October 10th marked my grandma’s 100th birthday. I always think of her on this date — and lots of other less significant dates. I often think of her when I’m cooking or baking; she was a superstar cook and baker with years in professional kitchens. I think of her at the holidays; she always made dozens and dozens of cookies and I vividly remember them cooling on paper-thin dish towels on her little kitchen table. I think of her when I see old ladies who remind me of her, and sadly, whenever I see, hear or read something about Alzheimer’s disease. My grandma died in 2003 after suffering from that horrific, debilitating disease. I think of her in her last years much less often than I think of all of the happy, fun memories of her when she was herself.
100 years is a long time. I decided we needed to celebrate 100 years, even if she couldn’t be here to do it with us. That, and as you know by now, I can always find an excuse to throw a party, cook, eat and drink! Conveniently, my two local sisters were already planning to visit that weekend. We were going to informally christen our new patio. But when I realized what the date was, I convinced my mom to come, too. We celebrated Gram exactly how we would have if she was still here — by making and eating lots of yummy food, hanging out and just being together.
Let me tell you about my amazing grandmother’s cooking. She spent years cooking at the Missouri Athletic Club and Stix, Baer & Fuller’s restaurant, so she knew a thing or two! Her list of specialties (all from scratch, of course) is endless, but the dishes that first come to mind are chicken and dumplings, bread and butter pickles, grape jelly, coffee cake, chocolate pie, rhubarb pie and cookies, cookies galore — chocolate chip (which were about the size of a half-dollar, if that), Mexican wedding cookies, iced sugar cookies in holiday shapes and colors and the cookies that everyone still longs for — peanut blossoms. I volunteered my sister Joan to bake these cookies for our gathering (and they were gone by Sunday night).
You could say Gram was the executive chef of the family. She most often planned and prepared the hors d’oeuvres for family parties or the main feast. One of the things that Gram made for every family party was platters of deli meat rolled fancy with cream cheese and a pickle in some varieties, with intricate roses made out of tomatoes in the center of the tray. While we made our best attempt to recreate this snack, I think Gram would’ve given us an E for effort.
I’m thankful that my sister Jennifer volunteered to make the quintessential Gram dish: chicken and dumplings. And I’m thankful that Nora didn’t like it so there was more for the rest of us!
We had a fun day remembering Gram and bringing up old memories. One of my funniest memories of her is something I totally remember happening, but at the time I didn’t understand why it was so funny because I was really young — four, maybe five years old? Gram used to babysit me a lot and I was at her apartment one day, wanting to help. I was at that age where I wanted to help with little chores, which is exactly what Nora does these days. I was going to help her dust her living room furniture, which I used to do frequently. She gave me a little dust rag and I insisted on furniture polish, so she gave me an aerosol can and I went on my merry little way, polishing her whole living room suite. I was a pretty quick kid (my apple didn’t fall far from the tree); after I finished my task I looked at the can and asked my grandma what “O-F-F” spelled. No, she hadn’t given me bug spray — nor furniture polish. She gave me Easy-OFF oven cleaner by mistake! I vaguely remember her muttering words I probably wasn’t supposed to hear and scurrying to clean it off the furniture!
One of my sisters posted the photo of Grandma and Grandpa (above) on her Facebook page on Gram’s birthday, and a family friend commented, “She was the perfect example of a grandma anyone could wish for.” That, she was.
Grandma’s Peanut Blossom Cookies
1/2 c shortening
3/4 c peanut butter
1/3 c sugar, plus extra for rolling dough
1/3 c packed light brown sugar
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Brach’s stars (sub Hershey’s Kisses, which are much easier to find!)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In large mixing bowl, beat shortening and peanut butter until blended. Add sugars; beat until light and fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually add to peanut butter mixture.
Shape dough into 1″ balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 – 10 minutes or until lightly browned.
Immediately place chocolate pieces on top of each cookie, pressing down slightly. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.
Grandma’s Chicken and Dumplings
1 1/2 c flour
1 tbsp parsley, chopped (1 tsp dried)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 c milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
Combine flour, parsley, baking powder and salt. Combine milk, vegetable oil and egg and combine with the dry blend. Stir enough to moisten the mixture but don’t over-beat.
With a tablespoon, form the dumplings and drop them in boiling chicken broth*. Cover tightly and cook for 12 – 15 minutes or until done. No peeking! Serve immediately.
* Depending on how many you plan to serve, you can boil a whole chicken or just chicken breasts along with carrots and celery, well seasoned with salt and pepper. Reserve the broth for cooking the dumplings.