Mandy Ross’ Sweet and Salty Chex Mix

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I’m very excited to be joined by Mandy Ross, the woman behind the very popular Instagram account, Paper of the Past, where she shares her collection of vintage scrapbooks dating from the 1850s to the 1940s. Each post beautifully displays a few pages from the collection, alongside the name of the owner, and often some details about them and even some of their own words. When I asked how she got interested in collecting scrapbooks, Mandy told me, “To me, old scrapbooks are time capsules in book form. They combine stories and mystery with a bit of an underdog vibe. For one reason or another, they have been discarded or lost, and need a good home. Each book tells a story, but I have to dig around to piece that story together.” I have my friend Sarah to thank for introducing me to Mandy’s Instagram, but many more discovered her before I did. She started her account in the summer of 2016 and now has over 16,000 followers, who enjoy her glimpses into personal pasts. Mandy adds, “Not only do I enjoy the investigative process of unraveling the story, but also putting those memories back out in the world via Instagram.”

Obviously, whenever I have a guest on the blog, I ask them to share a family recipe. When I first reached out to Mandy, she wasn’t sure which recipe she would provide, but she knew immediately it would be something that her grandmother made. I told her that the emphasis of my blog is always the significance of the recipe, meaning it’s often something so ingrained in a family’s life that it’s hardly noticed. After some thought, Mandy told me the story of her grandmother’s Chex Mix recipe. “I visit my grandparents in Phoenix before Christmas each year. We make Chex Mix, listen to oldies, and play cards for three or four hours a day. Actually, we play cards while we wait for the Chex Mix to bake. I keep my phone in another room (most of the time) and they don’t have internet. In winter, it’s sunny but cold in Phoenix. We watch birds and rabbits running around in their backyard. There’s a grapefruit tree, cacti, and hummingbirds. It’s very peaceful. Their house is full of antiques and old family photos. Throughout the years, it’s been the same relaxing visit. No matter how much my own life changes, the Chex Mix process and card-playing stays the same.”

“It’s very simple, but the process holds a lot of great memories for me,” Mandy says. She and her grandmother still make the mix every year. “We make a few batches for me to pack in my suitcase and share with the rest of my family in San Diego. So, even though it’s a recipe that my grandma and I share, my family enjoys the tradition as well.”

Sweet and Salty Chex Mix

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Mandy Ross’ Sweet and Salty Chex Mix

Ingredients:
3 cups Corn Chex cereal
3 cups Rice Chex cereal
3 cups Honey Nut Chex cereal
1 cup mixed nuts
1 cup pretzels
1 cup Cheez-It crackers
6 tbsp butter
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

In an un-greased large roasting pan, melt butter in the oven.

Stir in Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, garlic powder, and onion powder.

Stir in cereals, mixed nuts, pretzels, and Cheez-Its until coated.

Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Spread on paper towels or wax paper until cooled.

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Mandy’s grandmother “grew up in a big happy family in Southern California.” She owned and managed a beauty salon, and still does her friends’ hair. She also exercised her creativity through her hobbies of making porcelain dolls, sewing, and painting ceramics. Mandy says, “If she were in her twenties now, I think she would have a successful Etsy shop. My house is full of blankets, coasters, dishes, hanging towels, and bags that she made for me.”

Mandy says that her grandmother is partially responsible for her path. “She taught me the importance of having a lifelong hobby. Both her and my grandpa have creative hobbies that bring a lot of joy into their life. She also taught me it’s OK to have an entire room, or area, of your house dedicated to your passion. I live in a one-bedroom townhouse, with minimal space, but have converted my dining area into a scrapbook library. My grandma has a sewing room and a guestroom full of fabric.”

As interest in her work grows, Mandy is seeing more opportunities arise. “In the future, I expect to do more collaborations and tell the stories in more detail. I’d love to create a YouTube channel and share flip-through videos or un-boxing videos. My goal for the second year is to use Instagram to branch out into non-Instagram projects. I’d love to visit more library collections and also organize a small exhibit in San Francisco.” One particular scrapbook has already blossomed into its own research project—Mandy will visit Luxembourg soon to research the owner of the scrapbook, which contains love letters from a Luxembourger woman named Suzie to an American man. (You can even follow along with Mandy on her journey by searching #findingsuziekonz on Instagram.)

Mandy, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today and share you and your grandmother’s recipe! I can’t wait to see what’s in store for you next!

Simple No-Churn Vanilla Ice Cream

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It’s finally feeling like summer here in Chicago. There have been several days of 80-plus degree weather. My favorite part is finally being able to go out without my shoulders covered, without getting cold (which I always am), even at night.

This type of weather also makes me start craving ice cream in a big way. I would not consider myself an ice cream person in general. But when that summer air hits in Chicago, it’s all I want and we start going through carton after carton of ice cream in our house. But maybe it’s in my genes?

Today would have been my grandma Edna’s 94th birthday. I have written about grandma Edna (known as Grandma Dini), and bragged about her general awesomeness, on here before when I made her cream puffs. Though her cream puffs were my favorite, they were not Grandma Dini’s favorite dessert. She was particularly partial to ice cream. Nothing fancy. Just plain vanilla ice cream. One bowl, right before bed.

There are three food memories that I have in relation to Grandma Dini. One, her cereal options…left a lot to be desired. She usually had only bland cereals, like corn flakes. But to make up for it, she had a giant sugar tin, with a circus scene on it and a lid that looked like the big top of a circus tent. I was allowed to go a little nuts sprinkling my cereal with sugar, attempting to make a little sugar-milk paste at the bottom of my bowl, like a sicko. Two, she made a kick-ass lemon meringue pie during the holidays. And, three, her non-holiday treat was ice cream. I don’t ever really remember her having any flavor other than vanilla. And when I asked for something chocolatey to put on it, instead of chocolate syrup, she’d sprinkle it with Nesquick. I’d stir everything together making a thick chocolate-milk-like mixture, happy as a clam.

So now that it’s hot out, and we’re celebrating Grandma Dini’s birthday, we’re going to make some ice cream. And I think it’s high time I learn to make my own, right here at home. It doesn’t hurt that it’s super easy and I don’t have to turn on my oven. Let’s go!

No-Churn Ice Cream

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Simple No-Churn Vanilla Ice Cream

Ingredients:
14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups heavy whipping cream

Instructions:

In a large mixing bowl, add the condensed milk, vanilla, and salt. Stir to combine completely.

In a separate mixing bowl, add heavy whipping cream. Using a hand mixer, or a whisk, beat until peaks form. (With a hand mixer, it took me about 2 1/2 minutes at medium-high speed.)

Fold the whipped cream into the condensed milk mixture until completely combined.

Pour the mixture into a pan that is at least 6 cups in volume and cover with a piece of parchment paper.

If you are adding in any extras, like cookies, nuts, or chopped fruit, freeze for two hours, mix in the add-ins, stir, then continue to freeze for 3 more hours.

Freeze for at least five hours, then scoop and serve!

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This recipe is awesome for the obvious benefit of not needing to purchase an ice cream machine. I saw a couple of recipes that involved taking the ice cream out and stirring it frequently as it froze, but this is even easier than that. This recipe couldn’t be simpler, tastier, and, four ingredients? Sign me up! The end result is that we now have a butt-load of vanilla ice cream. I guess the root beer float situation in this house is about to get real.

Note: I actually made this recipe twice. The first way used the condensed milk recipe you see above. The second used a combination of evaporated milk and sugar. (Condensed milk is basically sweetened evaporated milk.) I’m not a huge fan of the saccharine flavor of  condensed milk, which is basically just evaporated milk, plus sugar, so I thought I could trick the system. It didn’t work well for me. The taste was just OK. However, even I thought it needed more sugar, which is not usually the case. Also, not as important, it was much tougher to scoop. It seemed to break apart when I scooped it, almost like shaved ice, rather than ice cream. No complaints, though, as the condensed milk version’s sweetness was quite mellow once frozen. Also, if plain vanilla isn’t your style, you could always add your own fixins–cookie crumbles, fruit, chocolate. Just be sure to freeze the mixture a bit before you add them, so they don’t settle to the bottom.

Will I never buy store-bought ice cream again? Yes, I will. However, it’s neat to know this nifty little recipe. If grandma were still alive, I’d run right over to her house and show her how I made this. To which I’m sure she’d respond, “Yeah, I know how to make my own ice cream, I’m 94 years-old.” Happy birthday, Grandma Dini! And happy ice creaming to all!

Sister Lindsay’s Southern Banana Pudding

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My favorite posts on this blog are when I get to invite my friends to share a family recipe and talk about what it means to them. For today’s post, I’m extremely happy to be joined by my friend, Kaye Winks.

Kaye is an actress who has been acting professionally for 13 years and writing professionally for seven. But naturally she’s been an actor and a writer her whole life.  Kaye isn’t an only child, but her siblings are several years older than her, which meant she grew up as the only child in her house. She spent her childhood creating picture books, putting on sock puppet shows for her first grade classroom, and memorizing her favorite movies and performing full-length re-enactments in her bedroom, complete with full makeshift sets and costumes. By the time she was 11, she realized that, if she wrote down the stories she created while she was playing pretend, what she was really doing was writing a script. And, from all the movies she watched, she knew that acting was something she could do for a living. She decided then to make that her goal.

In 2012, Kaye started working on a script that would eventually become her one-woman comedy show, Token. Kaye describes Token as a “comic and ironic look at what it’s like being the token black person,” and often the lone black person, in a world of white. But the goal of the show is not to pick on white people. Kaye points out that the show also “explores the funny and sometimes sobering experiences of being a suburban black girl with inner city black folk.”

In the show, Kaye performs many characters, but the most memorable and touching character she portrays is Sister Lindsay, who appears throughout the show to both scold bad behavior, and to offer advice on how to navigate the world. Kaye included Sister Lindsay in her show to “soften the blow of my character’s satirical voice and act as a voice of reason and morality that the audience would like.”

But Sister Lindsay was not the creation of Kaye’s imagination. She was Kaye’s grandmother. Born in Mississippi in 1935, Sister Lindsay fled the harsh Jim Crow laws in the South to Chicago in 1957. Sister Lindsay had never seen her birth certificate, so she always celebrated her birthday on October 28th. Many years later, Kaye’s aunt did some research in Sister Lindsay’s home town and found that, actually, she had been born on December 28th and was very pleased to find out that she was actually 2 months younger than she had always thought!

Sister Lindsay passed away one year ago yesterday and Kaye told me that her “homegoing” was like a celebrity’s. “We don’t call them ‘funerals’ in my family. The term ‘funeral’ is reserved for people who are ‘unsaved’ making it a sorrowful event of mourning for the lost soul. In my family, we call them ‘homegoing celebrations’ because our loved one’s souls are going home to heaven to be with their Creator and it is a chaste and wonderful party. The enormous old church was standing room only with at least 500 people in attendance and they joyfully danced and sang her spirit to heaven. My husband, not remotely accustomed to this custom, was pleasantly surprised at how fun it was, albeit bittersweet. It was also the first time he’d ever been the only white person in a room FULL of all black folks!”

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Sister Lindsay, at her birthday party, a few years ago.

What Kaye remembers very sharply are some of her grandma’s features. Her soft cheeks–“She had the absolute softest skin of any human I have ever encountered. I loved kissing Grandma on her cheeks because they were like little chocolate silk pillows that always smelled like baby powder.” Her laugh–“She had a ragged cackle, instead of a laugh, that was reminiscent of James Brown, being merely a ‘HA!’ or literal ‘Huh-HAAA!’ If you got the ‘Huh-HAAA!’ you knew you had said something really funny.” Her faith–“She was an extremely devout Christian woman, whose entire social life revolved around worshiping Jesus and helping her church family. Jesus was everything to her. She would also often get the police called on her for disturbing the peace because she’d sing ‘Oh Jesus’ or fervently pray at the top of her lungs at all hours of the night.” And, finally, her banana pudding. Kaye told me that it was a treat that she would rarely make, even though everyone loved it. “She’d just make it randomly and nonchalantly be like, ‘Oh yeah, there’s banana pudding in there,’ and everyone would scurry to the kitchen like a winning lottery ticket was in there. Like, why didn’t you tell us earlier, lady?!”

Kaye said that people in her family have tried to make the pudding, following the same recipe, but it just doesn’t taste the same as when her grandma made it. I made this recipe and, I kid you not, it’s one of the best desserts I’ve ever made.  I had it for breakfast and for dessert after dinner no less than three nights in a row. Maybe you can have a little more restraint than I did. If this pudding had that kind of effect on me and it was only me making it, what Sister Lindsay made must have been magical.

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Sister Lindsay’s Southern Banana Pudding

Ingredients:
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 1/4 cups Carnation evaporated milk
4 large eggs, separated
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/3 cups vanilla wafers
4 very ripe bananas

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk together salt, sugar, and cornstarch in a heavy saucepan. Then whisk in the  evaporated milk. Add the egg yolks and mix thoroughly.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for about 7-8 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and butter.

Slice the bananas, not too thin.

Layer half of the vanilla wafers in a medium-sized round glass baking dish. Top with half of the banana slices and half the pudding. Repeat the same with the wafers, bananas, and pudding that’s left. Finally, cover most of the top layer of pudding with vanilla wafers.

Bake at 375 degrees for 7-10 minutes.

Serve warm or chilled. Kaye suggests chilling for at least an hour, as that’s the way her grandma would serve it.

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Kaye first performed her show to a sold-out audience at Collaboraction Theater in Wicker Park in March 2017. Luckily for you, if you’re interested in seeing it (and Sister Lindsay), Kaye will be performing again, beginning this week. Token runs Fridays at 7:30pm, May 19 through June 9 in Judy’s Beat Lounge at The Second City Training Center. Tickets are available at: www.secondcity.com/shows/chicago/token/. (As of yesterday, the May 19th show was already sold out, so get your tickets early!)

I went to see the show’s debut in March and it was so good. There were definitely some gasps from the audience throughout, but there was mostly laughter, a lot of laughter. And while Kaye admits that there is “plenty of rather un-PC humor in it,” she says that it is also “really fun, honest, and relatable because it picks on everyone equally. I wrote it to share the perspective from the middle of two polarized spheres, the gray area between black and white, and hopefully inspire new thoughts and conversations about race and class by bringing people together to laugh at the absurdity of it all.”

And, if you’re interested in following Kaye in the future, her show will premier in New York City on Saturday, September 16th, at 9pm, at The Studio Theatre on 42nd Street (Theatre Row) as part of United Solo Theatre Festival. Tickets available here: http://unitedsolo.org/us/token-2017/. And if that’s not enough for you, she also has a book, The Civilized Citizen’s Guide to Dining Out, a snide guide on restaurant etiquette, that’s being released in fall 2017.

Kaye, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about your show and share this amazing recipe from your grandmother!

Sarah (Ferguson) Potter’s Grandma’s Olde Time Bread Pudding

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Alta, as a teenager

As a genealogist, it’s not every day that you meet someone in the same profession as you, at least not in person. That’s why I’m so lucky to know Sarah (Ferguson) Potter. Sarah is a genealogist, who has been researching her own genealogy since she was in 8th grade. Five years ago she started Modern Ancestry, a genealogy company that focuses on combining research with creative products, such as family history books, custom photo albums, documentary-style films and recipe books.

When I reached out to Sarah about this post, I was so excited that she agreed to participate. Sometimes when I interview ladies for this blog, there is some back and forth on the recipe they would like to share. However, Sarah had recently gifted her sister with a collection of their favorite family dishes while growing up for Christmas, so she had several recipes to choose from. On top of that, she had already done so much of her own research on her family that it was fascinating to read everything she had to share about her grandmother.  And what better way to kick off Women’s History Month than by remembering an entrepreneurial American woman?

Sarah’s grandmother, Alta, was born in 1915 in Minooka, Illinois and raised in Morris, Illinois. She was the oldest of 8 children, and helped raise her 7 siblings with her single mother during the Depression. She quit high school at age 15 and began working at the Cameron Inn, where she lived with the owners and worked every job she could.

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Later, after she married her husband, Chet Ferguson, Alta worked with her mother, Carrie, at the Carson House cooking homemade meals for weary travelers and guests. Twelve years after she married her husband, she and her husband went on to have three children. During that time, she devoted her time to raising her children, but in the 1960s she decided to go back to work. She began working at a restaurant in Morris called Sis’ Drive-In. Later, she and a business partner would buy the restaurant and run it themselves before selling in the early 1980s.

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Sarah and her grandmother, Alta.

While Sarah was lucky enough to have several of her grandmother’s recipes to choose from, she found it difficult to pick one that held the best memories of her grandmother. She settled on her grandmother’s bread pudding. While unsure exactly where the recipe came from, it was a favorite at her grandmother’s restaurant, and years later customers would approach her father and aunts and tell them how much they loved the dish.

It was a dish that Sarah found so delicious that she remembered it through the years. It was not a dish that her grandmother made for every meal, but certainly for special occasions, and she was kind enough to share the recipe here on the Hungry Genealogist. After trying the recipe, let me tell you, you will not be disappointed. The recipe is simple to make and is made with simple ingredients, but the dish comes out of the oven looking quite luxurious and tasting even better than it looks.

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Grandma’s Olde Time Bread Pudding

Olde Time Bread Pudding Ingredients:
6 slices day-old bread
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
3 cups milk, scalded
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Olde Time Bread Pudding Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Toast the bread and butter while still hot. Arrange the bread in a buttered baking dish that is at least one quart in size. Sprinkle the raisins over the top of the toast.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt, and all but 2 tbsp of the sugar. Add the milk and whisk to blend.

Pour the egg and milk mixture over the toast and raisins and allow to sit for about 10 minutes, occasionally pressing the bread down into the milk mixture to absorb.

Mix the cinnamon with the remaining 2 tbsp of sugar and sprinkle over the top of the mixture.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top is slightly browned and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Serve warm or cold.

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Sarah told me that, even though her grandmother is no longer living, her cousin David still makes her grandmother’s bread pudding recipe, with a rum or bourbon sauce. She said that she has not made the recipe since her grandmother passed away, but that she hopes to try to make it for herself and her family soon. If you would like to learn more about the work that Sarah does, please visit her website and check it out for yourself! Sarah, thank you so much for telling us about your impressive grandmother, and sharing her delicious recipe!

Persimmon Upside-Down Cake

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It was painfully cold here in Chicago this past weekend. The kind of cold that, when I get into the house after putting a load of clothes in the wash in our basement, I find myself irrationally angry. Angry cold. That’s where we are. And, as a perfect Chicago response, it was almost 50 degrees yesterday. Just warm enough to keep people from losing their damn minds.

Freezing temps gives me the perfect excuse to stay inside and bake. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. In my last post, I told you how my mom had been sending me my grandma’s old recipes. The recipe parade continues. Usually mom will send recipes for dishes that I’ve had 100 times and sometimes she sends me giant questions marks. One of the more recent question marks piqued my interest: cottage pudding.

Grandma had a habit of writing down all the ingredients in a recipe, along with oven temperatures and cooking time. What she fails to include, though, are basically any description or assembly instructions whatsoever. From the name, I thought it might be some kind of pudding made from cottage cheese, but the recipe did not call for cottage cheese and this “pudding” actually turned out to be a sheet cake, made in a 9″ x 9″ pan, with sweet sauce, made separately, and meant to be poured over the top. Instead of combining the two together at the end, I realized that I could use grandma’s  recipe to create a version of an upside-down cake made in my cast iron skillet. And, I figured I’d go ahead and make it with persimmons, because I haven’t made anything with persimmons this year and usually they are the fruit that makes my winter go ’round. I’m so glad I did! I’ve never made an upside-down cake before, but it was really quite easy (minus the flipping part) and actually, really delicious. I imagined that I was going to pull some dense cake out of the oven, all gummed up with caramel. Instead, the cake was super soft, not too sweet, and accented with pretty drizzles of persimmon-infused caramel sauce.

I think you could use almost any soft fruit for this recipe, like apples or plums. Or, I suppose you could forgo fruit all together and just make a caramel cake. That’s your prerogative.

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Persimmon Upside-Down Cake
Very slightly adapted from Grandma Dini’s Cottage Pudding recipe.

Cake Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 3/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp, flour
2-3 persimmons, sliced 1/8-1/4-inch thick

Persimmon Caramel Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup water
1 cup brown sugar
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Persimmon Upside-Down Cake Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice 2-3 persimmons, horizontally, very thin. Just enough slices to cover the bottom of a 10″ cast iron skillet. Hold on to any extra pieces of persimmon that do not fit in the pan. You should have about 1/2 a persimmon left. Chop into small pieces.

In a small sauce pan, combine the leftover persimmon pieces and 1/2 of the water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes. Some of the water will evaporate, which is fine.

Turn the heat down to low. Add brown sugar, butter, flour, vanilla, salt, and additional water to the sauce pan. Heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring often, though not constantly, for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. At this time, you can remove any larger pieces of the persimmon, leaving the smaller bits in the caramel. Set aside to cool slightly. You should have between 3/4 of a cup and 1 cup of caramel sauce.

For the cake, in a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, whisking to combine.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together for about 2 minutes. Add the milk, egg, and vanilla extract, and beat until just mixed. Add in the flour mixture in about 4 batches. Mix until just combined with each addition of the dry ingredients. (This batter will be quite thick, which is perfect.)

Grease the sides of your cast iron skillet with butter to ensure a smooth removal of the cake. (You only need to butter the sides of your skillet; the buttery caramel will take care of the bottom of the skillet.)

Add half of the caramel mixture to the bottom of the skillet. Next, add the thinly sliced persimmon to the bottom of the pan until it is mostly covered. Add the remaining caramel over the top of the sliced persimmon.

Next, add the cake batter over the top of the persimmons and caramel. Do your best to get the batter to the edges of the skillet, as evenly as possible. If you have a spots where caramel is poking through on the edges, that’s fine.

Bake for 35-40 minutes. Begin checking for doneness at 35 minutes, by inserting a toothpick all the way through to the caramel. When it comes out clean, it’s done.

Quickly cover the skillet with heat-safe dish, invert the dishes together allowing the cake to slide out of the skillet and on to the serving dish.

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Grandma Dini’s Cream Puffs

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Happy New Year! Gosh, it’s 2017, for real. I’m so ready. Aside from that catastrophe that happened in early November, 2016 was not as cataclysmic for me as it was for everyone else. In fact, for us 2016 was basically uneventful, and even a little monotonous. Uneventful and monotonous are not really that fulfilling, so we’re hoping to make big moves in 2017. We’ll see. Also, we will see if my theory that years ending in even numbers are generally lame and odd numbered years are when magic happens. Bring it, 2017!

Aside from being the second day of a new year, today is National Cream Puff Day! In honor of a day that can’t possibly mean much of anything, I’m making a recipe that is actually quite meaningful to me. My mom has recently been sending me handwritten recipes from my grandma Edna’s recipe notebook. Mom refuses to scan the recipes, and instead texts me photos of the notebook she took with her phone, which is somehow equally annoying and very, very cute. It’s been great seeing these old notebook pages again, covered in stains from use and written in my grandma’s beautiful, cursive handwriting.

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This is grandma Edna–or to me, forever and always, Grandma Dini. For the longest time, I called her Grandma Dini and didn’t give it two thoughts. She responded to it. I was sure it was her name, until I learned otherwise. But neither my brother nor any of my cousins called her that and I never knew why. Later in life I asked my mom where that name had come from. She told me that when she and my dad used to tell me that we’re “going to grandma’s house,” I would always ask, “Which grandma?” Grandma Edna had a tiny, yappy dog, a miniature pinscher, named Houdini. So their answer to me was, “Grandma with Houdini.” Grandma Dini was born.

She passed away when I was twelve, so I didn’t know her as long as I would have liked, but Grandma Dini was a real cool lady. She played the clarinet, she introduced me to one of my favorite movies, Coalminer’s Daughter (when I was entirely too young to be watching such a film), and when she was younger, she and her sister, Florence, competed in local singing/yodeling contests, and were offered a chance to compete at a larger competition. Unfortunately, their dad said, “Absolutely no way,” and instead of becoming a star, grandma was married and having babies by the time she was 17. Not that she was necessarily unhappy with that path, and it certainly wasn’t an uncommon one where she grew up in rural, Central Indiana, but I can’t help but wonder what might have become of her if she had become a famous, touring yodeler.

Perhaps most important to me, Grandma Dini was our family’s genealogist. When she passed away, I unofficially inherited the green notebook in which she kept track of our family history, and I have been researching family histories, my own and others’, ever since. And now my job is to help people learn about their family history! Profound effect, indeed.

A month or two back, my mom asked me what my favorite dessert was that she used to make me. Without a doubt, cream puffs. Light and fluffy, filled with pudding, dusted with powdered sugar, what’s not to love? The cream puffs that my mom used to make were from my grandma’s recipe notebook, and now I’m sharing them with you today.

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Grandma Dini’s Cream Puffs
Makes approximately 12 3-inch cream puffs

1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup flour
1/8 tsp salt
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degree and line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a saucepan, combine water and butter and bring to a boil.

Add the flour and salt and stir until the mixture begins to combine and form a ball.

Add one egg at a time, stirring to combine. The mixture will slowly come together and, when ready, should be stiff enough to hold the spoon vertical.

Drop 1/4 cup spoonfuls onto the parchment-lined cookie sheet. (I used a pastry bag to pipe them onto the cookie sheet. This step is completely unnecessary, but it makes the puffs slightly more uniform, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until they’re just light brown.

Once the puffs have cooled, cut the tops off, fill with pudding/cream, and dust with powdered sugar.

Tip for cream filling: I used this pastry cream recipe from The Kitchn. After making the cream and removing it from heat, I mixed in 1 tsp of espresso powder and 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips until melted and smooth.

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Cream puffs are a super simple treat and a definite crowd-pleaser, particularly if that crowd is me. Make a batch to kick off the new year! I’ll be right over.