Last post promised the story of my 20-year friendship with amazing Ann along with recipes for cookies served at her 80th birthday party. That promise will now be kept. Setting the time machine back two decades…
My first job out of college was “food scientist,” which was ideal as I had trained to be exactly that with my Food Science degree. The less than ideal part was that I really didn’t like the job. Test tubes and lab coats weren’t my thing, though I wasn’t sure what my thing was quite yet either.
That same year I was given a Betty Crocker cookbook for Christmas and I remember my fascination while turning its pages. Ironically, I had not learned to cook in college. A degree in Food Science requires plenty of science: reading, lab work, discussions, tests, but cooking is not required.
But with a cookbook in front of me (and Betty’s at that), I became enamored with the concept of sharing recipes and other food ideas. My career goal began to crystallize: I wanted to be a food writer.
Living in a small town in southern Minnesota, I shared this information with my grandmother. She knew of a local woman who owned a b&b and also wrote for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune Taste section. I dutifully called this woman and was invited over for an informational interview. And that’s how I met Ann.
The day of our interview changed the course of my life, I’m convinced of this. Ann was friendly, warm, and encouraging, but the kicker was her no-nonsense, down-to-earth outlook. I already had a solid support system with friends and family, who were all kinds of “friendly, warm, and encouraging,” but Ann was the first to offer practical career advice.
She listened to my story, then suggested I offer to write a food column for a local paper. My initial response, “what if they say ‘no?’,” was countered with advice I still carry with me today: “Assume they’ll say ‘yes’.” Ann also suggested I volunteer at a local food co-op. Because Ann was the kind of person whose orders you simply obeyed, I followed both suggestions. Not only did I land the food column gig, but ended up working at that co-op as well, where I (finally) learned to cook and bake.
Ann supported me in so many ways: My husband and I b&b-sat when she was out of town. I assisted Ann when she taught cooking classes as well as tested recipes for her cookbook projects. Ann helped me believe in myself as a food professional. And with that confidence, I was able to move forward in my career and eventually find courage enough to start my own business.
We’ve both since moved from that small town to the same metro area. We see each other occasionally for lunches, dinners, and meetings, and she’s always generous with her gifts, time, and advice.
It’s been fun to watch Ann’s career evolve as well. Since we met back in the mid-90s, she’s published cookbooks (A Cook’s Tour of Minnesota and Hot Dish Heaven are her two most recent) and also was invited to serve as Comfort Food Ambassador to celebrate Creamette’s 100th birthday. How can you not love this woman?
So when Mary, a mutual friend, asked if I wanted to co-host a party for Ann’s 80th birthday, I immediately said “yes.” Not only would planning the party be fun, but we’d be celebrating a woman to whom I owe so much.
We sent out the invites, made plenty of food, took care of party favors (small booklets with the cookie recipes), and added Ann’s special touches: napkins she’d used at the b&b, egg salad made with the recipe from the co-op I’d worked at, dates because she always had a stash at her desk when she worked at the paper, fresh strawberries as she’s originally from a town called Strawberry Point, and the three cookies she’d requested. We were ready to party.
And party we did. Folks seemed to enjoy the event and most importantly, Ann was pleased. She was surrounded by people from her years at the newspaper and in the Betty Crocker Kitchens (did I mention that Ann had worked on Betty’s cookbooks?); others she had mentored; friends from church; neighbors; her daughter. Folks shared stories about what Ann had meant to them and it was clear that mine was not the only life she had changed with her practical, no-nonsense advice as well as her fierce loyalty to friendships.
My hope is that we all have an Ann in our lives–someone to encourage us in professional endeavors. Someone who knows what it’s like on the inside and can help us get where we don’t yet know we want to go. And someone who will celebrate with us when we do. Thank you Ann, for everything you are.
And now let’s talk cookies!
Strudel & Nudel’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Ann fell in love with this recipe when she wrote about Erich Christ who ran both The Black Forest and, next door, a deli called Strudel & Noodle. He sold homemade apple strudel and noodles besides these great cookies.
- 2 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
- 1/2 + 3/8 cup shortening or butter
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons cake flour
- 4 cups + 2 tablespoons rolled oats
- 1 1/4 cups raisins
Heat oven to 375°F. Grease baking sheets.
In bowl, cream together brown sugar, shortening, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, eggs, and vanilla. Mix in milk. Add cake flour, oats, and raisins, mixing smoothly.
Drop batter by large spoonfuls on baking sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until almost no imprint remains when touched with finger. Cool on rack. Makes 30 large cookies.
A favorite of Ann’s.
- 1 cup butter
- 4 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups chopped walnuts, optional
Heat oven to 350°F. Grease 13×9-inch pan.
In 3-quart saucepan, melt butter and chocolate over very low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in sugar. Cool slightly. Beat in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in vanilla.
In small bowl, mix flour and salt; stir into chocolate mixture. Fold in nuts, if using. Spread batter in pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack. Cut large or small as desired.
Small-pan Brownies: Use half of each ingredient; mix and bake in 8-inch square pan.
Maple Chocolate Chip Cookies
Here’s the recipe for Ann’s signature cookies, baked for her b&b cookie jar by a succession of excellent bakers. From Ken Haedrich’s Maple Syrup Cookbook.
- 1 cup butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup real maple syrup
- 1 1/2 tablespoons powdered instant coffee
- 2 tablespoons hot water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
- 2 cups finely chopped walnuts
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Heat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with kitchen parchment.
In bowl, cream butter with electric mixer, slowly drizzling in maple syrup. In small bowl, dissolve instant coffee in hot water; beat coffee and vanilla into butter mixture.
In separate bowl, toss together whole wheat and all-purpose flours, walnuts, baking soda, and salt. Stir into butter mixture, in several batches, until flour is just incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips by hand. Let batter stand several minutes to allow whole wheat flour to absorb moisture in syrup.
Drop dough by tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until edges begin to brown. Transfer to rack to cool. Makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies.