For those of you who don’t know, my mother died on September 21, 2016, after a hard fought and lengthy battle with COPD, which led to a host of other health issues. She was 89 years old, and led a good, long life, but not an easy one. She was a young girl in war-torn Germany, and spent many a night in the basement of her apartment building, which acted as a bomb shelter. She refused to spend any time in basement “family rooms” as an adult. To her, basements were a place where you went to hide.
My mom immigrated to Nottingham, England, shortly after the war, where she learned English, worked in a factory, and met my father at a dance. She eventually followed him to Toronto, Canada, where I was born three years later. She never did get used to the winters — or the hot, humid summers. But she continued to hone her English skills by reading to me every night. I remember that Heidi was a favorite, and later, Trixie Belden. By the time I’d advanced to Nancy Drew, she’d discovered her own passion for books…and she passed that passion on to me.
When my father died at the age of 42 (stomach cancer, dead 12 weeks from date of diagnosis), my mom was ill-prepared to deal with grief and a hormonal, defiant 14-year-old teenager. To say that there were plenty of rocky roads ahead for the two of us would be an understatement, but at the end of the day, we both did our best.
One of my favorite memories is my 21st birthday. My mom didn’t have a dime to spare — she’d managed to go from stay-at-home mom/part-time sales clerk at Zeller’s Dept. Store to a fulltime job at the Bank of Montreal (where she earned many promotions until she eventually retired at age 62) but back in the 70s, women weren’t paid a lot, and my father had died without life insurance.
The lack of funds didn’t stop my mom. We were going to do 21 right. And we did. We went to San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and finally Las Vegas. It was the best trip I’ve ever had. We laughed. A lot. We walked (especially in San Fransisco, my mother’s favorite city). We gambled. We even saw Dean Martin in Vegas (my mom had a crush on him forever, and I still know the words to most, if not all, of his songs).
My mom was also my biggest fan, and my most enthusiastic supporter. Who else but your mother would hand out bookmarks to the nurses and doctors in her hospital room? Or force everyone in her condo to buy a signed copy of my latest novel? It gives me comfort to know that Skeletons in the Attic was the last book she ever read. I hope she liked it. I never had a chance to talk to her about it. I do know she’d read The Hanged Man’s Noose so many times, it was almost in tatters.
This is my first Christmas without my mom, and to be honest with you, it’s hitting me a lot harder than I thought it would. In her memory, I’m sharing her shortbread cookie recipe. She was never much of a cook (a trait I’ve sadly inherited), but until she got sick, she’d make these every December. I’ve included the recipe below, but if you’d like a PDF copy to print, click here.
RIP mom, and Merry Christmas to you and dad, together again after all these years.
Makes 45 cookies
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (the real deal, not the artificial kind)
2 teaspoons almond extract
2 1⁄3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup ground almonds (bulk food stores are a good place to find these)
1 cup powdered sugar (put in a sifter for best results)
Preheat oven to 350°
Grease cookie sheets (enough for 45 cookies)
Mix together butter with sugar and beat with a mixed until light and fluffy
Add vanilla extract and almond extract and continue to beat until incorporated
Stir in the flour and almonds
Work flour mixture into a firm dough
Working with 1 tablespoon of dough at a time, shape into logs. The log should be slightly thicker in the middle than at both ends. Bend into a crescent shape.
Place on greased cookie sheets.
Bake 12-15 minutes or until light brown.
While the cookies are still warm sift crescents with powdered sugar.
Cool on racks.
Eat, enjoy, and create your own happy holiday memories…
For more recipes, click here.