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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22 Responses to “saying thanks with dinner, and pound cake for a crowd”

  1. Paula - bell'alimento — September 19, 2012 @ 8:19 pm

    Your team is very lucky indeed. I have a soft spot for pound cake.

  2. Lana @ Never Enough Thyme — September 19, 2012 @ 8:33 pm

    I think your team is lucky to have such a thoughtful attending and your patients are extremely lucky to have you and your team. I speak from experience when I say that patients and their families appreciate, maybe more than you can imagine, a kind word and a thoughtful gesture from those who provide care. But, you already knew that. That caring and thoughtful shows through every word of this post 🙂

  3. Mallory — September 19, 2012 @ 8:40 pm

    Lovely. Those first days can be so scary and intimidating and with monthly rotations, first days occur, well monthly. Thank you for sharing and there is nothing better than pound cake – so simple, yet always hits the spot.

  4. Macaroni Mama — September 19, 2012 @ 8:48 pm

    I love this blog, MJ.

  5. Lana — September 20, 2012 @ 1:21 am

    It could have been me standing there that July, second-guessing myself, the heart threatening to jump out of my chest, the pulse in mid-hundreds:) That’s what makes you a great doctor and a wonderful human being.
    My dad is a doctor (retired, but it never stops:) and I remember him silent and grave on many days and nights. When I was in Serbia this last summer, I went to see a woman he personally mentored and taught for years (ObGyn). She still adores him, and I can only imagine what a great impression you leave on your interns.
    Your story touched me, especially after my mom succumbed to cancer this summer. I know how important is that human touch, a kind word, and understanding only your MD can offer.
    BTW, the pound cake looks lovely and I don’t doubt for a second that the students look at you with awe:)

  6. Kathryn — September 20, 2012 @ 4:25 am

    Every post of yours is so finely crafted and yet it seems so effortless. It’s a complete joy to read.

  7. Jenny @ BAKE — September 20, 2012 @ 6:32 am

    this is an absolutely brilliantly written post, it really made me smile!

  8. Melanie @ Nutritious Eats — September 20, 2012 @ 10:40 am

    Great stories and lessons shared. I admire Doctors so much and you amaze me that you have all these other talents too.

  9. Winnie — September 20, 2012 @ 10:51 am

    Echoing the thoughts of everyone who has commented that this is a terrific post. You are such a special person…I am so honored to call you my friend. xoxo

  10. Paula — September 20, 2012 @ 10:52 am

    I’m sure members of your team have peeked into your kitchen and experienced the same thing you did when you peeked into your attending’s kitchen years ago. Loving you and working with you must come easy to all of them.

  11. ~ callee ~ — September 20, 2012 @ 11:17 am

    I adore the plate you served the pound cake on – those are gorgeous! I absolutely love saying thank you with supper as well. I am so glad you have such wonderful groups of people to work with!

  12. Aggie — September 20, 2012 @ 11:27 am

    You are so real MJ, I just loved reading this. I know your students appreciate everything you have taught them.
    This cake is absolutely gorgeous.

  13. Denise — September 20, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

    I love that you bring your team into your home as well as your heart by nurturing them with food. We recently started doing the same when he hire staff for a big project, and was surprised by how grateful they were. Not only for a home-cooked meal but to be let into our lives beyond work.

    I applaud people in your line of work – strong and courageous. Our niece is studying to become an oncologist, I find her very brave, I do not handle death very well and feel I would be a basket case all the time. Bravo for what you do and the difference you make in people’s lives.

  14. Heidi — September 20, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

    What a fabulous blog, loved reading this and that cake looked amazing x

  15. Diane Barnes, RN — September 20, 2012 @ 7:04 pm

    After 28 years of nursing, I can tell you it is true: a smart doctor knows what a valuable resource the bedside nurse can be. It’s great to be appreciated. Thank you!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — September 22nd, 2012 @ 7:39 am

      No, thank YOU!

  16. Lynda - TasteFood — September 20, 2012 @ 8:34 pm

    I like women with messy kitchens. xo.

  17. Mary — September 20, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

    I am continually blown away by your beautiful humanity and attention to the nuances that knit everything together. Bravo!

  18. Di — September 21, 2012 @ 11:23 am

    The cake looks delicious. Preparing food is so wonderfully comforting, isn’t it? It’s like a good friendship, always there when you need it. What did you make for dinner?

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — September 22nd, 2012 @ 7:39 am

      My husband cooked three chickens on the Big Green Egg smoker (love when he helps!) and I made some macaroni and cheese and a roasted ratatouille to go along with it.

  19. Carolyn — September 22, 2012 @ 5:38 am

    Such a wonderful, touching post. Today is my birthday, and this is definitely one of my gifts, so thank you. My dad passed away a few years ago from a messy combination of Hodgkins and CLL, and although he had wonderful, compassionate doctors, it helps a lot to feel this much genuine humanity behind your profession. xx

  20. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction — September 30, 2012 @ 10:28 pm

    Pound cake is one of my all-time favorites, and this version looks just perfect. What a lovely way to say thank you! 🙂

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