What to say about Nana's Peanut Butter Blossom Cookies? In this journey to document some of my childhood memories and recipes, I am finding it more difficult than expected to put some of the memories into words. Some things just ARE and peanut butter blossoms memories seem to fall into that category. The texture, smell, perfect sweet/salty blend... all woven into so many Christmas memories and yet, it seems impossible to translate those memories to pen and paper. It is a family tradition that I practice to this day. Every year, no matter what, I make at least one batch of the creamy, peanut buttery, topped with a chocolate kiss, beauties. They are perfection and by far one of my favorites.
While few rival their flavor, the real love of baking the blossoms each year is that it makes me feel close to Mom. Baking cookies was one of the things we did consistently in the kitchen together throughout my life. Growing up, I would help clean up, taste test the mash potatoes from the mixer wands, help stir here and there, count out or fetch ingredients, and just generally be in the kitchen with her. However, she was usually the one doing all the cooking. It was not until I was much older that I helped with anything of any real consequence. Mom's recipes were always simple and straightforward. Mostly from the sides of boxes or Campbell’s soup labels with some family casseroles and breakfast favorites thrown in the mix. Always delicious and paired with unparalleled comfort that was the beautiful bi-product of consistently sitting down as a family for meals.
I grew to love those moments in the kitchen, and looking back, I am in awe of how efficient she was with EVERY meal. All of them. Only on cookie making days, was her kitchen the hot-mess mine is daily. (Albeit, she still had everything timed perfectly and would never have forgotten to purchase key components of the recipes. I, on the other hand, on more than one occasion have forgotten the peanut butter or the chocolate kisses... but I digress.) Cookie days were usually just around the holidays. With the exception of Nestlé’s chocolate chip cookies. They were made with abandon, year round. She would plan multiple recipes for us to make in one day, check the ingredients multiple times, and have everything ready to go on the chosen Saturday morning. We rolled, floured, dipped, frosted, and sprinkled until one by one...those helping would drop out with a sugar crash, boredom, or bellyache. Leaving Mom to clean it all up and perfectly place the batches in tins or on holiday plates for the days of grazing to follow.
Unlike my mother's famously meticulous kitchen and meal preparation skills, my kitchen is full of chaos, distracting chatter, impromptu trips to the store, or reimagining a menu because a key ingredient was inadvertently skipped on the well-intentioned grocery list. I truly believe cookie days were some of my favorite because of the uncharacteristic mess. Let’s face it, there is only so much you can do to control toddler twin grandsons during a cookie-icing event and something in me felt more connected to her seeing her less in control. These moments were some of the few times I can remember my mom being fully at peace with life being a bit messy.
Late in my teens when I was learning to cook for my hubby and his baseball team. I always wondered why I didn't spend more time actually LEARNING how to cook in all those years of mom's perfectly prepared and timed meals! Between nearly daily phone calls home and to my grandmothers, my French aunt we would visit on weekends during college, and a beautiful Italian nurse I worked with during my pregnancy with the twins... I managed to find my way around a kitchen and my own style of hospitality. Ironically, even in light of my love for those days that stretch my entire memory, my skills in the kitchen do NOT generally include baking. I have some kind of blind spot when it comes to remembering to take anything dough related out of the oven. It's a running joke in our family and circle of friends.
Beth is simply not allowed to be in charge of the bread/baked goods. The cookie tradition is no exception. I love the process, the memories, the closeness to Mom, and of course...the cookies. But, damn if the timer and I aren’t still practically strangers after all these years!
My kids will carry the memories of making Nana’s Peanut Butter Blossoms with them just as fondly as I have. However, theirs will be coupled with stories of someone yelling, “MOM! ARE YOU BURNING THE COOKIES??” or “WHY don’t you ever set the timer!?” or perhaps, once or twice, me - distracted by another task in another room, catching the aroma of the batch I had COMPLETELY forgotten I’d put in the oven minutes before - bolting through the house, knocking kids out of the way, screaming, ”Damnit!! The cookies!!!” all the way to the kitchen. Like I said… Chaos.
I spent many years trying to live up to the perfect homemaking skills of my mom. No one did it better. No matter our financial status, what parsonage was chosen for us, or how many times we uprooted and had to start over… It was always home. She made sure that the comfort and consistency of home was not linked to a building or zip code. I chased after that perfection and failed miserably, year after year. That ‘failure’ seeped into my worth and poisoned my confidence as a mother and provider.
It wasn’t until the grief of losing her shattered something deep in my identity
that I realized how I had allowed my fear of her disappointment
blind me to the fact that I had it all wrong.
We did not feel safe and “at home” because everything was perfectly fluffed, decorated, clean, and always smelled like Tide. My brother and I did not grow up understanding the value of family and how to love unconditionally because the sheets were always wrinkle free and spray starch was purchased in bulk. My Dad was not able to move when he felt the tug of a new calling, because Mom could perfectly time a dinner party to where everything was served hot on a fully set table with matching linens and serving pieces. All of those tangibles were simply manifestations of gifts that were specific to her. Her way of communicating her love and undying care and protection of her family. Home was always with us because Home was the family bond my parents worked tirelessly to create and protect. The feeling and understanding of “home” was anchored to her and to our family. WE were home.
My children will definitely look back on their childhood with a very different lens than mine. They won’t have memories of homes that could be published or dinners around the table every night. They won’t remember me always being there after school, because I wasn’t. They will remember messy cars, piles of laundry, sinks full of dishes, and meals sitting on the floor with a movie blaring. Mad dashes to barely make the bell for class. Calling to remind me for the 10th time to pick up something for a project, only to have to go back out to get it when I got home. Needless to say… they will remember far more burnt cookies than I.
Those thoughts used to bring me a lot of shame, but in the years of healing since I lost Mom, I have finally come to own the whole of my story as a mother. Not just my mistakes or shortcomings. In the midst of all of the crazy-train antics and never ending roller coaster of our family, I know without a doubt that I have never loved any other human the way I love my three. I know for certain, I did the best with what I knew and constantly strive to do better and know more. I have beautiful, kind, generous adult children who love fiercely. Lord knows, I cannot pinpoint exactly how… but somewhere along the way, they learned those things under my watch. Maybe as they gathered around the counter in my boisterous, busy kitchen, they felt the quiet of being seen and loved. Maybe in the midst of the mounds of laundry and dishes, they found safety in being cared for and heard. Maybe baring witness to my constant, often excruciating, trial and error lifestyle, they learned resilience and that family never gives up.
You would have to ask them to know for sure, but it is my hope that just maybe, during our own cookies days, in the midst of the mess and scent of occasional burnt edges, they found the love filled, open door, safe space I have always wanted for them... Our Home.
This blog is a personal collection of my thoughts, wins, losses, memories, and crossroad moments. Almost all of which were hashed out around my kitchen counter and in my journals. If any of it resonates with you and you are ready to free-up the hidden badass you ARE right now, I can help. It’s time… Click the link and Let’s chat.