For the record

The September arrival of Ellie and Mark at the little house (Dianne and Stephen’s Scituate rental) has become a new tradition, ushering in family reunions, and signaling to me that the time is right to conjure up our Christmas pick toys for upcoming Hoss holiday gift giving assignments. And when sister-in-law Ellie posted an image of her needlework creation on Facebook recently, this year’s toy topic became clear.


I finished the 15 decorated ornaments shortly before Ellie and Mark’s arrival, in plenty of time for distribution at Madeline and Paul’s dinner party that followed – later documented in Ellie’s sketchbook diary shown below. She paints too.

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All of the Hoss women cook very well and know a lot about fine foods – their interest instilled at an early age by mother, Lavalie. They raise their preparation and delivery to a form of art, while I as one of their lucky recipients watch from my culinary distance.

Ellie’s pot luck luncheon followed Madeline’s dinner a few weeks later, shortly before their return home to West Virginia. “Would you bring chocolate chip cookies?” she asked. Yessiree, that I could do – an assignment totally within my wheelhouse. She knows me.

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My first experience with the Toll House cookie came by way of my grandmother Mildred. For several birthdays during my early teen years Nanny would deliver a shoe box lined with wax paper and filled with cookies made from her version of the Nestle recipe. These, she would announce, were to be ONLY for me – much to the annoyance of Marlene. And as I recall, brat that I was, I did not share.

I found her cookies to be exceptional, too often almost finishing the box in a sitting. And although we never made them together, I do remember her saying she used shortening instead of butter and increased the amount of brown sugar – doubled? The question led me to her recipe box sitting on my shelf, one of my few possessions from the archives not yet explored. (There’s a sweater name in there too I’ll bet, its discovery left for another day…)

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You can see that the C divider has been ripped away, certainly from repeated use I reasoned, giving me hope that within that alphabetical slot I would find a card written in her hand entitled “chocolate chip cookies” recording the details of her recipe variation.

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I found cards for cocktail sauce and chicken casserole and custard, among others …. but sadly not my cookies.

And then, tucked away in the back among the newspaper clippings, I found this – carefully cut. Circa 1965 would be my guess.

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Clearly I was on my own. So in preparation for Ellie’s, experimentation followed. In the first batch I used butter, just to get grounded, and in the next two made with shortening I used increasing amounts of brown sugar. I felt I was getting close...

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I brought them all to Ellie’s pot luck the next Sunday for a Hoss vote – butter on the left and shortening on the right. The verdict? Shortening clinched it, by just enough to validate my preference and retain Nanny’s crown.

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Ellie and Mark are home by now and summer is officially over. It’s been another September for the record books, our recipe and sketch books that is, with another round of paper toys – as we look forward, and backward, while aiming to stay in each moment. It’s all good.