I spent my first two years of college at the University of Washington in Seattle. I lived in a sorority with 130+ other young women. At the time my mom worked for the Seattle School District and lived close by; given her work schedule we got together a couple of times a month. Both sets of my grandparents lived in Kent, about 30 minutes away, about an hour and a half closer than when I was in high school.
Once college started it didn’t take long for a ritual to develop with my Grandma Lillian. At least once a month, and more often than not, twice a month, Grandma would call with a lunch invitation. Sometimes it was just the two of us, sometimes her friend Nan would join us, periodically one or both of her sisters, or her cousin Anna. Grandma knew Seattle well and had an uncanny knack for choosing great spots for us to eat. I think it was her chance to eat the foods she knew Grandpa would complain about, especially if he had to pay.
Grandma loved taking me to out of the way places; I don’t know if it was more for my benefit or hers, but I was able to experience foods I had never eaten or heard of before. She took me to the Norselander where I ate my first Monte Cristo, stuffed grape leaves at a Greek restaurant on the Ave, authentic Korean food at Nan’s favorite restaurant. The Greek restaurant became one of our regulars along with another favorite spot, the Garden Room at The Olympic Hotel. By the early 80’s The Olympic Hotel was pretty swanky, having undergone a much needed facelift, returning it to its glory days.
Walking from where we parked the car to our first visit to The Olympic together, Grandma told me about a time in high school when she and some friends came to Seattle for the day. They were dressed in their finest, wanting to give the impression that they worked in offices downtown. Grandma said she even put on bright red lipstick, which from her point of view still seemed quite risqué. I asked her what they did that day. She said they walked around Seattle talking about their futures, which included living in the city, and they ate lunch at The Olympic Hotel. In my mind’s eye I could picture a young Lillian in heels, pencil skirt, a jacket with a nipped waist, coifed brown hair, no make-up with the exception of her red lipstick. The year would’ve been 1937.
I asked Grandma what she had wanted to do after high school. She wanted to be a reporter as she had written extensively for her high school newspaper. When I asked her why she didn’t pursue this she indicated it wasn’t long after this excursion to the city that she met my Grandpa and that was that, going to college with children at home wasn’t an option at that time. By this point in the conversation time we arrived at The Garden Room, Nan waiting for us. Throughout the lunch I was consumed with thoughts of red lipstick and missed opportunities.
Our lunches continued over the course of the two years I was at the “U”. I looked forward to our time together, not only as a reprieve from the House Cook’s attempt at good cooking but for the time I was able to spend with Grandma. There was one more ritual that came with lunches—the good-bye.
The good-bye always ended with a tin of cookies, a blue, gently dented & patinaed tin, at one time home to a Texas fruitcake as indicated by the embossed stamp on the bottom. Grandma considered her cookies carefully, knowing that the cookies would need to hold their freshness for at least week and be able to withstand some jostling, so nothing too delicate. One of the regular occupants of the blue tin were Grandma’s Lemon Cookies. Days after the good-bye, the cookies were reminders of Grandma and our time together, our conversations replaying in my head as ate them.
Grandma’s cookie ritual is one that has continued over several generations. My son Eric went to college in Bellingham, and these lemon cookies often made the trip with me when I visited. Between visits when the pangs of missing him hit, I would bake and ship cookies to Eric. If I couldn’t visit, at least I could ship a little bit of home to him. I found certain cookies shipped better, arriving intact, and remained fresher than others. Stout in their structure, these were often bar cookies. To this day when I make bar cookies I think of college visits, Grandma and Eric.
Grandma’s Lemon Cookies are a bar cookie, though not the typical lemon curd lemon bar. These have a brown sugar shortbread crust which is baked first, followed by an eggy-brown sugar coconut pecan topping, baked again, once out of the oven topped with a lemon zest laden lemon glaze, cooled and cut into bars. They are mix of sweet, tart, & buttery; the corners and the edges are the best, chewy with a crunch.
Grandma’s Lemon Cookies
1/2 unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c dark brown sugar
1 1/2 c flour
Cream butter & brown sugar; add flour; mix until the consistency of sand mixed w/ pea-sized pieces. Press into the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Bake @ 350 for 10 minutes.
In the meantime mix the following:
1 c dark brown sugar
2 T flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t vanilla
1/4 t salt
1 1/2 c shredded sweetened coconut
1 c chopped nuts (I prefer pecans, although walnuts work well)
After the crust comes out of the oven, spread w/ the coconut-nut mixture. It will be thick, so drop in dollops over the crust and spread gently, covering the entire crust.
Bake for another 20 minutes or until the top is medium brown.
While baking mix the lemon glaze:
1 T unsalted butter, melted
Juice and zest of one lemon
1 c powdered sugar
Once the cookies are done, cool for 10 minutes and top with the lemon glaze. Cool completely and cut into bars. Yield: 24 bars