Many of those tried and true recipes, the ones I go back to again and again, came from one special lady. She is my ex-step-grandmother, I think, if she must have a label. Actually, she is just simply my Annabel. Annabel is the only Annabel I know, and she truly is one of a kind.
Annabel married my grandfather in about 1973, after they had both been divorced for many years, long enough for each of them to become rather set in their ways and independent. I loved Annabel immediately, for her hearty laughter and sense of humor, her zest for life, her I-can-do-it attitude, and for the many shared interests we had. She loves to garden and to cook, and she really, really loves antiques (especially antique dishes.) I guess it all ties to food, somehow. She makes the best homemade rolls and pies I've ever had and can make them with seemingly little effort. I've never mastered that.
I will always remember the first time Grandad and Annabel came to visit us after we moved our little family to a farm on the prairie in Mississippi in 1975. I had been with her a few times but this was the first time we spent considerable time together. Annabel is a natural storyteller and kept us up late each night they were there, telling tales in her inimitable way. One story had to do with when she was a very young woman and drove her family from Missouri to Florida in the World War II years to meet a family serviceman. Nothing was going to stop Annabel from making the trip, not even the fact that her old car's transmission was going out. When she got to Birmingham, the vintage vehicle wouldn't make it up the steep hills in that city, so Annabel simply turned around, put the car in reverse and BACKED THROUGH BIRMINGHAM, to the amazement of other drivers and her own family. We laughed until we cried! Actually, that story says something about the lady -- she is unstoppable.
After Annabel and Grandad had been married for many years, it became apparent that they were simply too much alike to get along. But although they couldn't live together, Annabel and I have remained friends, even though we don't see one another very often. She still sends me a new recipe occasionally and we talk on the phone and keep in touch. She is 91, still lives alone and drives herself everywhere, cooks holiday meals for her family, plays cards with friends and is still a keen antique collector/trader (she can tell you the cost of every piece she has ever bought, down to the penny, and if she sold it, what she made, in 70 years of doing this.) Our enduring friendship is proof that age, distance and time don't really matter when hearts align.
The many recipes Annabel has shared with me are ones I trust; they are ones I return to over and over again, even though they may not be trendy or new. One I just finished making is Annabel's homemade granola. As a confirmed cereal eater, I count on that cup of milk each morning for part of my calcium intake. And when I can pour it over a bowl of this crunchy, filling goodness, it makes for a good start to my day. There are also other ways to use granola -- with yogurt, sprinkled on ice cream, as a topping for hot oatmeal or simply by the handful for a great snack -- it's versatile and yummy any way you try it.
When I go through my recipe file, Annabel's handwriting greets me often. Her Date Pinwheels are one of our favorite Christmas cookies, and her Chess Pie is easy and wonderful. She sure knows her way around a cucumber -- Annabel's Ever Crisp and Refrigerator Pickles are the best! Next to my mother and grandmother, Annabel is surely the best cook I've ever had the privilege of knowing.
If you're thinking of eating healthy for the new year, maybe you'll want to start with breakfast. This granola is all natural and full of fiber, with just the right amount of sweetness. It is also great for gift-giving -- simply fill a vintage canning jar with granola, tie on a pretty ribbon and it's an appreciated gift. Here's how to make it:
8 cups regular rolled oats (not quick or instant)
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup (or more) wheat germ or bran
8-oz. shredded coconut
1 cup salted sunflower seed kernels or salted cashews
1/2 cup oil
3/4 cup honey
2 tsp. vanilla
Raisins or chopped dates, if desired
Mix first five ingredients together in a large bowl. Stir in fruit, if desired. Bring oil, honey and vanilla to a boil and pour over dry ingredients and fruit. Stir and stir (I end up mixing with my hands) until well mixed.
Spread in two greased 10 x 15 baking pans and bake, uncovered, at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes, stirring with a spatula halfway through cooking. Don't let it get too brown. Remove from oven and cool, stirring a couple of times to break the granola up. Store in an airtight jar.
I just filled my gallon vintage pickle jar -- wonder how long it will last?