Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Remembering Greatness

Eleven years ago today was one of the saddest mornings of my life.  This world lost one of the greatest people it has ever known, my great-grandfather, Paul Albert Hand.  We called him Grandpa or just Gramps.  He was born May 25, 1908 and passed on December 14, 1999.  He had wanted to live to the new millennium but didn't make that wish.  He had been married to my great-grandmother for 71 years when he died.  She only lived 3 years without him, passing around 4 a.m. on December 15, 2002.

I always looked up to my great-grandfather, and not just because he was so tall.  He was the most respected man I have ever known.  At his funeral a close friend of his said there was never an unkind word said about him his entire life.  He lived by very high morals, saved as much money as he could, and took care of his family and everyone he knew in any way possible.  He also was fantastic at brushing and braiding little girls' hair whenever we were lucky enough to spend the night.  He taught me how to play cards, play checkers, and tried to teach me how to save money.

Gramps was also quite the joker.  He had a wonderful sense of humor.  He had one of those packages of gum with just one stick left in it, and when you pull it out it snaps your finger.  We got lots of laughs out of that.  I also remember several occasions where he'd ask us if we wanted some pie.  When I'd say "what kind is it?" he'd say something like "I don't have any; I just wanted to know if you wanted some."  And then of course we'd laugh some more.

I interviewed him once for a project I had to do in elementary school.  I kept a green notebook where I wrote down all the stories he had told me.  I don't know what happened to that notebook, but I desperately wish I still had it.  Growing up I always thought I would write a book about him someday.  Even if I was the only person that ever read it, I would read it over and over again.  I can hardly even remember the details of his childhood now, but I will always have the memories and stories of him from mine.

He loved road trips.  We would get in the car and just drive places.  I don't know if he had the destination in mind all along but it just seemed so adventurous to a little girl.  We went all over the state with them, visiting Metamora, Napanee, Shipshewana, Madison, Whitestown, etc.  He always found these great places.  Visiting them in Florida was also always something to look forward too.

Eleven years later I still think of him often.  This time of year it is pretty easy to notice when family members are no longer around.  I will never forget him.  Rest in peace, Gramps.  I love you!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cookie Time - Mamaw's Butter Cookies

I think there is no better time of the year for making cookies than Christmastime.  I remember a Christmas long ago making probably 10 dozen or more cookies with my sister and a friend of our family.  We had every ingredient and decoration imaginable and just spent the whole day making cookies.  It was wonderful!
I hope to start a cookie making tradition with my own family at Christmas.  And in case anyone else is interested in starting their own tradition I'm sharing my family recipe for butter cookies along with a new recipe I found and made last night for hazelnut tea cookies.  I absolutely loved them!

"Mamaw's" butter cookies have been in my family for generations.  Mamaw is the great-great-grandmother I never knew but was named after.  She used to make these cookies at Christmas and gave them to my mother and my aunt.  I can see the wonderful memories on their faces when I make these cookies for family gatherings now.

Butter Cookies

  • 1 cup of butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.  Using a mixer, cream together butter, sugar, and eggs.  Add flour mixture and milk to the creamed mixture.  Combine until it forms a soft dough.  Add the vanilla and stir until fully incorporated.  Drop batter by rounded teaspoon fulls on a greased cookie sheet.  Bake for 12 min.  Makes approximately 6 dozen.

I have a handwritten recipe card that my great-grandmother, Nanny as we called her, wrote this recipe down for me in the most beautiful cursive I have ever seen.  They just don't teach kids to write like they used to (and now they aren't going to teach cursive at all!).  Her recipe calls for "oleo" instead of butter and I have it on good authority that she preferred to use Fleischmann's.  This recipe can easily make 6 dozen cookies (if you don't eat much of the batter before you bake them!) and can also be halved to make less.

I recently saw a post from Food Network featuring popular cookie recipes from Christmas' past.  Many of them looked delicious but the one that stood out the most was a powdered sugar delight known as "hazelnut tea cookies."  Here is the recipe from Food Network's webiste:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/hazelnut-tea-cookies-recipe/index.html.  I started reading the reviews as I often do to see what kinds of things people came across while making this recipe.  A few found these to be too dry and some suggested that their butter wasn't softened long enough.  When I see a recipe for a tea cookie I assume it will be dryer than your average cookie because it's meant to be dunked in or simply eaten with your tea.  I'm ok with that!

The other recommendation that stood out in the reviews was the number of people that substituted walnuts for hazelnuts.  And that's exactly what I did as well.  For one, I have no idea where to buy hazelnuts, and frankly I knew if I did find them they would be more expensive than the walnuts I could buy at the grocery store.  For my first time making this recipe I opted for the easy out.  Walnuts worked great.  It does recommend toasting so I simply put them in a skillet on the stove for a few minutes.  Keep moving them around and turning them however because nuts especially small pieces can burn quite easily!  Remove them from the skillet and let them cool before using.  Also, these cookies are just as good without toasting the nuts.

I didn't take a picture of these because I just put mine in a plastic airtight container instead of the fancy cup they're displayed in on the Food Network website.  However my cookies really do look exactly like that.  I'm looking forward to continuing our Christmastime cookie tradition and trying many new cookie recipes.  Now just to find one with chocolate...