Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Poppy Seed Cookies and a Remembrance of Things Past

As far as the revolving door of friendship goes, the older you get, the more spins it takes. People come and go in your life all the time.  Some go out for a spin and later, sometimes years later, come back for another go ‘round, and there are others who go through and never look back.

I heard some bad news the other day that was very unsettling. Someone I knew who had been one of those who went around my revolving door and headed out permanently was recently diagnosed with cancer. It hit me really hard because, even though we’d not seen each other in quite a few years, there was a time in our lives when we would see each other daily. Our children were the same ages and went to the same preschool. This woman and I were even pregnant at the same time with our youngest children. She was about a month farther along than I was, and when her time came to “jump off the diving board,” as I liked to put it, I remember I laughed and said, “it’s not fair..I’m ready to take the plunge but I'm still on the steps!"

One day not long after we’d both had our babies, I took her daughter home to have a lunch play date with my son. After I got the two older children settled in at the park with the box lunches I made for them, I carried my infant son back to the car with me to get his stroller. This was in the days before “clickers” were provided with every car you purchased, and when I went to open the hatch to get my purse, I realized my keys were locked in the car right next to it...and the stroller. So there I was: two toddlers, one of whom I didn’t even know that well, one infant, no purse, no stroller, no phone.(Remember, cell phones weren’t around 20 years ago...at least not for me.)

 Not wanting to alarm the children, I quietly begged for phone money from some guy who too was eating his lunch in the park. (I daresay it was someone else’s before he got to it.) He was outwardly dubious about my story, but he managed to scrounge up enough change for a toll call to my husband. Then I and my brood of three headed across a major thoroughfare--while I prayed we wouldn’t get run over--to a local coffee shop to make my call. As if I weren't feeling demoralized enough knowing that I was standing there with about 35 cents to my name, my son asked if he could have a gumball from the machine that was next to the phone. I guess my answer, “No, we don’t have enough money!”  was a tad too loud, because it prompted everyone sitting on their stools at the lunch bar to swivel around and take a look at the woeful wretch who couldn’t afford a gumball for her kid. It was definitely not one of my better days.

After what seemed like an interminable amount of time, my husband finally showed up, and we all finally went home. I was more than embarrassed to explain the situation to this little girl’s mom, but she took it in stride, and I never got the feeling that she held the incident against me. I’ve never forgotten that debacle, or how gracious she was about it.

 One other thing I’ve never forgotten about her were some cookies she made for a bake sale.  I honestly don’t remember what I brought to the sale, but I remember her very delicious, very simple, half-dollar-sized cookies. Shortbread cookies--golden brown along the edges, with just enough ginger and cinnamon to differentiate them from plain old shortbread cookies. They contain poppy seeds, and although I am not usually a poppy seed fan, they add a bit of welcome texture. These are icebox cookies--rolled into logs, chilled, and then sliced. The nice thing about them is that you can keep the logs in the freezer until you need them, let them thaw a bit, slice as many cookies as you want, and then return the log to the freezer for the next time.

When I asked for the recipe, it took a while to get it. (Uh, maybe she did hold that incident against me!) I still have the paper on which the recipe was written. The handwriting is very small, neat, and businesslike...just like this woman. I have held off from recopying it through the years, and merely fold it up and tuck it back into my wooden recipe file whenever I use it.  A recipe written in the originator's own hand gives it a vintage kind of feel. And I like that. And now it's even more meaningful. Originally called Poppy Seed and Nut Slices,  I’ve renamed them simply "M's Cookies."

My sister and brother-in-law were visiting this weekend to help celebrate my birthday. I can’t remember the last time we were together on either of our birthdays, so even though it wasn’t a milestone year (thank goodness!), it was a special occasion. 

I baked the cookies for my sister in my friend’s honor. I don't think I will be calling to ask about her health--too much time has past since we were in contact, and I think a call from me out of the blue would be jarring--and seem intrusive. I tend to shy away from awkward moments, not because I would feel unable to handle them, but because I wouldn't want to impose that kind of uneasiness on anyone else. I'll keep my distance until I feel the time is right...if ever. But I am thinking about her and wishing her well. 

It may sound strange, but people seem closer to me when I am either eating the food they’ve prepared, or eating something I’ve prepared on my own from a recipe they’ve given me. It’s almost as though they’re sitting next to me--watching.  

My sister loved the cookies, and I gave her a few to take with her on the long drive back to New Jersey. I bet they never made it home.

M’s Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup poppy seeds
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped hazelnuts or almonds

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla extract. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, poppy seeds, , cinnamon, ginger, and salt.
Gradually add dry ingredients to butter mixture. Add nuts on low speed and mix until all are combined.

Shape dough in 2 logs, about 1 1/2 inched in diameter. Wrap in waxed or parchment paper and chill for at least two hours. Once chilled, using a sharp knife, slice into 1/4-inch slices. Place one inch apart on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown, in a preheated 350-degree oven.


  1. I too was shocked when I heard the news about this friend of ours. Of all the people we knew all these years, she was the last person I would think would become ill with cancer - she has taken such good care of herself. We all need to be grateful for every single day we are here, healthy and able to enjoy a cookie.

  2. I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. I loved your story, though, and coincidentally I've been writing on a similar topic this week. I also love poppy seed cookies and can't wait to try this recipe.

    1. Food is such a complicated thing, and evokes so many different feelings in people. I've always believed that when someone gives you a recipe, they are giving of themselves.

  3. I have a similar recipe for sausage biscuits from my favorite lady in my Bible study. It's in her handwriting on an old-fashioned recipe card. A treasure since she passed away.
    In fact, I think some of my greatest treasures are in other people's handwriting on recipe cards (and envelopes).
    I want to make M's cookies.

    1. Thanks for writing in. The cookies are simple, and delicious. Enjoy!

  4. You never know. I copied the recipe. Thanks for sharing. Food resonates with memories!

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  6. What a warm and wonderful way to wish your friend well.

  7. Great story. I hope you're able to connect with the old friend (M) before too long - perhaps it will happen organically. Thanks, too, for the cookie recipe.

  8. Mindy, I am seeing you with your three little charges in the park so very long ago that our cells were not glued to our hands as they seem to be now. A slice of life vignette and the stories of the cookies are helping me understand your long-ago friend. I bet she would be honored knowing that you have not forgotten her. Hope her health improves.

  9. Those cookies sound wonderful, and why would anyone on earth hold a grudge for something like locking your keys in the car? Find me a parent who hasn't done that, or worse and I find you a liar! (or a saint, and who needs those for friends?)