Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 30, 2008

Grandma's Kitchen: Finding warmth and friends


Today was pretty gray and snowy. I missed church because I'd been under the weather all week and was feeling a little down. I put the "yaktrax" on my boots and drove out to get the Sunday paper. On a whim I drove into Honor to pick up the little weekly Insider.

I noticed the open sign was lit at the Gathering Place, which is the senior center, and ran in to get the monthly newsletter. Talk about your serendipitous moment -- I found much more than a newsletter inside. There was so much warmth and friendliness in that room it should have glowed!

About a dozen people were smiling and singing along with a guitarist. They said they felt like singing some Christmas carols a little early.They welcomed me to join them and it would have been fun, but I'd left things going here at home.

Isn't it amazing how sharing another's joy turns your day around? It really is contagious. I wish this for you.

From what I can gather, the word is that Christmas will be a little different this year. Maybe it will be a good thing to cut through the wild extravagances and concentrate on what Christmas is really all about.

It's interesting that the layaway programs are open again at Kmart and Sears. They figured big in our household when our children were small. A portion of every paycheck during Advent went to pay down the balance on our treasures-in-waiting until that happy day when they came home, to be hidden from the curious little eyes. I remember the sense of satisfaction and relief in knowing it was paid for, a great alternative to today's credit cards.

To be sure prices were lower, but so were the expectations; the minimum wage was raised to $1 an hour in 1956, after starting at 25 cents an hour in 1938. No wonder homemade gifts were popular!

I really wanted you to have this cookie recipe as soon as possible. Rolling and decorating cutout cookies is usually a family affair and you don't want to rush through it. We had children in our home for 47 years and I wouldn't want to estimate the hours the little girls spent around the table making exotic creations, nor the hours I spent cleaning up sticky frosting! Fun memories and great pictures.

The recipe comes from Gail Jodway from Suttons Bay. She had trouble finding a dough that didn't stick to her rolling pin and/or the kitchen counter or tear with handling. Her mother-in-law, Mary Alice Jodway, rescued her by sharing her favorite recipe that Gail has used ever since. Mary Alice lives in Traverse City, is 88 now and blind, but still bakes something every day, and keeps up a house. So we raise our rolling pins in salute to Gail and Mary Alice and wish them happy holiday baking.

Gail credits the cornstarch for making this dough so pliable. It makes a large batch, so you might like to reduce it.

Jodway Christmas Cutout Cookies

2 c. vegetable oil

2&1/4 c. white sugar

1/4 c. light Karo syrup

3 beaten eggs

2 t. vanilla extract

1/2 c. sour milk (add 1/2 t. vinegar to 1/2 c. milk)

6&1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1&1/2 c. cornstarch (secret weapon)

1 t. salt

1&3/4 t. baking soda

2 t. baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl combine and blend the first six ingredients. Mix the five dry ingredients together and blend into the wet mix. Mix until smooth and form into 3 or 4 balls for rolling. Roll as thick or thin as you prefer -- the thinner the browner and crisper they'll be, the thicker will be lighter, softer and chewier.

Place on parchment-lined or sprayed cookie sheets. Start timing your first batch in the oven at 8 minutes (because ovens vary). Cool completely before frosting.

Mix your favorite powdered sugar frosting -- without butter or oleo makes a harder frosting; adding fat makes it softer and harder to set. Store or freeze with waxed paper between the layers. Makes about 5 or 6 dozen.

When you send some to Grandma and Grandpa be sure to enclose a photo of your little elves hard at work.

Now one more recipe from Nadine. I'm anxious to try these -- so elegant, yet simple and easy to make.

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Expresso and Cinnamon

2&1/4 c. all-purpose flour

1 T. ground cinnamon

1 t. baking soda

1/2 t. salt

1&1/2 c. brown sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 large egg

4 t. instant expresso coffee (or use regular instant coffee)

2 t. vanilla

1 6-oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 c. chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two large baking sheets with nonstick spray.

Whisk flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl to blend. In a larger bowl using your mixer, beat sugar, butter, egg, espresso powder and vanilla until well blended. Beat in the dry ingredients; stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoons on the prepared sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Do not flatten dough. Bake cookies until brown on top but still slightly soft to touch, about 14 minutes. Cool on sheets, store in airtight containers at room temperature.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies (not Mom size!)

Thanks Nadine.

Parting Shot:

This bit of verse speaks to me of the spirit of Christmas.

He drew a circle that shut me out ...
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

-- Edwin Markham

Edna Shaffer is a local mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who writes about cooking from the perspective of an older adult. She can be reached via the Record-Eagle at 120 W. Front, Traverse City, Mi 49685; or by sending e-mail to: