Nanna’s Things

Nanna’s 100th birthday portrait – trying to look sweet and demure – a thin and false veneer for the sassy force of nature that she is!

 

My grandmother — known as  “Nanna” to EVERYBODY — until recently has lived alone in her apartment and filled her days with trips to the senior’s centre to play bridge, cheering on the Toronto Blue Jays, baking cookies, tarts, and the occasional lemon meringue pie, marathon-styled shopping trips (which would make Hannibal’s slog across the Alps seem like a cake walk) and keeping her hands busy knitting tiny hats for preemie babies and crocheting warm vests and toques for children in Afghanistan.  Stubbornly independent, she was fussing with her Christmas decorations a few weeks before the holidays, and tripped on a chair leg, fracturing her hip.  This is where I should probably mention: she’s 101 years old!

Surgery went surprisingly well – – I’m sure it was an unprecedented success for the young surgeon. But it was clear that she would not be able to return to solo flight in her apartment, and an extremely difficult and emotionally challenging move to a retirement home happened just this week.

 

Nanna on her 100th birthday flashing gang signs with me and Tim – one of the many great-grandsons

All of this has meant that a lifetime of belongings had to be broken up in a shockingly rapid pace in order to empty her apartment and comply with her demands wishes.  In the ‘first round’ of picks, I chose the Pyrex mixing bowl set (which I discussed in this blog post) and in the ‘second round’ I brought home the items pictured above.

I sorted out another box of things that I would like to bring home – though I left it in the apartment with a note that “Nancy would like to have these if no one else wants them”. It includes pieces of glass and china.  I’m also hoping to be the one to get the hutch from her dining room. But with eight grandchildren, and uncountable numbers of great-grandchildren, and yes, a burgeoning tribe of great-great-grandchildren, I know that I need to be gracious and share.

There was a very brief and minor squabble over the washing board – not even worth mentioning, except to highlight the extent to which these humble items are precious to us.

Next was the Yorkshire Pudding tins – so called, because nothing else was ever made in them.  I have never had a better Yorkshire Pudding than those that popped out from Nanna’s oven. I’m thinking I should probably get the secret recipe while I still can!

The teeny-tiny star cookie cutter in the centre of the photo cut the top crust of itsy-bitsy mincemeat tarts baked every year in  the dozens and dozens she would  share with her family – a favourite gift being a Christmassy tin full of “Nanna Cookies”.  Nanna believes that miniature cookies are more genteel and therefore the optimal size in all cases – which is sufficient explanation for the set of six nearly microscopic cookie cutters shown pictured in their box.  She also maintains that there is far too much sweetness in everything – I can’t bear to reveal to my deluded family that the secret recipe for her famous chocolate chip cookies came from the back of a Chip-its package with the measurements for sugar slashed to 50%. And of course, the chocolate chips must be semi-sweet, not full on sweet!

I suspect that these beliefs about cookies have been one of the contributing factors to her longevity – and I’m not referring to dietary restraint here, specifically – no, I think the lesson her is: we should take delight in even very small pleasures, make diligent efforts to share with everyone around us, and to create lasting memories with our loved ones.

 

 

 

Old-fashioned Molasses Ginger Cookies

Just  before Christmas, my 100 year old Nanna took a bit of a tumble while she was fussing with her Christmas decorations–seems she tripped over a chair leg or something–and fractured her hip.  It was very scary watching her head into surgery, and a very anxious ninety minutes while we waited for the surgeon to assure us that she had come through it okay.  Fast forward a few weeks, and she celebrated her 101st birthday!  She is still in hospital, but the general consensus is, that she cannot return home.  She is up an walking, and becoming more independent (I’m telling you…this lady is a force of nature!) but now we need to turn our thoughts to packing up her household and preparing for a move to a retirement home.

The only thing I really wanted from  Nanna’s apartment was her Pyrex mixing bowls. I have nearly 50 years of food memories associated with these vibrantly coloured bowls. Mom had the yellow one too (and I have vivid flashbacks of the potato salad and scalloped potatoes served up in her’s). I have been looking for years for an affordable set of my own, but had to settle for a more modern set (on the left).

Now that I have brought home the treasured mixing bowl set, the more modern set–picture on the left–are going to youngest son’s apartment. Why? To quote him, “I have nearly 25 years of food memories in them.”

Like mother, like son.

To welcome the bowls home, I felt the need to put them to use with something old-fashioned, heart-warming, soft and comforting.  Ah yes – molasses ginger cookies.

 

Molasses Ginger Cookies

  • Difficulty: some experience
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Makes 3 Dozen Cookies

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 tsps baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cut fancy molasses
  • turbinated sugar (for rolling cookies dough in before baking) – you may substitute white granulated sugar

 

Heat oven to 375 degrees, placing rack in the centre. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and cloves.

In a second bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, egg and molasses. Beat at high speed until light and fluffy.

Stir in flour mixture. The cookie batter is going to be very stiff, so finish the final mixing with your hands.

Form balls of cookie dough by the tablespoon full, roll into sugar to cover the outside surface and place on baking sheet, one dozen at a time.  Do not press.  Bake for nine minutes and allow to cool.