Nana’s Magic Touch

I debated which story to pull from the vault for this final short story blog post. I’m almost out of the old stuff and the experimental stuff – most of what’s left isn’t worth sharing. I had fun writing those older stories, and they were good practice, but we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel at this point.

Given that I plan on doing LOTS of holiday baking this year, I thought I’d share “Nana’s Magic Touch”, written for ReedsyPrompts Contest #71 using the prompt “Write about someone trying to recreate a grandparent’s signature baked good from memory”. Phase one of holiday baking starts tomorrow and I’m already fantasizing about cookies.

I remember when I first posted this story to the ReedsyPrompts writing community, someone pointed out that the way the protagonist went about re-creating the recipe was all wrong. I had to tell them that, well, that’s the point. If you’re familiar with baking at all, you should recognize that this little culinary adventure is doomed from the start. Although the core recipe is based on an actual family recipe, the narrator’s alterations should not be attempted. You have been warned.

Enjoy!

“This isn’t right at all.”

It’s the right recipe, but it’s still all wrong. It’s… Incomplete. Nana always had her own way of doing things, and she certainly wasn’t going to let some recipe tell her what to do.

Ever since Nana passed, I’ve been thinking about all of the baked goods I’ll never get to taste again. She was an extraordinary baker. No one else has even come close. And now that Christmas is coming up – our first Christmas without her – I find myself missing her baking all that much more. So, I called up my mum and asked for Nana’s chocolate chip recipe. Even if I couldn’t get it exactly right, I still wanted something that would remind me of all those good times with her in the kitchen.

But this recipe is all wrong. It’s missing what made truly made it Nana’s recipe. When my mum emailed me the recipe, I called her right away to tell her it was missing Nana’s notes. You see, Nana had made these cookies so many times that she had made changes and adjustments to the recipe over the years. What I was staring at on screen was just a plain chocolate chip cookie recipe with none of Nana’s added magic. But mum didn’t know the difference.

Mum was the total opposite of Nana. She had never been a good cook, and she was not a good baker either. The kitchen held no meaning for her outside of its utilitarian function. She had never watched Nana make the cookies as I had, never listened to Nana’s stories and advice during this most sacred of kitchen rituals. So, when I asked mum where Nana’s notes were, she had no idea what I was talking about.

The cookies were doomed from the start.

Determined to try anyway, I stared at the recipe in front of me and tried to picture Nana in the kitchen. It had been so long since I had baked with her. I spent so much time in the kitchen with her as a child, but nowhere near as much time once I reached adulthood. I felt guilty. I should have spent more time with Nana.

After combing through old memories, I was fairly certain I could remember all of Nana’s modifications to the recipe. I was confident that I could recreate the chocolate chip cookies in a way that would make Nana proud. I kept her in my mind as I gathered ingredients together. I listened for her words of advice and her most common kitchen phrases. And then I began.

½ cup of shortening

Actually, no. Nana always said “butter is better”, and I’m sure she used that saying when she baked cookies. I swapped out the shortening for butter and kept going.

½ cup of brown sugar and ¼ cup of white sugar.

But Nana never made things too sweet. They were always just right. And I distinctly remember one time when my sister had asked why we couldn’t add more sugar to a cake recipe, Nana had said: “Because I’m sweet enough as it is. We don’t need too much sugar.” So, I used only half the amount of brown sugar.

½ tsp of vanilla

I could hear Nana’s voice in the back of my mind. “Eyeball it.” So I did.

Cream until fluffy.

This is one of those moments where I would have been tempted to pull out the hand mixer to get everything really well blended together, but Nana never had a hand mixer. She had a large stand mixer that she would use for cakes, but for something small like cookies she relied on a whisk and her own strength. I was determined to make my cookies just like Nana would.

1 egg – add and beat well.

This one was tricky. Nana always told me to use large eggs only, but I had only bought medium sized eggs at the grocery store. I didn’t think this one change would do too much damage.

Combine to above mixture:

1 cup of all-purpose flour

½ tsp of baking soda

½ tsp of salt

I knew for a fact that Nana would have been very strict about measuring out the flour, so I did it exactly as she had taught me as a child. However, the other dry ingredients… “Eyeball it.”

And finally: 6oz of chocolate chips

I remembered her dumping a bag of chocolate chips in to the bowl. I couldn’t remember if it had been a full bag, or simply the dregs of one that had already been opened. I dumped a whole bag in, just in case. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with extra chocolate.

I was so tempted to taste the batter, especially since it didn’t look like I remembered, but I promised myself I would wait until the finished product was ready.

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes

This is where I started to get nervous. Nana’s old oven had been temperamental from years of use, and only she knew how to make it bake properly. She would adjust the temperature and place the baked goods in a certain spot, and somehow it would all work out. My oven was newer, and didn’t require any additional fussing, but I turned the temperature down to 350 degrees anyway. Better safe than sorry.

I knew the cookies wouldn’t be done in 10 minutes. Nana always said: “Trust the cookies, not the timer. They’ll tell you when they’re ready.” So, I sat on the floor, with the oven light on, and stared at the cookies through the oven window. I didn’t even bother to set a timer. I knew what to look for. I knew what the cookies were supposed to look like.

But I never saw what I was waiting for. I wasn’t sure how long I sat there for, or if I had even been able to keep my attention from wandering off, but I pulled the cookies out of the oven the second I noticed the smell. It wasn’t a burning smell – not yet – but it suggested that the cookies were venturing in to the realm of overcooked. When I pulled them out of the oven, they did not look right at all. But that’s ok. They don’t have to look good as long as they taste good.

I waited impatiently for the cookies to cool off before I grabbed one. It was still perfectly warm and I was beginning to salivate. I took that much anticipated bite and…

“Into the bin they go” was another one of Nana’s favourite sayings. It was reserved for baked goods that were inedible.

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