Tag Archives: grandmas

grandma stuff.

My grandmother has been so much on my mind the last few weeks. She was 96 when she died this past February, at home and at peace and ready to join my grandfather. I was so lucky to have her for such a long time. But I’ve missed her a lot this month, because she’s been around every corner.


At Thanksgiving, I wore her apron and used her rolling pin to roll out crust for apple pie, using her recipe. The following weekend, I made a double batch of bourbon balls for Christmas and set them aging. In the last few weeks, I’ve used her typewriter to make a gift for a friend, and to type labels for bottles of homemade applejack that I sent. And ever since Black Friday, I’ve been getting emails from a florist company reminding me to “send Roberta Christmas flowers!” I could unsubscribe from that, I suppose, but it seems strangely disloyal and so I’ve suffered through the tiny pangs that arise every time one appears in my inbox. photo 1 (23)IMG_0075

For as long as I knew her, Grandma hated having her picture taken, so the smiling photos I’ve posted here are rare and precious. But in the days leading up to her funeral, I made a collage of photographs for the service, and I discovered a photo album from the year before she married my grandfather up through the year that their oldest, my uncle Sid, was born. She’s smiling radiantly in almost every picture. She may still have disliked the camera, but there’s no sign of it in these enchanting pictures. I now have this photo album, and I love looking through it at the pictures of their early life, and her beautiful smiling face.photo 2 (22)

So no flowers for Roberta this Christmas, but she is remembered in everything I do, and in many of the gifts I give. Here’s her recipe for bourbon balls. Consume with caution; if you let them age properly, they’re heady.

*NOTE: the measurements given are for cookies and nuts after they’ve been ground, not before. I managed to forget that this year, with slightly soggy results. So for proper results with a single batch, you’ll need to buy two boxes of Nilla Wafers, and more than a cup of walnuts. Grandma used a rolling pin, because she was a badass. I use a food processor, because I live in the future.*

Bourbon Balls

  • 3 cups ground Nilla Wafers
  • 1 cup ground nuts (I mostly use walnuts, but anything works)
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar, plus extra for dusting
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup bourbon

Grind wafers and nuts fine. Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Shape into balls about the size of a large cherry. Roll in confectioners sugar (I roll them twice). Age at least two weeks. Makes about 36; keeps indefinitely.

day 18.

Today I called my grandmother and asked her if I could have her rolling pin and some of her aprons when she dies. She’s been fretting over the sheer volume of things in the house, and what will happen to all of them and where they’ll go and if we, the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, have room and/or need of them. Mostly I don’t have room and/or need of more things, but I want these pieces of her. I want to keep her in my kitchen. I want to keep the engine of her hospitality and caregiving and endless capacity to bountifully feed anyone who walks through her door. I want to keep the skill of her hands. I want to keep the shape of her beautiful person – which is also mine. My short fingers, I got from my father, and he got them from her. My echoing barrel of a ribcage is hers as well.

She seemed surprised. She asked if there was anything else I wanted from her kitchen; I’m sure there must be, but I couldn’t picture anything else. I’ve watched her prepare dozens of meals, but what I remember is her hands and her wrists, her beautiful long hair pinned up with who knows how many hairpins. Her grace. Her absolutely tiny self standing on a kitchen stool to get a bowl. The way my grandfather would walk through the kitchen and pat her and say, “My sweetheart.”

She’s so lovely. We tell her constantly. I hope she knows it’s true.

day 11.

When I walked into the gym this morning, there was a tiny wizened nut of a woman in a babushka and sweatpants using the leg lift machine and reading a cookbook. I have a crushing list of things to accomplish today, but who could possibly have a bad day after seeing something like that? I’m all smiles.