I tend to become melancholy on December 31st. This last day of the year often feels like so many Sunday nights, when I feel sad to leave the wonderful weekend days behind to head into a brand new week filled with unknowns.
This year is different. I’m very okay with leaving 2014 behind.
This has been a tough year, overshadowed by family illness, death, and grief. In my career, I deal with death routinely, so I thought I’d be more prepared when February 27th arrived. I learned quickly, though, that much like becoming a parent, losing a parent is something that you simply can’t understand until you go through it yourself. I understand now. If there is a bright side to this experience, it’s that I feel that I am a more understanding physician for it.
But the year also had many good parts, and I don’t want you to think that I’ve been sitting in a darkened room, withering away, not moving forward. For one thing, my father would have had no patience for that.
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.
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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.
I was telling my husband on Sunday afternoon how refreshed I was feeling after the Thanksgiving break. It’s surprising, in a way. I spent much of last week cooking and baking, and I spent a fair amount of time organizing and cleaning. Putting on a Thanksgiving feast for 8 adults and 5 children is hard work, despite the fact that I loved every minute of it.
I should have been worn out, both physically and mentally. Instead, I felt inspired and rejuvenated.
Being totally immersed in a creative project — and cooking is definitely that for me — seems to have a snowball effect. The more I create, the more I want to create. And so, despite having a PowerPoint presentation that I needed to work on over the long weekend (which doesn’t count as the kind of creativity I was going for), I found projects to keep my mind and hands busy.
One of those projects that I dove into this weekend was cooking from Jennifer Perillo’s first edition of her new quarterly journal, Simple Scratch Cooking: a homecook’s journal for making easy, everyday meals. The issue is a beautiful 13-pages filled with recipes and essays written in the style of Jennie’s blog, In Jennie’s Kitchen. I’ve been reading In Jennie’s Kitchen for several years now, and it’s one of the handful that I go back to regularly.