she took her name off the list

butter cookies | the merry gourmet

I’m sharing a butter cookie recipe with you today, a really simple and delicious cookie recipe. The recipe comes from Gourmet magazine (of course – all the good ones do), and I only tweaked it a tiny bit, not enough to really count.

But really, what I want to share with you is a story about my mother.

*    *    *    *    *

My mother is a teacher. She is retired now, but once a teacher, always a teacher. During my early school years, she taught sixth grade, but the year I started fourth grade, she transferred to my school and taught the fourth grade class across the hall from mine. The teachers switched classrooms for part of the day – or maybe the students did – so for some hours of the day, my mother was my teacher.

I was so proud of my mother for being a teacher. It was exhilarating having her stand in front of my classroom, and I loved being known as “Mrs. George’s daughter.” I loved watching her teach, but it terrified me when she called on me. I didn’t want to disappoint her by not knowing the answer, and I definitely didn’t want her to think I was stupid. It’s only fitting that the one time I can vividly recall her calling on me in class is the time that I got tongue-twisted and stammered out an answer that made no sense.

My mom continued to teach for a long time after that, until May 2010, when she retired. I think she intended to travel with my father, to spend the daylight hours photographing birds and flowers, to enjoy her grandchildren, and to relax. Instead, my grandmother was diagnosed with lymphoma, moved in with my parents, and my mother became her caregiver.

Within a year, she became a caregiver again, for my father, when he had his first illness, the one that put him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

And all of this time, she has been the main source of support for my disabled brother, who has schizophrenia.

My mother has shown incredible strength these last several years, since she retired and took on caregiving full time. She has been strong not because she wanted to be, or because she is inherently strong (she is), but because she simply had no other choice. Out of necessity – and out of love – she has prioritized the needs and desires of other people.

In the process, she has repeatedly put herself last.

When my father died in late February, Mom didn’t just put herself last on the list – she took her name off the list entirely.

She stopped socializing as often with her teacher friends. The regular dominoes game she played with another group of women fell to the wayside, replaced by taking my grandmother for a haircut or some other obligation. She stopped reading, unless it was my grandmother’s prescription bottles or the regular monthly bills that came in the mail. She stopped cooking.

Finally, she stopped eating.

My mother was hospitalized last week with dehydration and malnutrition. She spent five days in that hospital room, undergoing blood tests, scans, procedures, and receiving intravenous fluids. Scary diagnoses were ruled out, one by one, and slowly she began to feel more like herself.

I sat by her side as often as I could, but not as often as I would have liked (that whole work/parenting/life balance thing). But when I was there, we were able to simply be together and to talk when the mood struck. I flipped through magazines, knit some stitches on the scarf I’m working on, and we reminisced.

“This reminds me of your father,” she said once, when she tried to walk on shaky legs.

As she was being wheeled to the endoscopy suite, she said, “I remember this tunnel.” Of course she did. My father had been wheeled through that same tunnel, the one that connects the two towers of the hospital, several times.

When she was finally discharged, on the fifth day, her discharge instructions were simple: Eat. And though the final diagnosis was not on the paperwork, we both knew what it was. It was grief.

She’s doing better now, after almost one full week at home. Thanks to her amazing friends, she has had plenty of hot meals on hand – ready to eat, no cooking required. She plans to play dominoes again soon, and I hope she begins reading again.

My mother is beautiful and strong, even after losing a ridiculous amount of weight these past months. She has the most wonderful sense of humor. She is creative and inspiring. Her passion for teaching – and her skill at doing so – is unrivaled. I have been proud of my mother for all of these things and so many more, for as long as I can remember.

Today, I am most proud of my mom for putting herself back on her list.

And I will always love being known as “Mrs. George’s daughter.”

Yield: 2 to 3 dozen, depending on slice thickness

Butter Cookies

These cookies are so simple and yet so delicious. The hardest parts of the recipe are waiting for the butter to come to room temperature and then waiting for the dough to chill.


2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 sticks (3/4 cup; 170 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla paste

Egg wash (1 egg white mixed with 1 teaspoon water)
Turbinado or sanding sugar, for garnish


In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, beat together butter and granulated sugar with a hand mixer (or using a stand mixer) on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, around 3-5 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla paste. On low speed, add the flour mixture and beat until just combined.

Roll the dough into a 12-inch long log, approximately 2 inches in diameter. Press and shape the log into a rectangle if you prefer rectangular cookies. Wrap in plastic wrap or wax paper and chill on a baking sheet until firm, at least 4 hours.

Heat oven to 375 degrees and place oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

Unwrap cookie dough and slice into 1/8-to-1/4-inch slices. Place them 1 inch apart on two sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Chill any unused dough. Brush each cookie evenly with egg wash, then sprinkle with turbinado or sanding sugar.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking time, until cookies are golden. Cool on the cookie sheets for 3 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Note: Dough can be stored in the refrigerator for 5 days or frozen, wrapped tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap, for 1 month.

Hardly tweaked from this recipe from Gourmet 2003.

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17 Responses to “she took her name off the list”

  1. 1
    Gail — December 18, 2014 @ 6:00 pm


  2. 2

    MJ – I am so sorry to hear about this but glad your mum is on the road to recovery. She’s so lucky to have a daughter like you (and I bet she loves being known as the Doctor’s mum!) XOX

  3. 3
    Cheryl — December 18, 2014 @ 6:41 pm

    Too often the diagnosis is broken heart. But they can mend and she is showing that. You are a daughter she can be proud of too.

  4. 4
    Janis — December 18, 2014 @ 6:53 pm

    I believe that your mom is wonderful. Look at who she raised ;–)

  5. 5
    Paula Kelly-Bourque — December 18, 2014 @ 7:29 pm

    I have read so many of your posts about you, your father, your family with such a lump in my throat that it was hard to swallow. This one just plain made me tear up. My heart goes out to your Mother, truly it does and I shall remember her and your family in my prayers. God bless all of you.

  6. 6
    Liren — December 19, 2014 @ 1:41 am

    Mothers always think of themselves last, why is it so? MJ, this post touched the deepest part of my heart, and I’m glad she has you there as she remembers herself and how important she is. Sending love to you as you stay strong for your family, too.

  7. 7
    Leigh — December 19, 2014 @ 8:25 am

    Beautifully written. I’m sending so much love to you both. xo

  8. 8
    Flavia — December 19, 2014 @ 11:47 am

    Thank you for sharing such a beautifully written post, MJ. You are blessed to have a mother like yours; not everyone is so fortunate. I can relate to your mom in some ways after being a caregiver for my great-aunt at the end of last year and the beginning of this year. Unlike your mom who dedicated years to caregiving, I only took on the responsibility for five months, but I know what it was like to take myself completely “off the list”, and I know the feelings of sadness and grief that settle into your heart when caregiving responsibilities were over. There is so much that stays with you and so much to “process”. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was often frustrating and heartbreaking. But it was also a blessing and a privilege.

    My prayers are with your mom for a full recovery and a journey back to putting herself not just back on the list, but right at the top. Merry Christmas my friend. So happy to know you. xo

  9. 9
    Sharon — December 19, 2014 @ 2:37 pm

    This made me cry. I so empathize. I hope she takes time to have fun. I have been going through poor health,knee replacement and anxiety wasn’t able to eat for a month I was so shaky and anxious. I hope your Mom feels better soon. I finally started to eat and making energy drinks. I just blend peanut butter, milk, ice, half banana and little chocolate syrup. Seemed to help…at least mentally 🙂

  10. 10
    Alicia K. — December 19, 2014 @ 4:30 pm

    Thank you for sharing your mom’s story. I’m guessing many of us can relate and empathize in some way. I’ve printed your recipe and shall rename it Mrs. George’s Daughter’s Butter Cookies to remind me whenever I look at it of this story about your strong and beautiful mom who put herself back on the list. I cheer for her!

  11. 11
    Cherie — December 19, 2014 @ 5:09 pm

    This touched me so – I’m so glad your mother has put herself back on the list 🙂

    I am going through a divorce, and things for so long have been about taking care of everyone else and keeping all the balls in the air. As things progress I am realizing that for a long time I’ve taken myself off the list. I am trying very hard to find a way back to myself, to get myself on the list, to put my oxygen mask on so I can help those around me do the same.

    My prayers for your mother’s mental and physical health – and for you as you find a new balance caring for her and supporting HER as she cares for your brother.

  12. 12
    Vanessa @frenchfoodiemom — December 20, 2014 @ 2:34 pm

    MJ, thank you for gifting us your mother’s beautiful story. Such a lovely tribute and an important reminder to all of us in the middle place, busy taking care of both children and parents, to not forget our own needs. I hope your mom returns to her dominoes and books soon. She is lucky to have your love and support.

    Your cookie recipe will be our first baked item in our new stove later today.

  13. 13
    Katie Fiore — December 20, 2014 @ 5:00 pm

    Such a touching and moving story. You’ve put it into words beautifully as well.

  14. 14
    Colleen — December 22, 2014 @ 1:49 pm

    Condolences on the loss of your father. What a beautiful tribute to your mother. I have tears on so many levels. But hope, too. Thank you for sharing.

  15. 15
    Mallory @forkvsspoon — December 29, 2014 @ 1:11 pm

    So touching – you have a story telling gift, especially with stories that are hard to write but they are often the ones that hit a chord with so many. Thanks for sharing and much love to you and your mom!

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