Grief And Grandmas (And Colonial Curry)

As of this week, I lost my grandmother over a month ago. As I get older, I’ve started to see time flash before my eyes, exponentially and rapidly. I miss my grandma a lot, and find, as time has passed, the feeling intensifying, especially as I try to hold onto the smaller things, like the fading scent of her perfume on her beautiful coats that now sit in my closet.

Elsie Reilly Nelson at her home in Southampton, which was purchased by my Great Grandfather, John Gabriel Reilly, from Henry Ford in 1958..

Elsie Reilly Nelson at her home in Southampton, which was purchased by my Great Grandfather, John Gabriel Reilly, from Henry Ford in 1958..

This grief has been unlike any other I have experienced, not necessarily in its intensity, but more in its overall form. It has, like all forms of grief, come in waves, unexpectedly, some larger than others—more vacuous or more powerful and tumbling—but this has been the first death (in my experience) which has came in a timely matter. It’s the first death I have experienced that has embodied what we are taught death is meant to look like: at home, surrounded by family, at an age where one can say in confidence, “she lived a full life.” My other grandparents passed away before I was born, so, aside from my father, also “taken before his time,” the other deaths I experienced have been of friends, or friends’ parents; causing a form of grief that felt more tragic and inescapable—a hurricane gunning toward me from all directions. 

I have realized, in full, these last few weeks that I had already battled with the mourning for months as I watched my Grandma transform from the woman she was. Her battle with Parkinson’s the last few years had pained her incredibly, as well as everyone around her witnessing her struggle. But she held on with grace until the end, our true matriarch. A woman of style and effortless class, she remained impeccably dressed even in her most painful moments (a Lanvin or Chanel suit, perhaps, hair and nails always done)—which, although sounds surface in importance, is a gesture of social and personal respect and responsibility that so many of us (I, included) find a tireless and antiquated task. One of her final requests was champagne (and therefore, family cocktail hour) in her bedroom, and she was laid to rest in a stunning black Chanel suit with intricate gold buttons, absolutely beautifully... oh, how I will miss her. 

Eating with my Grandma in December, in her kitchen in New York.

Eating with my Grandma in December, in her kitchen in New York.

I missed the bustling busy days of her New York City law career. She worked in a male-dominated profession, paving (perhaps unknowingly) the way for so many women today. The grandmother I knew so dearly was—by the time I was born—a resident of Southampton, where she lived alone, cooking for one every night, and walking her dogs around the lake in front of her house in the afternoons. If I went to the country over a weekend, I would always spend a night there and she would spoil me with concepts completely foreign to my household; like sleeping with the TV on, or going down to the kitchen after bedtime for “midnight snacks” which normally entailed endless Geneva cookies and perhaps spooning some chocolate ice cream right out of the Häagen-Dazs pint. 


She was a great cook my entire childhood, known for her grilled steak, her beef stew and—my absolute favorite—her chicken curry. When she passed, a very sweet stranger wrote in to Beyond asking that perhaps I honor my grandmother’s life by publishing a few of her well-known recipes. It brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my face because it had not only been my original idea to cope with her passing by diving into her recipe book, but it was also my plan in returning to her bedside the few weeks before she left us. I had hoped to come home and cook for her what she had taught me and give her back a few tastebud memories. Unfortunately, Parkinson’s moves quickly, as well as the other conditions building up, and my grandma could no longer swallow properly, so I had to abandon this mission. But now I am grateful to be getting back into the swing of things and share a few with you. 

Today we’ll start with “Grandma’s Chicken Curry,” who’s name has slowly began to change to “Colonial Curry,” or sometimes “Imperial Curry,” as it is the “whitest” curry recipe I have yet to come across. Living in London, I learned many a curry, and none thus far had my grandma’s ingredients. If you’re looking for something delicious and not too spicy, this creamy chicken curry is the best. It’s kid friendly, and great even served cold. More to come from “Big Else” and her big kitchen. 

“Colonial Curry” by Big Else, my grandma.

“Colonial Curry” by Big Else, my grandma.



  • 1 1/4 lbs cut chicken strips

  • 1/4 cup copped shallots

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • 1 or more tablespoon curry powder

  • 1/2 cup white wine

  • 1 1/4 cup heavy cream

  • 2 tablespoons butter


  1. Put butter in pan and allow to melt evenly. 

  2. Add chicken stirring for about a minute so it loses its “raw” complexion. 

  3. Add the shallots to the pan and cook for another minute. Then add curry powder salt and pepper. 

  4. Remove chicken from pan and put in bowl. Set aside. 

  5. Add the wine to the shallot curry mixture and allow it to reduce for 2 to 3 minutes. 

  6. Replace the chicken in the pan and add the heavy cream. Cook on simmer until cooked through and hot. 

Serve immediately over rice (I prefer jasmine) and add a little mango chutney and live it up with some champagne or (if you’re really feeling like a Nelson) a glass of Chivas! And say thanks to My Big Else! 




Quentin Esme Brown