Cooking, creating, and blogging….while I watch “her.”

Cookies and Bars / December 20, 2013

I awoke today, not unlike most days, with a start. My 86 year old mother-in-law who has dementia, lives with us, and the way she begins each day is never with peace. Today would be no exception.

“I didn’t know where you were!” she exclaimed; hunched over and quivering with fear. She was wandering around the living room when I  discovered her, trying to open the blinds and sporting a scowl on her face. I noticed she was still wearing the denims and printed shirt from the day before; a detail I missed because she slipped into bed herself last night, acting quite lucid and lulling me into thinking I could let her go through the evening routine alone.

“Come on, sweetie. It’s too early.” I cooed. Let’s go back to bed.

It wasn’t too early, really. 7:34 a.m. is an appropriate time for most people to rise, but I knew I needed to restart her. A reboot of sorts to set her on another path. So we changed Jean out of her yesterday clothes, and into her favorite teal sweats. As I helped her into bed, listening to her breathe labored from panic, I covered her as I would any child in distress and hoped indeed, in an hour or so, she would be better.

It may sound odd, but I began my cooking blog this summer because I knew I could cook and create something personal, while I was literally watching ‘her.’ It might keep me sane and it will stave off the desire to feel trapped, or without the ability to spontaneously live life. When you’re housebound as a caretaker, like we are, it does no good to lament about your incarceration. You must find something you can immerse yourself in. And so I began this collection of food, fun, words and pictures. It keeps me grounded and it helps me reboot, too.

So why blog about ginger cookies? Well, the other night we had to cancel our 9th annual Christmas Cookie Making Night with friends, because Jean was just not doing well and we couldn’t take her or leave her. But just because we couldn’t go anywhere didn’t stop me from wanting to fire up the mixer, dirty the measuring cups, and listen to the hum of the oven fan, even if I wasn’t doing it in front of my neighbor’s stove.

To validate my desire for cookie greatness, I grabbed for an old, old recipe book I have from 30 years ago when I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah. (EEK, now you know I’m not 29!) This Relief Society collection of culinary comfort food is wonderful so leafing through its pages, I confidently landed on Ginger Cookies because the sound of Jean watching Jeopardy in the background was about to make me crack and a kick of spice was needed.

I’m pleased to say they turned out blog-worthy. Golden browned, sparkling from the raw sugar, and chewy at just the right level of chewiness. This is a wonderful Christmas cookie for any neighbor, friend or acquaintance. Make them now, make lots of them, and enjoy them with hot tea in front of the fire. And when you do, think of how you start each day, and do it with courage, so you’re grounded and ready for anything.

Here’s what I think. Even though tomorrow may begin the same as today, with confusion as its hallmark, we will take a deep breath, reboot, and face the day with a cookie in each hand…while I watch her.

Chewy Ginger Spice Cookies


1 1/2 C Shortening
2 C sugar
2 eggs
1/2 C molasses
1/2 t salt
4 t baking soda
2 t baking powder
2 t cinnamon
2 t ginger
2 teaspoons allspice (the recipe calls for cloves, but I wanted less breath-mint and more ginger-cookie taste)
4 C flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, combine all ingredients except flour into bowl. Mix well for about a minute or so until airy. Add flour a little at a time until blended. Form into small balls, roll in the raw sugar, and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten slightly and cook for 7 and a half minutes. (The recipe said 8 to 10. I think that would make them too done!)

(Recipe credit, Linda Egan, Salt Lake City Utah. Recipe from Butler 19th Ward Recipe Collection, published 1978) Photos copyright Camine Pappas 2013.

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