As I start to write this, I realize that, while I meant to write only about one piece of the story, the title is appropriate for the bigger story. Three Fridays ago kicked off a weekend of celebration, hard work and accomplishments. The celebrations were for hard work and accomplishment and they were followed by a different type of hard work with great progress but not final accomplishment. Both ended in an encore.
My oldest niece, Catherine, graduated last weekend from high school. Back when I graduated, it was a small sort of affair held in the auditorium of our school followed by a few handshakes and hugs on the lawn outside then a few pretty-unmemorable parties. Cat, however, kicked off her high school exit weekend with a cello recital that brought down the house, with a little help from sister Julia (also on cello), brother Axel (that little ham, on violin, and ego), Grandmother Doris (wow, can she sing) and Cat’s friend Sophia (Juilliard, here she comes… no really, for real – she’s in!). Following the recital was a reception back at my brother’s house which mimicked a small wedding reception, boasting around 100 guests (top that one x3 when the moments come Scott & Christine; not so far in the future now…).
How cute is she (and happy)?!
The following day was the graduation ceremony and it was an impressive cast of students, teachers, performers and speakers (Catherine played a small bit on her cello and Sophia got a standing ovation on her violin solo later – wow, those gals can play!). After the ceremony, the graduates mobbed a fleet of buses that whisked them to Puget Sound where they partied (safely, drug and alcohol free…) until the wee hours of the morning (my brother Scott chaperoned the graveyard shift dealing cards at the blackjack table… say whaaaat?).
Tom and I stayed on-island Friday night with Scott’s in-laws who have a house a mile down the road from theirs so that we need not shuttle back-and-forth on the (damn) ferry for the multi-day events. Doris, Scott’s mother-in-law, makes all of her own bread and is the type of cook that I wish I could be, simple, rustic and real. No matter what she makes, it is effortless to watch, comforting to eat and memorable for years to come.
Our breakfast was a humble plate of scrambled eggs served with thin slices of ham, thick slices of Swiss cheese and her mouth-watering bread that I smothered in butter and honey, scrumptious – oh yeah. We washed it all down with deep mugs of hot coffee and went about our day visiting with each other and admiring their garden (with the “Tom-Tom Club” slug hunting) before joining Tom (not my Tom, Doris’ Tom) for lunch at his local joint, The Island Grill, before joining the rest of the fam for the graduation ceremony (oops, we got the stink-eye for being fashionably (on-time) late. That guy can tell a story!
Doris and “her” Tom making tracks toward the ball field for graduation fashionably (on time) late. With deer escort.
Now, you are probably wondering, what was the other piece of the story? Well, here it is: Flying in from Alaska to attend the graduation festivities, my Mom and her opposite sex partner, John, were put to work right-away cutting vegetables, slicing meat and doing various bits of helping hand. After the reception, (my) Tom and I said good bye for the night as we headed over to (the other) Tom and Doris’ and as we walked out the door (a little (or lot) bit after midnight), John and my Mom were still slung with aprons, knee deep in dishes and cleaning up of things.
The next night after graduation, everyone went back to my brother’s house except Catherine (because she was on the party bus) and us (because we were exhausted and had a long ride home with preparation of guests to be had); and they cooked a salmon for the island dinner that my Mom had caught just a few days prior (she can out-fish all the curmudgeons on the Nushagak River). If that weren’t enough fun, they then traveled the 35 minute ferry ride (not counting waiting in line) and 18 miles to our house for the night, only to wake up at 6:00 am (John, not Mom) to demo/build our deck. Crazy right?
Talk about stamina and endurance, the last time John helped us with a project, they had just deplaned a flight from Europe and came straight away over to help build a storage loft in our garage. Well, that had not been the plan, but me, in the middle of cooking dinner, put it on indefinite hold, while John and Tom started banging away (John insisted and Tom followed his lead, never one to reject skilled help in a seemingly daunting task). John decided we needed this more than we needed to put up a small bamboo fence in the corner of our yard (which was the original request for the weekend since it was keeping a car out of the garage); he was right of course. But then they did that too. No kidding. A new storage loft, a cleaned out garage (with enough room to actually fit the car) and a bamboo fence, all in the course of a weekend. John, of course, didn’t return for several years after that (do you blame him?).
Hmmmmmmm, the beginnings of a new daunting task.
So, with boards on our deck rotting to the point of footsteps sinking right through them, we decided it was time to do a little restoration (I couldn’t bare thinking of the eight little paws catching mid-step). We knew John was traveling our way with Mom and we sheepishly asked if he could help change out a “few” boards, though after months of analysis we new it was at least 85% or so. At the time, we were unclear about schedules and such; silly us, we were left with only 2-1/2 days – plus, silly him, he agreed! I certainly won’t be going into a list of “Oh, but I made him this food”, sort of list because it doesn’t compare to the efforts, energy and hard work that he sweated-out and burned-off in return (plus, believe it or not, he is not motivated by food – crazy). I will say though, that I made beef for John, plus potatoes, the mashed-up kind, no vegetables (okay, maybe a few) and no wine (well, not for him). Yep, he is a meat-and-potatoes job, diner-establishment and vodka and tonic number (no fault there other than vodka over gin) -preferred over crushed grapes and white linen). He is also a big Cookie Monster and I was feeling particularly guilty for not making a batch; I resorted to (good, local heathly-ish) store-bought cookies instead. So, as I said, we had two and one-half days, 2 men full-time, 2 women (very) part-time and a (very) special appearance for a few hours by John’s son, Luke and our neighbor and friend Piotr, as well (huge thanks). We also had a Helluva lot of work and inclement weather (because why would it choose to cooperate?). You already know that John is an achiever, but I forgot to mention that he is relentless as well. 14-hour days, straight through without (seriously) so much as a potty break and food taken in only when hand force-fed during action (until a late-night dinner, s t a m i n a).
So, two (okay, three…possibly four) sore backs, aches and many pains, bruises and blisters later, it was time for them to catch a flight back to the North (where the weather was behaving(?)). Right down to the wire and it was so close…but not quite done (no stairs to the yard for the pups and no benches that make up the rail… oh how this bothered John (mostly because as he gave the five-minute intense discussion on how to build stairs before peeling off to the airport, Tom looked like a deer in headlights, his day-to-day occupational device is a “mouse”). John kept at it until the final minute when my Mom literally pulled him out the door in order to make the flight (e n d u r a n c e).
Serious progress by Monday.
We were ecstatic at the progress by Tuesday evening (not thinking it would even get as far as it did get on Tuesday) but Tom did have an apprehension of his ability to finish by himself. I, of course, was going to help (blind, leading the even more blind). Later that week, Tom was texting John back and forth, sent a picture of the cleaned up site and jokingly wrote “see you Saturday”. John wrote back “Saturday??? I can’t make it Saturday, but how about Thursday, does that work for you?”. “You wouldn’t kid a guy would you?”, was the reply (along with a full-fledged WTF?! and so on… it was a good day. So John has come back for an encore, all the way from Alaska (with more freshly caught king salmon in tow). We will give him a standing ovation and this time, store-bought cookies simply won’t do.
Chocolate Chunk Pine Nut Cookies
So this past Thursday night, as I made dinner while “the boys” were out slinging wood, I found myself with enough time to make cookies. I am much more of a cook than a baker so I don’t have a lot of cookie recipes up my sleeve. I had opened my email earlier and – low and behold, one of my blog friends had recently posted about chocolate chip cookies. She claims not to be a baker either, so I’m not sure it was the wisest choice to try making her recipe but it was Prudy from Butter, Basil and Breadcrumbs, so I felt I couldn’t go too wrong.
As I pulled up the screen to look at the recipe, I realized it was adapted from Crisco’s Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie and I’ve never cooked with shortening, let alone had any in the house (except when it suspiciously appeared from house guests). I started to slightly panic when I realized I was low on butter, had only whole wheat flour, no raisins, or walnuts and most importantly, no chocolate chips. Hmmm… improvisation was in order. I kept hearing Tom in my head saying, “Don’t make them taste of cardboard!” (which, to him, my cookies tend to taste of because I try to make them “healthy”). These however, I will be making again… and again, and again, and again!
Ingredients 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour 2 tsp salt 1 tsp baking soda 1/4 tsp baking powder 3/4 cup Turbino sugar 6 TB butter 1/4 cup olive oil 1 TB vanilla extract 2 TB milk 1 egg 1/4 cups coarsely-chopped raw pine nuts Approximately 1 cup or 4 oz – mix of milk and dark chocolate cut into chunks I used Theo “salt and dark chocolate” plus “milk chocolate” plus Chocolove hazelnut milk chocolate, plus 1 oz Endangered Species dark chocolate (left over from Halloween, heh, heh…). To Make
Mix the flour, salt, baking soda and powder in a smallish bowl.
Combine the sugar, butter, oil, vanilla, milk and egg in a large bowl and beat with a hand mixer until well-beaten.
Add the dry mixture to the wet and continue mixing until well combined.
Mix in the pine nuts and chocolate. Scoop small balls of dough onto a non-stick baking sheet (space a few inches apart). Cook at 350 degrees F for 12 minutes (or so) until golden and cooked through.
Let cool, slightly on the sheets and then transfer to a rack or eat right away.
Julie Zouzounis said:
Stacey, I love reading these posts! I want to make those cookies- I have some projects for John!
Stacey Bender said:
I am so g,ad you are enjoying. Do make the cookies – yum! You and I both have projects for John; I think he as left the building though.
The recital rocked!!! Where are my cookies?
Stacey Bender said:
Yes, rocked the house it did! Cookies? I guess I should have saved you one being your birthday and all! Happy b I r t h d a y to you, happy b ir t hda y to yo ooh….(you know the rest)!
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Christine Edwards said:
I am exhausted just reading the post – John is my hero. The cookies sound delicious – did the guys actually like them? My mom laughed so hard about your reference to her cooking – she was so flattered that you liked her home cookin’.
Stacey Bender said:
Yes, they both did amazing work but John is a true hero. They both liked the cookies quite a bit. John had most of them polished off by end of breakfast the next day. I think the pine nuts added a nice depth in flavor as well as aiding the olive oil in providing a light texture.