Saturday, December 19, 2015

Revisiting Old Friends

Friends enrich our lives in so many ways, and during Christmas, I’m reminded that they’ve improved my baking skills. I’ve written previously about family recipes that link one generation to another. This year, I savored old friends’ and co-workers’ yellowing cards with their fading handwritten instructions to make cookies. As I examined each one, I thought about the hours that woman and I had spent working and sharing our lives. These aging pieces of paper connect us more surely than rope or chain.

Until I met Jeanette when I worked as a teller at Ellis State Bank, I don’t believe I knew what a snickerdoodle was. She included them on her Christmas cookie plate and hooked me forever. Like the woman who shared the recipe with me, these treats comforted whoever ate them. This mixture of sifted flour, eggs, butter, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon baked into crinkly golden orbs could warm the Grinch’s hard heart. Looking back, I hope I shared some with fellow workers. It would have been easy to nibble on one every time I passed the snack table in our work area. I know that when our daughters see that customary family recipe, they must wonder who Jeanette is. I see her faint script and recall how welcome she made me feel as bride in a new town.

For holiday celebrations, my nuclear family made old –fashioned fudge as well as sugar and chocolate chip cookies. As a result, Nestlé’s chips and powdered cocoa were the only kind of chocolate you’d find our cupboard. Imagine my surprise during my first teaching job when Sue, the home-ec instructor, had students create snow on the mountain cookies that required melting bars of baking chocolate. After I tasted the first bite, I had to have the recipe and discovered how to melt these rich squares in a double boiler before stirring in other ingredients. Learning this skill added a new dimension to my developing kitchen efforts. When I look at Sue’s precise handwriting, I recall a confident woman who mentored my first two years of teaching. She didn’t hesitate to tackle difficult recipes or sewing patterns with teenagers as well as complicated coaching strategies with her ball teams. Her example encouraged me to live as boldly as she.

A few years later, I added another staple to my annual Christmas platter. Sondra, a fellow garage sale aficionado, introduced me to peanut butter kiss cookies. A former elementary teacher, her handwritten recipe is as tidy and precise as this dear woman who systematically mapped out our garage sale trail. Step-by-step, she guided me through the complication of taking ¾-baked dough out of a hot oven and centering chocolate stars in each melting ball to finish up a pretty and irresistible treat. Since I learned to make these, they’ve become my mother’s favorite cookie. To this day, I can’t look at Sondra’s handwriting without thinking of the fun enjoyed by two budget-minded young moms on a mission to score bargains every Saturday morning.

I have about twenty of these deteriorating cards stashed in the recipe drawer in my kitchen. Barring catastrophe, they’ll last as long as I do. Should disaster strike, saving these links to important people from my past will be a priority. I can copy the recipes. I can’t replace those handwritten words that transport me through time.

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