Good Grief Baking Therapy

jump to recipe

Peppermint Stick Cheesecake Stuffed Cookies

Baking therapy. It’s a thing this time of year. Among other holiday goodies, I baked a baker’s dozen of different cookies. Tapping into that inner strength I created 3 inspired original recipes which were totally delightful. Sadly, I don’t have photos of the orange nut pinwheels (Bill’s favorite), jam thumbprints (Caitlin’s favorite), molasses, almond butter cookies, bourbon chocolate chip or cranberry crumb bars, but please enjoy the rest.

Truth be told I did have a meltdown the day after Christmas. In a room full of people surrounded by our children I suddenly felt like half of me was missing. In an instant and out of nowhere I was overwhelmed by his absence. Gosh I miss him! Cookies can’t change that. I wonder which one would be his favorite. What gets you through the holidays?

Here is the recipe for the Orange Nut Pinwheels. Clipped from a magazine, I have been making this spicy, fruit-filled nutty slice and bake cookie for decades. What I love about it is the cookie dough can be made ahead and stored in the fridge or freezer for a week and then sliced and baked fresh when you need them. It’s a keeper.

Orange-Nut Pinwheels

  • Servings: 4 dozen cookies
  • Print

1 cup California walnuts, ground

1/2 cup orange marmalade

1/3 cup dark seedless raisins, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup shortening

1 egg

In medium bowl, combine first 4 ingredients and 3 tablespoons light brown sugar; set aside. Into large bowl, measure flour, shortening, egg and 1 cup packed brown sugar. With hands, knead ingredients until dough holds together. On sheet of wax paper, roll out half of dough into a 14″ x 6″ rectangle; spread with half of nut mixture. Starting with 6″ side, roll dough tightly jelly roll fashion. Wrap in wax paper. Repeat with remains ingredients. Chill at least 2 hours in the refrigerator or until firm enough to slice. You can chill this dough up to a week. Heat oven 350F. Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment. With serrated knife, slice dough crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place cookies 1-inch apart on baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes or until lightly brown. With thin spatula transfer cookies to rack to cool. Store in an airtight container up to two weeks.

Poppy Seed Cookies Transformation

Not long ago my friend, Steven, told me he was impressed by how I chose to transform my pain rather than transmit it. Not being the deep thinker that he is I have been reflecting on his comment ever since. The blog has certainly been a sacred space to share pain. A room built on grief, but filled with joy, peace and quiet. We are never not broken, but true strength and courage is never about wholeness. It is the ability to face the darkness, adapt and shine a positive light that honors the dear departed. How else could one celebrate a son so loved? 

Baking is a lot like grief. A process with good days and bad. A transformation through fire. A healthy annihilation of ingredients that are broken down and come back stronger. Love made edible…and that has made all the difference.

Today’s recipe celebrates a lovely mom named Linda. Her daughter, Lauren, took the time to privately correspond with me soon after finding the blog last month. Lauren’s letter certainly helps me understand what Steven was trying to tell me. Here is what she wrote: 

Dear Lisa, 

I came across your blog as I have also turned to cooking/baking as a therapeutic way to deal with grief. I lost my mother in January unexpectedly and tragically. My son (her only grandchild) was 8 months old at the time. It has been heartbreaking. I wept when reading that you lost your son (any mother’s greatest fear) but I am so inspired by your journey through grief and finding a healing path that involves celebrating his life through baking! 

I wanted to reach out and say thank you so much for sharing such a raw and vulnerable part of you. I know you have touched many lives through your work. 

Warmly,

Lauren
 

I wanted to know more about Lauren’s mom. In the words of her sweet daughter:

My mom shared joy and love through food, both cooking and baking. I will cherish memories of time spent in the kitchen together cooking up a feast for family and friends. I saved many of her cookbooks and kitchen items to remind me of her and to feel her presence with me when I cook/bake. 

Linda and her grandson

Yes, to feel her presence. Thank you, Lauren, for celebrating your mom on Good Grief Cook. It’s an honor to share one of her favorite recipes. Here is the precious recipe in Linda’s hand-writing. (If you follow the blog you know how much I treasure anything hand-written).

The cookie batter is very thin. I was worried, but the transformation works. These are perfectly crisp, slightly sweet and with lovely layers of flavor. Baking them to the darker golden brown is the way to a crispy cookie. Bake slightly less if you prefer to mold or transform them hot off the baking sheet. I used a level teaspoon for the small crisps and a level tablespoon for the dessert platter size.

Poppy Seed Cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten

¼ cup canola oil

½ cup ice water

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon almond extract

½ teaspoon grated lemon rind

¼ cup poppy seeds

Heat oven 325F. Coat baking sheets with cooking spray. In bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add eggs, oil, water, vanilla, almond extract, lemon rind and poppy seeds; blend well. Drop by level teaspoons (small cookies) or level tablespoons (large cookies) on prepared baking sheets, spacing cookies about 2-inches apart. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until a darker golden brown for crisp cookies. While cookies are warm, using a thin spatula, transfer them to a cooling rack. Makes about 5 to 6 dozen cookies.


From the Heart

Today, I could not help but want to repost this old Valentine’s day blog. It truly is one of my fondest memories of William. Thinking back on that visit with him always makes me smile. He was the master of fun surprises.

I continue to be inspired by his amazing brave and caring energy which brings me to this weekend’s TEDx talk. Truth be told I wasn’t exactly sure what a TEDx talk was when I accepted the invitation. I just knew it would be one more way to celebrate Will’s life, so of course I said, “yes”.

Little did I know that being invited to do a TEDx talk is kind of a big deal. Little did I know just how terrified I would be as I prepared for it. In between panic attacks over the last several weeks I prepared 7 pages of my thoughts. Too much I fretted, so whittled it down to 4. I attempted to memorize a speech. Practice, practice, practice. It felt like I was jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. It felt all wrong.

Several supportive friends suggested, “just speak from your heart”. I am taking their advice and feeling less anxious. To just simply speak from the heart feels right.

To further ease my anxiety I thought it a good idea to bake cookies for all 300 people in the TEDx audience. Baking cookies is much more therapeutic than public speaking. Just sayin’. I’m bringing the original Sweet William’s Inspired and Spirited Chocolate Chip Cookie and a Salted Chocolate Whiskey Shortbread because I wanted a heart shaped cookie.

The cookie dough for the shortbread contains no salt, so don’t hesitate to generously top each cookie with a good sprinkle of finishing salt. I highly recommend The Spice & Tea Exchange Chocolate Sea Salt for its sweet smokey flavor.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon whiskey (Jack Daniel’s recommended)

4 cups all-purpose flour (King Arthur Flour)

1 cup chopped bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate

Chocolate Sea Salt or your favorite finishing salt

In large bowl, beat butter and sugar for 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. On low speed, add egg, vanilla and whisky; blend well. Gradually add flour until fully incorporated. Stir in chocolate. Dump dough out onto some plastic wrap. Gather it up into a flat disk. Wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Heat oven to 350F. On a silicone mat or lightly floured surface roll dough to 1/8-1/4-inch thickness. Cut out desired shapes with cookie cutters. Re-roll dough scraps as needed to cut out more cookies. Sprinkle cookies generously with finishing salt. Gently press salt into cookie with your fingertips. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes for 1 1/2-inch size cookies or until edges brown. Cool. I made about 200 cookies with a small heart shaped cutter.

On this Valentine’s Day I hope you are surrounded by those you love most. ❤