her to the rectory where she held court in the kitchen making sandwiches and soups for lunch and more elaborate roasts, etc. for dinner. In Her radio was always on to either the Cubs, in season, polka music or WGN talk radio. The place was so clean it smelled like a mixture of antiseptic and kapusta. If you can imagine. To this day, both smells bring back powerful memories of those days in Seven Holy Founders’ kitchen with my Busia.

Marie’s soup pot.

Marie’s soup pot.

I don’t remember if this is the soup pot she used at the rectory, but it was the one she used at home. When you went to Grandma’s hosue, there was always food on the stove top, “cold-cuts”, rye bread and pickles on the ready for a quick sandwich. You never, ever went hungry there. She always wanted to know, did you have enough to eat? After she headed up to heaven to be with Grandpa Al, I was fortunate enough to get her soup pot. As a young adult I called her many times for advice in the kitchen and in particular, how to make her chicken noodle soup. Even though I knew the simple receipe by heart, it was a great excuse to call her up in Chicago (I was then living in Michigan) and ask her how to make it. Occasionally, the ingredients changed. In fact, one time I remember her addiing saffron to the ingredients that she rattled off to me on the phone. I didn’t question it. The next time I called her for the recipe (could have been just a month or two later) she did not mention the saffron. I remember asking, “wait what about the saffron, grandma"?” And she shrieked, “ “ROSIEEEEE, never add saffron to this soup!!! That’s how it was with Busia.


So, through the years as life as humms along, through good times and bad times, I pull out Busia’s soup pot and make her soup. OCCASSIONALLY, I use a whole bird cut up, but nowadays, more often than not I skip those steps and buy a rotisserie chicken. This time I added, KALE. I can just hear her, “Rosieeee, never add SALAD to soup!”. Or maybe she would like it. I think she wouldn’t mind the rotisserie. She would just be happy to know I was in the kitchen, cooking for my family and this week, for myself.