Family Recipe Friday – Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies and a Day of Mom Memories

My mom passed away the end of August 2015, so we are coming up on the anniversary of that. She had Alzheimer’s. It stole her memories and, in the end, it stole her very breath.

Mom’s 87th birthday would have been a few weeks ago – July 7th.

I never quite know what to do on her birthday with no phone call to make, no card to send, no present to buy.

Last year, one of the things I did was go to the store for two of her favorite treats – a Pepsi and some ice cream – and enjoyed them in memory of her.

This year, I made an extra effort to think about Mom as I went through my day – and to maybe do some things the way she would do them. Here’s how my day went.

I’ll eventually get to the cookie recipe! I promise!

You can skip to the end if you prefer. Because I’m telling the whole story of my day!

As I got ready for the day, I knew Mom would make her bed. She made her bed every day. And I intended to make mine! But, I was the first one up to let the dogs out, and I just never got it done. Not like Mom

First on the day’s agenda was a Weight Watchers meeting. Mom never had an issue with her weight until she was at least my age and probably older. This is my third (I think) round of participating in Weight Watchers. Mom joined TOPS (Take Off Pound Sensibly) when she decided she needed to do something about her weight. TOPS became an important social group for her. She made friends with the other members. They attended her funeral. They were close! I’m not so connected with the other WW folks. Kinda like Mom

Next stop was the oncology office to take port pillows to the infusion room. I was so happy to run into Adrian! He sat at the check-in desk while I was in active treatment. Adrian knew who I was by the third time I walked in the door and always greeted me by name (before I signed in!) and with a warm smile. He made coming to the oncology office feel like I was welcomed into a good place. He has since been promoted to a behind-the-scenes job, so other patients aren’t getting the “treatment” I received. Anyway, I saw him and got to thank him and tell him how important that was to me.

I don’t think mom ever visited an oncologist’s office and I know she never made port pillows, but she did have her own ways of doing for others and they often involved crafts. And she always made people feel welcome. Kinda like Mom

I needed to buy a skein of yarn to finish up the Welcome Blanket I was making, so I went to the craft store. Now, Mom loved a good craft store, so I took my time there. I got the yarn I needed and picked up another yarn I possibly did not need. I bought a book of crochet baby blanket patterns because our church has started a ministry of making knit or crochet blankets for every baby born to church members and having a reception once a year and giving them to the parents. Mom would have been all over that, I’m pretty sure, so I really had to buy that book.

I took a stroll down the cake decorating aisle for Mom. She decorated cakes for lots of people and causes – including my wedding cake. I tried to find something to buy that I needed, but nothing called my name. If there had been a Wilton 2017 Yearbook, I would have bought it, but there were none.

I looked at the schedule of craft classes. Mom frequently attended Saturday morning craft classes at her local craft store and then used what she learned to decorate her home, make gifts, make crafts with her grandkids, or use as crafts for her Sunday School class kids. No classes for me, but it was another way to remember her. Quite a bit like Mom

A trip to the grocery story this year was not for Pepsi and ice cream, but for the ingredients for Mom’s meatloaf and for mashed potatoes. And so we ate “Mom” food for dinner. Oh – and I bought chocolate chips – in case I had time to bake cookies. Like Mom

See? We are getting closer to the recipe. It really is coming.

I checked my email when I got home. In my inbox I found that my church desperately needed volunteers for Vacation Bible School and needed volunteers to prepare food and to host homeless families at the church during the upcoming week. I knew Mom would definitely volunteer for VBS and I knew she and dad would also sign up to prepare food – and maybe even to stay the night. So …  I knew I should volunteer for something!! It took me a few days to sign up, but I did end up helping at VBS every day – something I hadn’t done since my kids were little. Half like Mom

Someone needed my attention and time slipped away, so I never got around to the cookies on Mom’s birthday. I decided to extend the “Mom Memory Birthday” into the weekend and made the cookies on Saturday.

I have absolutely no control when it comes to cookies. I knew I might possibly eat every one – and this recipe makes a lot of cookies. So, as I baked, and tasted dough, and ate cookies, I tried to think like Mom and decide who needed these cookies much more than I did. That afternoon, I took some to the kids next door, a friend who had just returned home after surgery at M.D. Anderson, a friend whose dad had recently passed away, and a good friend who has done a lot for me and happened to have her three granddaughters at her house.

I still had cookies! I ate more cookies! I couldn’t even count the WW points! What to do?

I bagged up the rest and took two bags to church with me on Sunday morning and decided I would give them to whomever seemed “right” for my mission. One bag went to a young man who falls within the age range of people Mom would have taught in Sunday School (they were almost all boys). Mom was known for making an extra big chocolate chip cookie (not this recipe) for her Sunday School kids for their birthdays. The other bag went to a couple about the same age as my parents – contemporaries who I am sure would have been friends if they had known each other. Like Mom

I was a little awkward (sometimes really awkward!) when I gave away the cookies because I wanted to say something about my mom and I wasn’t sure how to put it. The poor teenagers next door heard me say, “My mom would have been a much better neighbor than I am.” It’s a true statement, but they must have thought that sentiment very strange! By the end of the cookie giving, I was saying, “These are from my mom and me.”

Oh – And I figured out that since I couldn’t give a present to Mom on her birthday, I could give a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association.

I was surprised to realize that I had not already shared the recipe here! Mom made these cookies often when we were growing up. I’m not absolutely positively sure – but when I think of learning to bake, I think of these cookies – of being in the kitchen with mom, measuring and sifting and mixing … learning to pack brown sugar. I think making these cookies with Mom may have been my first real lesson in cookie baking. Thanks Mom! I love cookies!

Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups shortening                 4 cups flour
2 cups brown sugar              4 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sugar                           1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs                                   1 large package chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vanilla

Cream together the shortening and sugars. Add eggs, one at a time – beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and the dry ingredients which have been sifted together. Lastly add chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonful onto a greased cookie sheet. (I don’t do that anymore! Yay for parchment paper!) Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes. (I like mine a little under baked.)

Pour a glass of cold milk and enjoy!

Family Recipe Friday – Dora’s Fava Beans

Happy Days! We made it to Sicily!

My husband’s family is from Sicily and he has always wanted to go. Finally, we had an excuse greater than just wishes – a cousin was getting married – and we just couldn’t pass up this great opportunity. The groom and his mother are related to my husband through his Morales side of the family.

We enjoyed some wonderful family time, and Dora, the groom’s mother, cooked for us several times. What a treat! The first meal she prepared for us was this appetizer and some delicious risotto with artichokes from the garden of the bride’s father. Yum!


IMG_3925About the third time Dora fed us, I realized I was missing out by just eating the food, so I offered to help her in the kitchen and hopefully learn from her. While “we” cooked, I took some pictures – hoping to have a photo recipe for later. Easier and faster than writing! Then I posted the photos on Facebook with instructions accompanying the photos. I think it worked pretty well. I may have missed a few directions here and there, but they are replicable, and certainly better than relying on my poor memory.

My first photo recipe is for fava beans. I had only known fava beans as a large dried bean that my husband’s Sicilian-American family says are for good luck. Legend has it that the hearty fava bean fed Sicilians (and/or their livestock) during an extreme drought. One carries a dried fava bean in a pocket or wallet for good luck.

Anna Tasca Lanza, in her book “The Heart of Sicily: Recipes and Remembrances of Regaleali,” writes:

The very first fava beans appear on the table on March 19, the feast of San Giuseppe. These young beans are very tender, crisp, and juicy, and we eat them raw, sometimes with pecorino cheese. More often, though, we serve them with the fresh fruit basket that is placed on the table at the end of every meal.

The season for favas lasts quite a long time – through May – which is probably why we have so many ways of preparing them.

I had never seen (noticed?) fava beans at the grocery store, but a week or so after we returned from Sicily, my husband saw them at Whole Foods and brought some home… and I had a recipe!

My husband wasn’t sure how many beans to buy and we ended up with a lot fewer than what Dora prepared. I just proportionately cut back on ingredients as I was cooking. I have no measurements for you.

When I showed a friend some photos of my trip, she wasn’t very impressed when I told her about the fava beans. Then she saw this pic of Dora’s husband holding one he was shelling. They are a pretty big bean! They are also called Broad Beans and Horse Beans.

Here is my photo recipe from Dora’s kitchen and some pics from my preparations here at home.

Shell the beans. There will be a little bump on one end of the beans and Dora took those off, so I did too. This is what you will have.

Grate a small onion into a pot and add a good portion of olive oil. Saute just until tender.

Add fava beans, stir a few times, add water to cover. Add some salt. Bring to a boil. Dora put a little pot of water on another burner so she would have hot water to add as needed. Why have I never thought to do that?

Dora said to simmer about 30 minutes and she used a pressure cooker lid to finish the beans off quickly. I cooked mine close to an hour. Give the beans a stir every so often, add hot water as needed,  and check for doneness.

Dora’s finished fava beans.

By comparison, my beans do not look as fresh from the beginning. They are pale. Dora bought and cooked her beans on the same day and they were grown locally. Mine, on the other hand, sat in my refrigerator a few days before I cooked them and I don’t know where they were grown. And you can see we barely had enough for two servings. 🙁

My finished beans – again don’t look as fresh and pretty as Dora’s. Plus I chopped my onion instead of grating.

But – they tasted good.

I’ll keep my eye out for fava beans next spring!

I have had the opportunity to prepare the other photo recipes I got from Dora, so I’ll be sharing them in future posts.


Kid’s Lit Book Club for Adult ESL Students

Not family history, but it’s my life…

I’ve been a volunteer English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher for about 10 years at the church I attend. Our students are adults and come from all over the world, which is perfect for me because my only language is English! I love children’s books and believe that they can be a great vehicle for increasing vocabulary, improving fluency, increasing cultural literacy, and prompting discussion. You have to choose well, but there are so many good books to choose from! Others have written about the value of using children’s literature in the adult ESL classroom, so I”ll just say, “I agree!”

My first experience using children’s literature in an adult ESL class was several years ago. I knew that teaching fairy tales and folk tales is valuable because of all the cultural references that come from such stories – cry wolf, not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin, juusst right!, and so on. These are lost on our students unless they know the story behind the words. Here’s a scary example …


One summer our lead teacher left the rest of us in charge, so I used the opportunity to try out some lessons using these old stories for children. I included The Three Little Pigs, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and Little Red Riding Hood.

FullSizeRender (31)Then I got a little braver and tried a contemporary book. The book I chose was “Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch. I chose it for several reasons. It is a sweet story that is relatable cross-culturally. There are patterns of speech and repetition and rhythm that just scream “I can help with fluency!” Although there is a sadness to the story, there is also humor. The vocabulary is accessible to a range of students. But I worried that the men especially might not like it or might think it a silly book for us to read. I hoped for the best.

I need not have worried. One of the men, a young pediatrician/anesthesiologist from Iraq, said, “This is one of the best books I have ever read!” Success!

Years passed. Then an article on my Facebook feed gave me the inspiration to start a book club: 7 Children’s Books Every Adult Should Read

I started the Book Club a year ago in April and followed book suggestions from the article linked above. Our first book was “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” We still haven’t read all seven books on this list, but we have read a good many more than seven.

Book Club meets for one hour once a week after our regular two-hour class. The largest attendance has been about 15; we usually have eight-ten participants. We are comfortable sitting around a large table, which facilitates discussion and also the sharing of books. We never have a book for everyone. I encourage students to get a library card and I try to pick books that are available at the library. It works well enough if there is a book for every three students to share. Sometimes I can find a pdf online, post the link, and bring my iPad for students to use along with their phones and tablets – but often the illustrations are missing or incomplete and page breaks don’t always match up.

A typical Book Club goes like this:
* I provide a little background information about the book/author
* I read the book aloud to students, showing illustrations if needed
* I solicit initial reactions
* If the book is short enough, we read the book again, going around the table with each student reading a page
* I have discussion questions prepared, but if students are ready with questions or comments of their own, I let them go for it.

I don’t have a set criteria for selecting books, but I do have some general parameters. I have often selected books I own and enjoyed sharing with my children when they were young. Many of these books were popular/published during the 1980s-90s.

I choose books that can be read at least one time through with plenty of time left for discussion within our one hour time frame. I sometimes time myself reading the book aloud to determine if it is doable. When students read the book around the table, it always takes longer than when I read it to them, so I weigh the importance of a second reading. Sometimes I suggest that students just listen to me read and not read along to see how much of the story they get just by listening. I also want them to hear the rhythm of English, the intonation, and the permission to be silly, if called for. A book read to children requires that you read with emotion – and sometimes voices! – not the rote same-tone style often used by those learning a language.

FullSizeRender (32)Many of the books I select are Caldecott books; some books are classics – maybe not award-winning, but so much a part of the culture that they have a significance beyond accolades. Sometimes I select by theme, season, or author.

I am always delighted by the conversations the books provoke and am often blown away by the observations and insights offered by the students. So often they see something in the illustrations that I totally missed, or understand the story from a different perspective. I can honestly say that we learn together. And I love it when they understand the humor in a story!

Added benefits for me:
* I do a little research about the books and authors in preparation and I have learned many things that I did not know before.
* I’ve discovered some wonderful books that I did not know.
* When I felt comfortable starting the Book Club, it was a true indication that my chemo brain was improving. I was finally able to plan an activity and choose books to read! This was a really big deal for me and motivated me to continue.

ESL Book Club Reading List:

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day – by Judith Viorst

Where the Wild Things Are – by Maurice Sendak
In the Night Kitchen – by Maurice Sendak

The Paper Bag Princess – by Robert Munsch

Love You Forever – by Robert Munsch

From Far Away – by Robert Munsch

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears – by Verna Aardema

Legend of the Bluebonnet by – Tomie de Paola

The Little Engine That Could – by Watty Piper

Charlotte’s Web – by E. B. White (This was a several week book study)

When I Was Young in the Mountains – by Cynthia Rylant

Grandfather’s Journey – by Allen Say

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch – by Trinka Hakes Noble

Miss Nelson is Missing – by Harry Allard

The Cat in the Hat – by Dr. Seuss

The Sneetches – by Dr. Seuss

Horton Hears a Who – by Dr. Seuss

A Visit form St. Nicholas

The Polar Express – by Chris Van Allsburg

The Story of Ferdinand the Bull – by Munro Leaf

The Missing Piece Meets the Big O – by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree – by Shel Silverstein

The Snowy Day – by Ezra Jack Keats

The People could Fly: The Picture Book – by Virginia Hamilton

Tar Beach – by Faith Ringgold

The Legend of The Indian Paintbrush – by Tomie de Paola

Miss Rumphius – by Barbara Cooney

A Chair for my Mother – by Vera B. Williams

Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats

The Gardener – by Sarah Stewart

The Lorax – by Dr. Seuss

Last Stop on Market Street – by Matt de la Pena

The Keeping Quilt – by Patricia Polacco

Fiona’s Lace – by Patricia Polacco

Thank You, Mr. Falker – by Patricia Polacco

Chicken Sunday – by Patricia Polacco