Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Crowded Kitchen: Nanny's Ginger Crinkles

My trip to Texas this month was better than I could have imagined. Good times with my dad and my son. Good food. Hella sunshine. A chance to spend time with my Donna Lynn after a five year absence. Sleeping in my old bed.

And note cards? Recipe cards to be exact.

This year I've slowly become fascinated with cooking. And baking, though the results are mixed and vary, depending on whether I accidentally skip over the "baking soda" line in the ingredients.

In my dad's house, I was pawing through the old bookshelf and stumbled across three recipe boxes FULL of my mom's recipes, handwritten on index cards. Here's the thing about finding these...for years, my mom had the most beautiful handwriting. She had such pride in it, that she did her best to pass it on to me, even if it meant making me re-do my sloppy homework. (Oh, how I cursed her then!)

In recent years, since her diagnosis of the brain disease, her ability to write in the neatly rounded print has dwindled, and often times, when she's quickly jotting notes, I have a hard time reading it. But these recipe cards, well, they tell a story. Not only do the contain all the things I grew up eating, they show the progression of a brain disease of sorts, along with highlighting my mother's fascinations--cranberries, biscottis, cranberry biscotti. You see where I am going.

To make a good find even BETTER, one of the boxes I found had a different penmanship all together. Can you tell where this is going? Oh yes, the motherlode of all recipe boxes...my grandmother, Margaret. Nanny is a woman after my own heart. She devotes precious little space to nonesense like main dishes and vegetables. No, my grandmother gets down with the baking. Muffins. Breads. Biscuits. Cookies. Candy. Pies.

I sat on the phone with my mom on a recent Sunday afternoon reading off the recipes and getting whatever stories went with them. Hermits are Pop's favorite cookies. Penuche is Nanny's favorite candy. Anything with raisins in the recipe was definitely made for Pop. The god-awful sounding things in there like "Cabbage Casserole" and "Minced Clam Lunch" were from an era when Nanny was religiously shedding pounds with Weight Watchers. (Phew!)

Nanny's penmanship is classic cursive they must have taught back in school. It's slanted. It's tightly spaced and feminine. Her s's are perfect. Her f's are elegant. And her recipes? Fantastic.

My mom has made ginger crinkles before. I remember them well, so when I found Nanny's recipe...well, I had to. Consider these my new favorite cookies. And they went well with the boys, too, so I can talk myself into them more often. After all, molasses has a lot of iron, right?

The magic thing about this is that I never grew up close to Nanny. She and Pop always lived on the opposite coast as me, but something happened during that first attempt to cook from her recipe. I learned to trust.

I squinted at the recipe card a few times when I didn't see butter. I saw a whole lot of oil. A lot of the recipes were different than what I'm used to out of today's magazines and recipe Web sites.

"Are you sure?" I asked nobody in particular.

The card was stained and worn. It had obviously been used before, and obviously the results were good if the baker came back to the card time and time again. So I trusted. And I used the nearly one cup of oil. And it was good. Earthy and spicy and crunchy and sweet. So good, I wanted to share Nanny's recipe.

This discovery lit a fire under my butt. I wanted more family recipes. I want them in a book. I want Pam's buckeyes and Dee's peanut butter cookies. I want Cheryl's pie recipes, instructions for my mom's rustic apple tarts, and I want the stories that go with them before nobody wants to tell them anymore. I want my kids and Jeff's kids and Brandy's kids and Justin's kids and Carissa's kids to have this piece of our far-flung, odd, and beautiful family, too.

And I'm working on it, people. :)

Ginger Crinkles

2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 egg
4 T molasses
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/4 cup sugar for coating

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix oil and sugar thoroughly in large bowl. Add egg and beat well. Stir in molasses. Sift dry ingredients to oil mixture. Make walnut-sized balls and cover in sugar. Put on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool on rack. Store cookies in tightly covered container. Makes about 3 dozen.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The education of me and the meaning of grace

I was getting a bit tired of writing about baking and cooking, even though I'd planned to do a post today about food (and I still might. You never know...)

I figured it had been a while since I did a post with any sort of substance, you know...the stuff friends and family members read to get a sense of what's going on in this corner of the world. I thought about lots of stuff, and really, everything has been overshadowed in the last 23 hours by the fact that my son, Boy Wonder, called another woman "his mom."

I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel about it. I ran it past a couple friends last night...do I correct him? Or do I let it go? Do I let the kid call us all whatever he wants. High road? Low road? Off ramp short cut to enlightenment?

I got stuck writing this post, and like I do anytime that I get self-inflicted writer's "goldfish" brain, I cruised around blogs. And cruised.

And I came upon one of my favorite crafty-ish blogs and there was a video about forgiveness and taking God's messages seriously. (I'm not so good at that, you see.) The video is here.

It's about a man who in one awful accident, lost his pregnant wife and two of his four children to a teenaged drunk driver. The video goes on talk about how forgiveness and grace was never NOT an option for this man, Chris Williams and how it has changed not only his life, but every one involved in the horrific accident...including the young man that killed his family. He likened it to how forgiveness and grace is never NOT an option with Jesus Christ either... and it was one of those A-ha moments. (They're rare these days, I guess.)

I admit that I cried when I watched it, and I even forgave the fact that it was a huge ad for the Church of Latter Day Saints at the end...really, the message got through and that's what it's supposed to do, right?

In comparison, my problems are small, my friends, and in the end...anger really isn't an option. When it comes to our children, the high road is really the only road if you want to do it right.

I have two sons. One is blessed and has his parents together all the time. The other has to make do with the reality he was given--based on choices his father and I made. It was never Boy Wonder's choice to live with his heart split across the continent. I'm sure he'll look at Boo someday and feel the smallest bit of envy that everyone he loves is right there under one roof.

My heart caught in my throat when he told me he had to ask "his mom" (the stepmom) to take a picture of his toothless grin, and I won't lie and say it didn't hurt. It stung like hell. But guess what? So does having to up and leave every few months and say good bye and hello four times a year.

Good on you, Boy Wonder, for making the best of this situation and embracing everyone in your life as your family and not some ridiculous label with stipulations and explanations. Moms, dads, brothers, cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles...they come in all shapes and sizes in your life and you are wise enough to see it even when we can't.

So, thank you anonymous Mormon video poster for furthering my education today and getting me to think a little less about me...and a little more about the ones that matter most.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Wednesday Baker: Boule Bread

A few months ago I bought all of the necessary equipment and ingredients for bread, according to the book "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day."

Bread and I have a long history. According to local legend, I used to take naps in a laundry basket on the floor of the bakery, Baba A Louis, where my mom worked. Bread is a weakness. It's a blessing. It's something I seek and destroy when in the mood.

Except I've never really been that great at baking it. I manage hockey pucks. The occasional door stop. But never fantastic, earthy bread.

So when I bought this book in the Spring, we were weeks away from moving into Anchorage and I never really got to turn loose in the book. Until now. Until today. The day I deemed Wednesdays as "baking days."

The concept of the book is that artisan bread is actually possible without having an advanced degree in chemistry or fancy equipment. No back-breaking kneading. No nonsense. You mix your ingredients. You let them set overnight. You bake your bread. You eat your bread. Bada-boom...bada-bing.

The Master Recipe makes four 1-pound loaves, so I always halve it.

3 cups lukewarm water
1.5 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
1.5 tablespoons kosher or coarse salt
6 cups unsifted all purpose flour.

The book goes on to have you mix the water, the yeast and the salt. Add the flour. Mix very loosely until there's not dry spots. And then...well, that's it. Put it in a container. Leave it in the fridge. Let the yeast work its magic. In the morning, you knead it very lightly. Let it rest. Bake your bread (with the help of a "steam bath") for 30 minutes. And you're done.

The book is amazing and highly recommended...eventually you can work yourself up to making cinnamon rolls and other super fantastic-ness. But for now. The bread.

It had the bakery-guaranteed"skin" that crackled and broke when you tear into it. It's chewy. It's yeasty. It's perfect for a rainy Wednesday in Alaska.

The authors have a site here. Just so happens today they blogged about baking in Tuscany without their normal equipment. Nice, right?

Happy Wednesday!

The Joy of 32

I've had about a week now to walk around with my new identity and it's about as anti-climactic as any birthday has been.

It just sorta is. The day came. And it sorta went. (But not without some FANTASTIC birthday love from my facebook family out there. THANK YOU!)

(I'm pretty sure the most exciting birthday so far has been 25...the year I was allowed to rent a car! 21 doesn't really count...because, honestly, who hadn't been drinking since the day they arrived on their college campus? But rental cars...well, there was one place you couldn't cheat.)

My husband had flowers for me. Boo had an Elmo balloon that he shared with me, and there were two cakes and lots of princess-themed partyware. I love my husband, have I mentioned that lately?

It was low-key and when it came time to figure out the birthday gift, the practical nature of 32 became very apparent when I asked my husband not to buy me a fancy espresso machine and to let me purchase a new vacuum instead. (The horror!!)

A fu*&ing vacuum, you say?

Yes, dear reader. Our floor was nasty, what can I say? (It sorta reminded me of that Mother's Day back in 1986 when I had my dad buy an iron for my mom so I could sign the card. She laughed then and I didn't get it. Oh, but I get it now...)

Clean floors aside, 32 seems like a magic number to me. It seems to be the nice, well-rounded age I've earned after a few long years of struggle. Fighting against myself, against an ex, against jobs that went nowhere, against rash behavior just because I could. Fight fight fight, strife strife strife. No longer. This is a well-earned age where my phsycial and mental scars tell the story of me becoming me.

32 seems to be the year when I am no longer my own worst enemy, where I have built an incredible foundation around me with friends and family who want the best for me and are no longer afraid to speak up when I'm wrong (though I rarely am, so watch yourself.)

This past week has been like many others in my life. Some good news, some bad. Some drama. Some worries. But here's the thing, at 32 (and beyond, right?) you bend the problem to your solution. At 22, you bend yourself to the problem and try to claw your way out of a hole. That's my take anyway.

At 32 I've become a master at triaging my life. Sure, the electric bill might be late, but the car insurance and the gas is paid, so two outta three ain't bad. Yeah, I might get short with P if we're both lacking sleep...but have you seen Houswives of New Jersey lately? We seem pretty damn normal compared to those fools, and that's a fantastic place to start.

So happy belated 32nd to me...the first of many, many more. I hope, anyway...