She was 99 – 3 months short of her 100th birthday and my last living grandparent.
I hadn’t seen her in a few years – she doesn’t live nearby and the last few years she was no longer able to reply to letters or cards or talk on the phone so I felt a bit of a disconnect when I heard the news. Sorta like… like my brain took a few days to process it all.
But on Saturday I felt very sad all of a sudden. I was doing the bulk of my Christmas baking and I started thinking about her. So many of my memories of my Grandma revolve around food.
My first real memory of making food is stirring fruit cake with my mom. I think there’s even a picture of me doing it somewhere.
But my second memory of making food was with my Grandma – she taught me how to make drop cookies, as she called them. Most people call them thumbprint cookies. We made buckets of them – literally! We would make so many that she would fill up 4L ice cream pails with them to freeze. Usually they were filled with sticky jam
Although she was born in Canada, she grew up with immigrant Ukrainian parents on a farm in Alberta. I grew up eating her homemade perogies, cabbage rolls, borscht, all handmade from scratch. I remember as a little girl watching her fill her perogies and “helping” her fold and seal them – she could do it so quickly, her hands flying while my little ones tried to keep up – making a mess in the process. And then I would watch fascinated as she boiled them – waiting for them to pop up in the water.
A few years ago, my cousin Heather tried to recreate Grandma’s recipe. It wasn’t the same. That’s a secret that has now disappeared. My dad can replicate the cabbage rolls very well but every year at Ukrainian (or Orthodox) Christmas, which we still celebrate, we buy the borscht and the perogies from a local Ukrainian deli where they still make everything, including the Kielbassa from scratch.
By the time I came along, my Grandma lived in Kelowna, back when it was a sleepy little lakeside town surrounded by orchards, ponderosa pines and sage brush – not like the tourist behemouth strip mall it has become today (sorry Laura – they’re messing with my youth!). Chunks of our summers would be spent walking to the lake, eating apples, watching them make apple juice at the Sun Rype factory, and eating Grandma’s food and helping her garden. I have winter memories of tobogganing down Knox mountain, squealing with delight at the windy steep mountainside covered in snow unlike we ever got at home and landing practically in my cousins’ front yard (try doing that on Knox Mountain today – it’s now a giant subdivision!) and having hot chocolate afterwards. Always, there was food and lots of it.
I remember staying with her in my teens and her asking me what I wanted for lunch. Not wanting a big meal like she would usually produce I begged for just a simple sandwich (oh, and don’t YOU go trying to make your own lunch…). “Is that all? Just a sandwich?” she would exclaim. “Yes please Grandma” Within ten minutes a fresh homemade loaf of bread would be sliced up and sandwich fixings of all sorts along with a mammoth bowl of soup would be presented to you with a murmur of “Are you sure this will fill you up??”.
She wasn’t the type to write a lot of letters other than with my birthday card. But every now and then, seemingly out of the blue, one would arrive. She always seemed to have a sixth sense for when I was feeling very low and had the ability to send me a letter knowing what to say to make me feel better.
I am a pretty even mix of my parents genetic material but my stubborness (some less polite people will refer to it as my pig-headedness…) comes from my Grandma. It gets me in trouble sometimes but for the most part it’s done me well.
This weekend, I made Chocolate Nutella Thumbprint Cookies as a tribute to my Grandma. The recipe is courtesy of my girlfriend, Laura. We used to make these with her oldest daughter at Christmas before they moved away when she was about 5. Oddly enough, they now live in Kelowna. I hope Rozzy remembers making them with us years from now too
- ½ cup butter
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 large yolk
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup plus 2tbsp flour
- ⅓ cup chopped chocolate
- Nutella for filling
- Cream butter and sugar until fluffy
- Add egg yolk, vanilla, salt and mix
- Add flour and beat on low speed
- Add chocolate
- At this point, you can freeze the dough for up to a month if you want
- Form dough into balls
- Place on parchment paper or a silpat baking sheet
- Make a "thumbprint" depression and fill with Nutella
- Place in freezer for 15 minutes
- Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes
Food Photography Tips
Well, I’m begrudgingly starting to learn that shooting with a tripod when I use my macro lens makes my life much easier. Despite being a very fast lens, I find that camera shake can dramatically affect the focus on the lens I have (oh one day I will have a Canon L macro lens… one day…) when shooting at close quarters and a very shallow depth of field.
All these photos used a tripod with all natural light coming from the left (except the one of me as wee young thing…) and being reflected by foam board to the right.
Image 1: 100mm, f/2.8, 1/50th, ISO400, no exposure compensation
Image 2: 100mm, f/2.8, 1/40th, ISO400, no exposure compensation
Image 3: 100mm, f/2.8, 1/30th, ISO400, no exposure compensation
Post processing on all of them was contrast, clarity and sharpening in Lightroom. The longest, hardest part of this shoot was placing the Christmas tree ornaments in the background.
*** the ornaments were a gift from my same cousin, Heather, who made the perogies. They’re vintage 1940’s ornaments that don’t go with my other tree ornaments but which are so pretty I have to find other ways to use them