Easter weekend I got around to baking cookies and taking pictures; cozywalls, I have not forgotten you! For my first batch I made my grandma’s favorite soft carrot cookie recipe. I have never known my grandma to make crispy cookies, crusts or any hard-to-chew dessert, for that matter. The baked goods that come from her kitchen are always cozy and soft. A few years ago I brought up the fact to her and she replied, “say, Amy, I like recipes that are easy on my false teeth.” It makes perfect sense!
I am not exactly sure why it is the only recipe in my mom’s cookie book that I hadn’t attempted on my own until that morning. It’s not difficult to put together (I obsessively sift dry ingredients now for added fluffiness, but it’s not necessary), and the ingredients are fairly standard. I remember my mom making them along with brown sugar or chocolate bit cookies. I rarely ate the carrot cookies, because I was more than satisfied with the others. Back then I also thought it was sort of weird to put oranges and carrots in cookies. Today, the weirdness is endearing, and I am drawn to their sunny orange color and lively citrus glaze. They evoke memories of being a child in my own mother’s kitchen where I played on the floor with bowls and spoons indoors while looking forward to the days when our front door opened to reveal optimistic tulips blooming outside.
My grandma’s older sisters used to call her Maddie, so that’s what I am calling these cookies.
Maddie’s Soft Carrot Cookies
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup shortening
1 egg, beaten
1 cup baby food carrots (about 2 jars or 6-7 pureed carrots)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Drop and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until brown around the edges.
Juice and zest of one small orange
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup confectioner’s sugar + more if needed
Whip 4 oz. cream cheese into glaze, adding confectioner’s sugar to reach desired thickness.
Yesterday my niece and I made Puppy Chow for a special Valentine’s Day treat using the “Muddy Buddies” recipe on the Rice Chex box. We never called them Muddy Buddies growing up, but looking through these photos, I can see the muddiness right before the powdered sugar comes in to absorb the moisture and soften the texture. I think the powdered sugar makes the crunchy chocolate peanut butter treat irresistible. My niece especially likes that step in the recipe, because she says it looks like a bunch of tiny snowflakes coming from the sky. The recipe is straightforward and simple (I don’t turn the mixture out on wax paper to separate, but I do put the mix in the refrigerator to set). For a finishing heart-like touch and added flavor layer, we studded the tops with white chocolate peppermint M&M’s: another sweet avalanche!
Our latest snowfall totaled around 12 inches, and it left the bare forest branches looking like mixer beaters covered in freshly whipped meringue. The kitchen imitated nature the following day when my mom put together a frozen pineapple torte recipe from days gone by. Even though it is an icebox dessert, there is something sunny and warm about the pineapple torte. Her version reminded me a bit of key lime pie; I suspect because she toned down the sweetness. I first learned of this dessert when she was searching for a recipe similar to what her mom used to make when company would come over for Sunday lunch. She kept calling it an old-fashioned recipe, because it states to cook the custard until it “coats the back of a spoon.” My grandma would plop the fluffy tropical mixture into her metal ice cube trays and put them in the freezer to set up. Refrigerator trays used to have removable dividers with a handle that you pulled up to release the ice. If you took out the dividers, the pineapple mixture went in the bottom part of the tray. You can skip the freezer part if you please; it’s simply fluffy and delicious as is. My mom told me that they normally had frozen pineapple torte in hot weather because it was a lot like ice cream. I found it to be perfectly perky and sunny for a February lunch, and I daresay it would be a pleasant finale to a pork BBQ meal anytime of the year.
3 egg yolks
dash of salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 can 8 oz. crushed pineapple, drained
2 T lemon juice
3 stiff beaten egg whites
2 T sugar
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs (for a gluten free dessert, select the GF cookies)
Break egg yolks in double broiler. Add salt and 1/3 cup sugar; add syrup from pineapple and lemon juice. Cook over hot, not yet boiling water until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, stirring constantly. Add pineapple; cool. Make meringue of egg whites and 2 T of sugar. Fold in whipped cream and custard mixture. Coat sides of greased refrigerator tray with wafer crumbs. Spread half the remaining crumbs on the bottom of the tray (or dish of your choosing). Pour in fluffy custard mixture and cover with remaining crumbs. Enjoy as is in parfait cups, or freeze firm for 4 hours and slice to serve.
When my nephew was two, he (his mom and dad) gave me a picture frame that read: “Aunt: Like Mom Only Cooler.” Recently someone told me that I was a good aunt; it was probably the best compliment I could have received. You see, Aunts have been important characters in my life. They have been unconditional resources of hospitality, information, understanding, experience, perspective, inspiration and support.
My Great Aunt Rose celebrated her 90th birthday last month. There was cake, pie, ice cream, fried chicken and a barbershop quartet! She was in heels and sparkles and beamed all weekend long. The first snow of this season was on that mid November Sunday morning, the day she was born, 90 years later (she recalled that it snowed the morning she was born, too). I celebrated my 34th birthday the following week, on a Sunday morning, the same day that I was born.
As I reflect on my life to this point, the opportunity to be an aunt is one of my great privileges. I think about the aunts in my life and what they have meant to me. It is not that they are cooler than my mom, or necessarily blood relatives to my mom, but they are maternally special. I am proud to continue that legacy; I had (still have) good teachers. Of course my uncles are cool too, but that’s an entirely different matter.
As I write, the wind chill factor in Indiana is negative 3-degrees, and there is almost 4 inches of snow on the ground. These photos were taken just over a week ago in sunny Phoenix where the temperature reached 88-degrees! The images of the Desert Botanical Gardens, afternoon markets and open air restaurants are warming, but the memories shared with a dear friend are even more so.