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Serendipity salves soul with tea and cookies

Thursday, November 29, 2001

By Suzanne Martinson, Post-Gazette Food Editor

PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. -- Amidst the chaos of being stranded in Seattle on 9/11 was at least one positive thing. Make that two.

When we weren't able to fly home on schedule, we took a side trip to Port Townsend -- and that netted us two wonderful cookie recipes. Plus, it's not every day that our enthusiasm inspires a cookie book, but it has.

But I am getting ahead of my story. My husband, Ace, and I were vacationing in Oregon with our mothers and were to fly back to Pittsburgh that Tuesday with my mother, who lives in Michigan. We had planned to drop Ace's mother off in Tacoma en route to the airport, but the terrorist attack changed all that.

Who knew when we'd have another unscheduled, mandatory vacation? We decided to spend a couple of days in Port Townsend, a historic town on Puget Sound.

It's a touristy place and we'd arrived at a good time. We went to a quilt show one day and we bought tickets to a Victorian home tour the next. (Can you imagine how Ace might have been outvoted 3:1 on this women's weekend away?)

But it took some pressure from me to end up at the Victorian Tea sponsored by the hospital auxiliary after the annual house tour.

"Let's go to tea," I said.

"But we just had lunch!" my three companions said.

"Maybe there will be homemade cookies," I insisted.

Eventually, I wheedled them into just sneaking a peek. The silver tea service looked promising, and surely they wouldn't ply us with store-bought cookies. They didn't.

Tray after tray of homemade delectables emanated from the kitchen. Naturally, I considered it my sworn duty to taste most of them.

In the end, I glommed onto recipes for two fabulous ones -- Ginger Cookies with Brown Sugar Icing and Mocha Chocolate Cookies. Later, voicemail from contributor Dorothy Plut reported that -- thanks to me -- they would do a cookie book. Coming from cookie country, that sounded great, and we'll let you know when the book comes off the press.

This tea-and-cookie event made me lonesome for my grandmother, so when we got home and I was confronted with some cream gone sour while I was away, I pulled out her recipe for White Cookies. I'd made the cookies before, but this time I decided to go whole hog and made them her traditional way -- with butter and some lard.

The lard had been languishing in my freezer, but I had thawed a pound so I could make Indian Fry Bread the way the Navajos make it. Here was Gram's recipe, here was the soured cream, here was the lard: Must be fate.

No, but it made a good cookie, especially because the flavor was mostly carried by the butter and old-fashioned real vanilla. (I had brought home some Watkins vanilla from the fair in Puyallup, Wash.)

At the recent A Very Merry Evening at Kaufmann's, Downtown, I had a conversation with a reader about how grandmothers used to make things that seem impossible to duplicate today.

Maybe these three cookies are a start. The white cookie smells of Gram, and I don't know when I've tasted a better cookie than the Ginger Cookie with Brown Sugar Icing. And the chocolate cookies? Well, eating them is like pulling up a shirtsleeve and injecting cocoa butter right into the veins.

Though, of course, our trip was tinged with the sadness of national events, the serendipity of it all netted a satisfying holiday cookie tray.

Related Recipes:

Ginger Cookies with Brown Sugar Icing
Mocha Chocolate Cookies
Gram's White Cookies
Mom's Graham Cracker Roll

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