This time of the year is so magical for me. It always has been, since I was a little girl. I love everything about Christmas. Every. Single. Thing. Always have, always will. The warmth of home, the scent of a fresh cut pine tree, the delicious smells coming from the kitchen and most importantly: being with family. (And unwrapping anything that my Mom put her expert wrapping skills to work on.) The gift of being together is the greatest gift of all. Luckily I still have most of my family to spend holidays with. The ones who are gone are the ones I like to remember and celebrate through the foods I make. In my own twisted little way I “honor” those people when I make the recipes up. It works… the memories are stirred up and visited about and the pain of missing those people is lessened, even if only for a moment.
Grandma and Tanna in June 2010
My Grandma Celeste (Grammy) was a very special lady. She was warm, gracious, generous and kind. She had a big heart and always had a gift of making people feel special, like you were the ‘only grandchild’ or really the only one that mattered. It was amazing really. She was a great listener and gave fabulous ‘melting massages’ where she would put her cool soft fingers over your eyes and melt your pain and stress away.Two years ago on December 2nd, my son was born. It is no secret that my Grandma loved her little boys, especially babies. So a big ol’ 9 pound baby boy was a welcome sight when we came to visit her on December 15th (it took forever to get up to see her it seemed. She was quite handy and feeling well but on oxygen and the unit was not easy to pack along so she didn’t visit in the hospital, no big deal. Once Halle got used to her brother, we gathered up the troops and went to visit her.) She was so excited to see my son. She held him, we ate Mc Donald’s and talked about their “Chicken McNuggets”, their supremacy over “Chicken Selects” and all about children, how they behave around their siblings (she knew all about this with 8 children) and what a miracle and a blessing little ones truly are. After lunch we retired to the living room for a visit. She sat with my two children and sang them a song. It was a song that was so sweet, and had a nice melody. I wish now I would have interrupted her to ask her the name of it so I would remember it forever. I didn’t, I couldn’t. I was captivated by seeing her sing to my children and noticing how intently they were focusing on her. Thankfully, for some reason I had my camera. I snapped a great photograph of her singing what would be her last song. (She was a gifted singer for the USO back during WWII so she was no stranger to singing anything.) That picture would be the last picture we all have of her. That was a Thursday. I kissed her goodbye, she kissed each child and told me how happy she was to have us visit her. I was happy too. I watched her wave as long as I could as her garage door went down then I drove away. Two days later I got the horrifying call that you do when a loved one is failing. We were on a Christmas themed horse drawn wagon ride. Once I got the ‘get here now’ call, we couldn’t get there fast enough. Shortly after each grandchild arrived and said their goodbyes my sweet Grandma passed away. I’ll always be thankful she got to meet my son and I got to see her sing her last song. I miss her every day but holidays are especially hard. *Ignore the dates on the photos below, my camera was not functioning properly.
The one love I have recently acquired that we seem to have shared is a love of citrus. She loved citrus flavored cookies and always had a cheap package of lemon cookies around the house. This recipe is one I shared with her when I took cookies to her house the summer before she passed away. She enjoyed every morsel of any food I made for her, but especially these. She was so appreciative of it (both of my Grandmas were/are great about that). I want to share this recipe with you, I hope it becomes a favorite in your family. It is a light, tender cookie and the citrus glaze plays well with the zest in the cookie also. Instead of just tossing the zest into the creamed butter and sugar mixture I’ll ask that you rub the zests with the sugar between your fingertips to release the oils of the zest into the sugar. The flavor of your cookie will be enhanced.
*This cookie also won First Place in the “Favorite Frosted Sugar Cookie” contest at the Iowa State Fair. The contest is sponsored by Jill and Jamie of Two Chicks From the Sticks. These girls are the real deal. I can’t even begin to tell you the experience they have in the kitchen. Impressive! The bonus is they are humble and sweeter than the sugar in their goodies! If you don’t have their cookbook, you should grab one… it is great, full of fun stories of growing up in small town Iowa and every recipe you remember from growing up. Check out the cookbook here. Someday when I have more time we’ll talk about dear Jill and Jamie. Tonight I need to get you this recipe!
Grandma’s Double Citrus Sugar Cookies
Finely grated zest and Juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange
3/4 C granulated sugar
2 ½ C flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 C unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 C powdered sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
1.5 C powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
zest and juice of a lemon and orange
In a small bowl, zest Lemon and Orange together, reserving 2 tsp juice and 1 tsp zest of each for icing. Set aside. Rub the remaining portion of zests into granulated sugar to ‘perfume’ the sugars with the oils of the zests. Set aside.
Combine flour, salt and soda in a separate bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, on medium high speed, beat butter until creamy, 1 minute. Add zest/sugar mixture and powdered sugar, beat 2 minutes until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, mix on medium speed until combined. Add flour slowly while mixer is on low. Mix only until combined. Remove dough from bowl and place in plastic wrap in the refrigerator for 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a small bowl, combine reserved zests and juice of citrus with powdered sugar, vanilla bean paste. Whisk well. Set aside to drizzle on cooled cookies.
Shape dough into 1.5″ balls. Coat in granulated sugar or turbinado sugar. Place on silicone lined or parchment lined baking sheet with enough room to spread and not touch. Pat to 1” thickness. Bake for 9 minutes. Remove from oven, cool a few minutes on sheet pan and then place cookies carefully onto a cooling rack. Cool completely. Drizzle with icing.
Makes roughly 2 dozen, depending on size.