Before there was Lanier, one of my co-conspirators in Christmas was my dad’s mother, whom I called Nanny.
Standing at just under five feet, Nanny was a spunky clothes-loving, perfume-wearing, kitchen floor-scrubbing (every single morning!) British Canadian. My dad was her only child, and, being her sole granddaughter, I was the beneficiary of countless games of go-fish, shopping junkets, cups of tea, and cookies. Lots of cookies.
The first thing we’d do–just she and I–when Nanny walked in our house was to sit down with mugs of milk-laced Lipton and a box of Stella D’oros, which she made sure were readily accessible in my grandparents’ tightly packed Oldsmobile.
At Christmastime, Nanny and Grandpa left the Olds in the garage in Milwaukee and opted to fly to visit us in Connecticut. My dad, who worked in the city, would gather the pair from LaGuardia. One year, my parents devised a delightful scheme: My mother took my brother and I out of school, and our trio surprised my grandparents by appearing at the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. (Meeting in Midtown Manhattan was no easy feat back in the no-devices day. There were payphones and guesswork involved, and we shivered for more than an hour as we scanned the crowd for my father in his Brooks Brothers suit and Grandpa in his black fur cap–Nanny was too petite to try to pick out of a mob.) After the shrieks of joy and embraces that came with finding each other–“Oh, Eddie!” Nanny kept saying–the six of us went to lunch at a German restaurant. There we were seated at a table next to the tallest Fraser fir I’ve seen (indoors) to this day. As we feasted on schnitzel and noodles, we heartily agreed that German restaurants were the Christmas-iest.
Every Christmas, the week or so before Nanny and Grandpa’s flight, an enormous box of her homemade cookies arrived in the mail. Nanny’s cookies were stowed carefully between sheets of wax paper in round tins. Swearing secrecy, my mother and I would peek in each brightly colored tin and marvel at the variety–tiny cocoa mint sandwiches, jam thumbprints, pecan fingers, chocolate shortbread, and always, always Nanny’s gingersnaps. Spiced with ginger and cinnamon, these little butter-bombs melted in your mouth.
We still fill the cookie jar with them each Christmas.
yields three dozen
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cloves
10 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup sugar, plus 1/4 cup sugar for dipping
1/3 cup dark molasses
Sift together flour, soda, salt, and spices in a bowl. In a separate bowl, cream butter; add 1 cup sugar and cream until fluffy. Add egg and molasses. Stir in dry ingredients. Chill 30 minutes.
Take 1 Tb. or so of batter and mold with hands into balls. Roll balls in 1/4 cup sugar. Place at least 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 13-15 minutes.