I remember being in about 3rd or 4th grade and getting a C in handwriting. I was crushed. The only grades that ever graced my report card were A’s. But something about cursive writing wasn’t clicking with me. My handwriting was ugly and awkward and certainly not the least bit artistic. I received C’s in only two other courses during school: 1) Home Economics (during the sewing unit, which is not at all surprising considering I still can’t figure out how to thread my machine) and 2) Gym (during the basketball unit, which is not surprising considering I could only make 3 out of 10 free throws — a skill [or lack thereof] that thankfully hasn’t affected me in life . . . yet.)
I can distinctly recall bringing home that report card while my grandmother, Grace, was visiting. We talked about it and she quickly told me that it didn’t matter. This was crazy talk, from my vantage point. She told me how her father once said to her that everyone develops their own unique brand of handwriting, and that making it perfectly beautiful according to one person’s definition was not only impossible, but not the least bit interesting. I am blessed to still have my grandmother in my life at 96 years old. Arthritis has crippled her imperfectly beautiful, but truly unique, handwriting — but I still get a chance to talk with her and that it something I treasure.
My mom recently gave me a stack of her recipe cards and I studied them for nearly an hour. There were clues in that handwriting somewhere. I could imagine any one of those cards being out on the counter when I was visiting her as a toddler. I could imagine her writing recipes down in her old house. I could imagine her pulling them all out in anticipation of Christmas, or just a weekend visit.
And I didn’t have to imagine the memories of her making many of the recipes — I can remember coming into her kitchen at breakfast time as she was pulling her special meringue cookies out of a cold oven — a cold oven with a heavy door. They were like a magic trick — you put them in a hot oven, turn it off, go to bed, and wake up to beautifully crusty meringues with a somewhat creamy interior, loaded with chocolate chips.
When I see in the recipe that she says to line a baking “tin” with wax paper, I remember she had the coolest wall mounted wrap dispenser that had three (I think) covered segments that held paper towels, foil, and wax paper. Each one had its own little door and cutting edge. I remember her glass jars (some of which I have on top of my cabinets now) filled with spices, and especially cinnamon heart candies. I remember her geranium out front and the seemingly mile-long hallway to her bedroom. I remember making paper dolls to count the days down until my parents would return from a trip. I remember her making trip activity books with cryptoquips and crossword puzzles (that she would make herself) and riddles for me to solve. I remember going to painting class with her and trying to be an artist — a skill she had, that I did not. And I remember sitting with her at the piano and getting giddy with excitement as she would play Scott Joplin.
But mostly, I remember her telling me that I was me and that was the only person I ever had to be. Eventually, my handwriting went from awful, to beautiful, and back to awful again — it seems now I am always too rushed to make perfectly formed letters. But I think about those physical artifacts and wonder if reading a blog post will ever substitute for holding a grandmother’s recipe in your hands, studying the words that she wrote, and seeing yourself in her life.
White Chocolate Meringue Cookies
A few notes: The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup of sugar, but I found 1/2 cup to be plenty. Also, she always used regular chocolate chips, but I used white chocolate for a nice all white appearance. Both are delicious. And one food safety note, I am not a food scientist so I am not sure if these get cooked hard enough to eliminate Salmonella. As with any dish where eggs are gently cooked, please only use the freshest eggs from responsible farms and take care to not serve to those who might be very young/old or immune-suppressed if Salmonella is a concern.
Makes about two dozen
2 egg whites
1/2 cup of sugar
1 cup of chocolate chips (white or semi-sweet, mini chips are nice too)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Beat egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gradually beat in sugar until the mixture is very glossy and holding nice, stiff peaks.
3. Fold in chocolate chips.
4. Drop by the spoonful onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and place into hot oven. Immediately turn the oven off and leave overnight, or at least 6 hours. Remove and store in a tightly sealed container.