Thursday, March 26, 2020

Making whoopee

Let's talk about whoopee! Relax, I am speaking of the pie variety...
...whoopee pies. I can still see, and practically smell, those chocolate discs cooling on my grandmother's cook top. I was not a fan of the fully assembled treat, as I did not like the filling. (Go ahead and sigh, and know that I had no interest in Oreo filling either.) I was left to hope that there would be an odd number on the tray to warrant one being sacrificed to me. We couldn't just go willy-nilly breaking up pairs, plus then I would have to eat TWO cookies, and that was not an edge Blanche tended to let me live on.

I don't know if the yield of her recipe was low or if the cookies were such a labor to make, but they were a hot commodity. Those whoopie pies were doled out according to family size on a one-to-one ratio. I do seem to recall a time when my mother and I received three of the coveted confections, but there was still the matter of that messy filling to contend with.

Fast forward a couple of decades to where I am married to a man who cannot pass an Amish baked goods stand without buying a whoopee pie. I like to look at them for nostalgic purposes, but that filling? I even bought myself a whoopee pie cookbook years ago, simply because the idea of them made me happy. I still figured they must be very difficult to make though, due to the whole rationing thing. When I recently ran across my grandmother's recipe, my mind sort of wandered off as soon as I saw the word shortening in both the cookie and the filling, as I think I have purchased that item three times in my adult life. Maybe some other time...

These days are nothing if not "some other time". I have not been to visit my grandmother since March 3rd because soon after that day, her facility was closed to visitors. If you've been following our story, it will not surprise you to learn that phone calls are not really a viable means of communication at this point. My mother received word the other day that they would be assisting the residents with facetime calls, and we were given a date and time. We decided it was feasible to be socially distant, and would meet outside on my mother's deck for the call. 

I knew it was time. I even purchased a can of shortening on my scheduled Aldi's outing. 

My daughter whipped up the batter, with neither of us having any idea what it was supposed to look like, nor how it would behave in the oven. For some reason I only remember them coming out of my grandmother's oven, but not what happened before they went in. It is possible that I had other things to do before the smell of fresh baked goods lured me into the kitchen. 

There was nothing particularly tricky about making them, and we ended up wih enough to make 20 pies.

I think the tops did appear to be smoother after the batter sat for the next rounds. I was focused on other things.
I could not bring myself to make the shortening laden filling, so I cheated and just used a hefty smear of fluff. A quick tally of who might be in attendance on the deck, and who they had at home, was done, and I loaded up my grandmother's cookie transporter and headed out.
We did not have super high expectations of how the call was going to go, but we did have sunshine and cookies to drown our sorrows if necessary. 
It was unclear as to whether they would even be able to rouse my grandmother from her afternoon nap. Suddenly the connection came through and I heard her voice. She knew who my mother was and asked if she would come visit soon (yes, of course). Her voice!
My turn came and she knew my name and told me how happy she was to see me. My aunt took her turn, and then we sort of circled around again, arms outstretched to pass her. I told her about the whoopee pies, and she thought they sounded good. Then my mother got to talk to her about how she had made her dinner roll recipe. There were a few copies of it in gram's recipe box, but only one was signed...
She had me write it and then she signed it over
...Again with the shortening! Those were the days, and I guess it's better than "lard". My mom sent me this photo of her first attempt. 
Yes, you read that right...SHE SENT ME A PICTURE! Luckily she made them again that week and brought us some (in the before times).

The next order of business will be getting my grandmother's fruit cocktail cake recipe to my aunt.
Gram thought it would be a good idea for us all to get together soon, so we agreed. Although when the facilitator asked my mother if she wanted to set up a call again for next week, my grandmother instantly piped up with "No, I don't think that interests me as I don' know what I might be doing then." Suffice to say, my mother gladly accepted the invitation. Lightning may not strike twice, and next week's call may not go quite as well, but today we are grateful.

I have eaten more cookies today than necessary. (Yes, I realize that does suggest that there is a recommended daily allowance.) I wouldn't go so far as to say that the whoopie, or whoopie-less, pies are even in my top ten favorite baked goods, but that taste of nostalgia from a more simple, and less scary, time was a treat. 

If you are interested in another one of my nostalgic food posts, here is one that hailed from my other grandparents' house...where the Entenmann's and stove toast were, but more importantly, artichokes.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Age of Wisdom

In these scary and uncertain times, it is not my intent to poke fun at fellow humans who are either just trying to get through the day, or do their jobs...unless it's funny. In such cases I will still try to be kind, but then call my mom with the news of the day and then come here to hopefully share a laugh with you.

First up we have the conversation I overheard walking out of the little grocery store nearby. A woman was complaining to her friend about the limits places are putting on items. Apparently she buys seven gallons of milk at a time because that is how much her family drinks each week. The voices in my head told me to just keep walking and not say anything about needing to know how many people were in her family, how big her refrigerator was, or really any other commentary...but that didn't stop me from thinking about her and her beverage struggle for the rest of the day.

Next up, we have a minor mishap that occurred while we were packing up my daughter's things from her dorm room. Once we had returned home and started the arduous task of trying to find places to store everything, my daughter noticed one bin in particular. She informed me that the shower curtain, that was in fact ours, was still equipped with shower hooks, that belonged to the school. "Who cares?" was my initial thought, but "Oh my gosh! How much will they charge the rest of the suite mates for that $5 item?!" quickly followed.

I thought back to the time I had to call about the dryer in my son's apartment after it had been broken for four weeks, with numerous attempts by his apartment mates to get it taken care of. I remembered my relief that a woman who sounded my age answered the phone, because that fellow mom understood my plea, and how the rent we paid did not warrant shelling out additional funds for four guys to pay for laundromat services. She even waived some nominal mystery fee from our account. Certainly I would have similar luck in calling my daughter' school's resident life office!

The voice that answered the phone was full of enthusiasm...and youth. I told her of my mistake, and asked if I needed to mail the shower hooks back to avoid the girls being charged. She sounded super jazzed to let me know where I needed to send them back to. I tried to match her level while confirming that she would make a note to not bill four students for a dozen hooks. I admit that part of me was thinking that if we both repeated the information enough times, she would suddenly appreciate how ridiculous it was. Again, in these already stressful times, I did not want to rain on her parade by asking if over $5,000 in room and board charges each semester wouldn't cover some new hooks (pretty sure we arrived in August with a set, not realizing that perk), nor by requesting to speak with an older adult. 
The postage was $3.90, but in addition to clearing our names, I got this swell story.

Lastly, I realized I needed to take my mood outside for a walk in the seventy degree temperatures yesterday. I was on the phone with a friend who lives about fifteen miles east who was also out walking. He warned me when some raindrops swept in over his way, but apparently I have zero sense of how fast weather moves. I did not take the turn that would have gotten me home quicker because of my poor planning. He said the rain lasted thirty seconds by him as I was barreling along, head down, through some rather aggressive precipitation. Five minutes in, and I was just getting more soaked and windblown. Right after I almost took myself out with the hood of a car I didn't see parked on the side of the road, due to the whole head down strategy, a woman driving by did ask if I anted a ride somewhere. I did not want to disrupt her social distancing by getting in the car (and realized later she probably thought I was afraid of her car germs), and also, how much longer could it really rain? 
When I got within a few houses from home, I saw my husband standing on our porch. Not with car keys in hand, ready to come get me, but just watching. Yup, this is one of the folks I am cooped up with.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Remember that time...

...I thought I might be Irish? My mother and I went to the Irish Festival to celebrate the possibility while we waited for my grandmother's ancestry test results to come back. (Oooh, a link!)
The Blonde Guinness was delightful, as I recall, and I definitely seemed to be among people who shared similar beliefs to my own...
My grandmother's results came in with no big surprises. (Go ahead, click another link, where else do you have to go?) Once I had recovered from the whole business of collecting saliva, my mother figured it was time to get me a kit of my very own. What stuff was I made of? (What personality traits could I explain away in addition to my Italian temper?!) Of course the luck of the Irish would show up for me. I mean, it did make me cringe any time my grandmother would say "boiled dinner", but I also enjoyed reubens and Bailey's.

Drumroll please...

Bonjour, would you like some crepes? Oui...
...but where's my leprechaun?! This seems like perhaps a case of Ancestry (mine) versus 23 and Me (hers) and geographical term technicalities. 

Suffice to say, I still wore green today, right down to my Oscar the Grouch socks!

Saturday, March 14, 2020


A very wise cool kid suggested that it might be a nice idea for some of us slacker bloggers to blow the cookie crumbs off of our keyboards and post something again. I think the notion was that there is enough scary shit out there right now on the internet, and maybe just a few more stories about nothing in particular might be a decent distraction. Since I am nothing if not a people, or in this case possibly one person, we go!

Let's talk about baked goods, shall we? My daughter and I made sure to purchase some extra butter in case we wanted to make cookies, as we were watching other people crowd around the toilet paper and cleaning supplies. There is nothing quite like a warm chocolate chip cookie to make you feel like things are right in the world, for at least the time it takes you to chew. I do realize that is a lot to ask of brown sugar and flour, but I am hoping it works when we need it. 

I would like to step outside the realm of homemade to talk about a simple white box from a simpler time. Entenmann's. I admit that one of my favorite things to see on the kitchen table at my grandparents' house when I went to visit was the Entenmann's crumb cake. (Here is another post about their kitchen table-complete with more links and photos!) The color of the crumb topping didn't make complete sense, but my gosh I loved that stuff. You could just keep chipping away small pieces, hoping nobody noticed. Actual decades had gone by, yet I could still conjure the taste of that perfect sweet treat for the kid who didn't like frosting.
I have obviously passed by the white boxes with the blue letters numerous times over the years. I am always filled with nostalgia and smile at the memory of my grandparents. I manage to resist adding a box to my cart, as I convince myself that nine inch cake is no more a single serving size for a grown adult than it was for a seven year old child. Maybe my family would enjoy sharing, but maybe I didn't want to take the chance that the crumb cake would be underappreciated. 

Longing for my younger days has been making the walk past those boxes more difficult. My mother and I pondered whether the crumb cake would freeze well, suggesting I would have the discipline to cut single serve portions, package and find them a place of honor in the freezer. Then there was this...
...and I was confounded. Would something be lost without the foil pan, or ability to select my own portion size? Would the taste not match my memory and be disappointing like every sip of Coke or Pepsi I have had over the past twenty years? I left the store without, and soothed myself with whatever emergency miniature candy bar was in the bottom of my purse. I told my mother about my finding, and the look on her face told me what I guess I already knew...they must be mine.

And so on our mission to buy some actual food to make a few dinners, I looked at the conveyor belt and noticed that nothing made me happy nor brought any sense of comfort. I quickly ran to the aisle where I had seen the box, shrugged off the price, and raced back to complete my order. I put that box on my kitchen table, smiling every time I passed by. I let it sit there for nearly 24 hours before I finally had to know.
The crumb topping looked to be a little thinner, but that could also be the mind of a child playing tricks on me.  I did almost have to get a knife, just to relive the joy of cutting myself a piece, but opted for just breaking it. It tasted just as I expected it would. Kudos to you Entenmann's for not messing with something that was fine just the way it was, allowing me to savor a very sweet bite of nostalgia.