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.


Birthday, Basil & Cheesecake, Oh, My!

Basil Infused Strawberry Cheesecake

Basil Infused Strawberry Cheesecake

It was 11 years ago, on her 18th birthday, when I presented Caitlin with 18 hand-written love letters. It was an annual event for me to write my baby girl a letter on July 14th and stash it away in a “treasure box”. Now, as she was leaving the nest, it was time for my first-born to have them. Hopefully, seeing herself through a loving mother’s eyes and remembering all the goodness she had brought to our family would give her strength and wisdom as she set off on her own.

Cait & Sam graduate

Cait & Sam graduate

As parents, Bill and I could not have been more proud when Caitlin graduated with honors in economics from Wake Forest University. Wow!-we thought, money well-spent. She was on her way to her first big job in Philadelphia and the huge responsibility of seriously paying her own bills (woohoo!) Pretty sure there were times when she wished she was back in college, but she perseveres receiving promotion after promotion. Hello Ms Marketing Director.

marriage

And then came marriage and one of the happiest days of our lives. Hello, Mrs. Pemberton. Tomorrow she turns 29 and I realize I owe her way more than a love letter, but that is between me and her.

love my baby girl

love my baby girl

I will, however, share with you her favorite dessert which is cheesecake. Inspired by the plentiful basil in my garden and the juiciest, ripest strawberries ever this recipe is cause for celebration. Happy Birthday dear Caitlin!

cheesecake

Basil Infused Strawberry Cheesecake

1-cup heavy cream

8 fresh basil leaves, plus additional for garnish

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Crust

1 cup crushed chocolate cookie crumbs (18 Nabisco Chocolate Wafer cookies)

2 tablespoons sugar

4 tablespoons melted butter

Filling

3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened

¾ cup sugar

3 eggs

1 pound fresh strawberries (reserve 9 berries for garnish and puree the rest)

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream

Heat oven to 325F. In a microwave safe measuring cup heat heavy cream on HIGH for 1 minute. Bruise basil leaves lightly with your fingers and submerge in hot cream; set aside to steep. Mix cookie crumbs, sugar and butter until crumbly; press over bottom of 9-inch spring-form pan; bake 8 minutes. Cool on wire rack. In large bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, strawberry puree (you should have about 1 cup), vanilla, ¼ cup of basil infused heavy cream (cover and refrigerate the remaining basil-cream mixture) and yogurt until well mixed. Pour batter into crust. Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until center is just set. Do not over bake. Cool to room temperature before transferring to the refrigerator to chill completely. Run a knife around the pan sides. Remove sides of pan. Remove basil from chilled cream. Add powdered sugar and beat with an electric mixture to stiff peaks. Garnish top of cheesecake with basil-whipped cream, reserved strawberries and basil sprigs, if desired.

Tips:

#1 place a piece of plastic wrap over the bowl of your food processor before securing the top to keep the top from getting dirty (since I hate washing the top)

#2 use a flat bottom cup to pat the crumb crust into place and the back of a spoon to smooth around the edge