(by Jenny Tallent and Hannah McKee)
I was born the day before Mother’s Day, 1961—actually just a few minutes before midnight. Mom always said I just missed out being the first Mother’s Day baby at Saint Michael’s Hospital in Texarkana, Texas. I was her third child and second daughter. The fact that she had a relationship of full of empathy, love, and companionship with her children must have been an act of will on her part because she had a horribly abusive childhood herself.
Mom (Evelyn Lucille) had grown up in Ripley, Ohio, picking tobacco in the fields and dandelions for rich people’s salads, working as a maid at a boarding house and at the movie theater selling popcorn. All the money she ever made was handed directly over to her mother, a cruel and angry woman, diagnosed with serious mental disorders later in life. Mom’s dad was an alcoholic who left Grandmother with seven children; my mother was the elder of the two girls. She loved Sunday school and found comfort through her belief in God, and she escaped by marrying my father when she was 18.
My dad had been in Germany in the Air Force and had just returned to his father’s dairy farm when a friend told him about a job opening as an electrical engineer in Jedda, Saudi Arabia. Dad told his employer that we were a package deal, and our family moved there together when I was five years old. My mother was adventurous and loved to learn about other cultures, so this opportunity led to the happiest time of her life. The Saudis had their own girl and boy clubs while we had Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. My mother was a leader, and we did intertwined activities, although the Saudis were careful not to adapt too many Western ideas for their children.
American children were not permitted to attend Saudi schools beyond the eighth grade, so I went away to boarding school, first in Austria and then in Michigan. While I was at school, I received a letter from my mother explaining that she been raped by her brothers. I was completely blindsided. She had never spoken much about her childhood, and when we did visit family back in the United States, she acted like everyone was normal. Her mother was aware of the circumstances but ignored the pleas of my mother and her younger sister, glorifying and worshipping her sons. My father loved my mother unconditionally and did everything in his power his entire life to protect and provide for her. It was his devotion to her that brought her peace.
I’m grateful every day that my father took that job in Saudi Arabia, which protected my siblings and me from those perverted relatives. Relatives were not allowed to visit in Saudi Arabia, so seeing them only every few years when we went back to the States on vacation was my normal. My mother was so damaged and hurt by them that the only saving grace was isolation, living beyond reach.
My childhood was a blessing, and I was thrilled to have the opportunities I did in Saudi Arabia. When I first arrived, I asked, “Why are the men wearing dresses?” Of course, they were thobes, worn to provide ventilation in the heat. The Saudi women I knew chose silk burqas, which were light and breezy, for the same reason. As a young child and teenager, I wore long sleeves and long skirts when in public. I was a guest in their country, and I was raised to respect and honor their laws and culture.
In my experience, there is a misconception about Saudi women. They often had beautiful caftans or expensive European dresses hidden in public under their burqas and hijab face covers. As a teenager, I lifeguarded at the pool, and the Saudi women wore the latest bathing suits, even bikinis. In private gyms or women-only areas, it was fine to wear Western-style exercise clothes. Only in public around strangers were they insistent to be fully covered. The Saudi woman is a treasure within her family. One main difference was that they were escorted from one place to the next, as were most ex-pats like me. It was a very safe feeling to be watched over and protected.
For one of the Scout fundraisers, my mom created her own recipe for homemade doughnuts. They were so delicious that Dad’s office mates began requesting them on a regular basis, and her homemade doughnut business began. She made them on weekends, and Dad delivered them in brown paper sacks on Monday. She continued until she got too many orders and was happy to stop.
By the time my parents had moved back to the United States and Mom’s brothers had started crawling back into her life, I was already living on my own. When I married and had my children, I forbade any of Mom’s relatives from visiting me or my children, and my children only saw their grandparents when I was present. As they got older, of course, I told them about the abuse my mother went through. I never kept anything hidden. But the safety of my children was the most important thing to me.
My daughter Hannah amazes me—she is everything a mother could want, a bustling ball of energy. She graduated from law school and took the bar all while my mother was dying, and offered to quit to be with them. They told her to stay focused and finish school. It was upon their blessing that she became an attorney. Her grandpa told her not to stop until she becomes a judge.
She lives in Hawaii, is a wife and mother, an incredible cook, with a passion for animals. She breeds St. Bernards, cares for geriatric horses, has a chicken and egg duck business and a herd of goats. It’s my life’s pleasure to watch her swirl surroundings into a peaceful sanctuary.
A few years ago, Hannah contacted her grandmother and asked for her famous doughnut recipe. Mom was delighted, and the doughnuts represent a complete circle of life’s journey, a metaphor reminding me how we rise to the top and we get a sweet coating along the way.
A tangy-sweet aroma wafted from the kitchen, waking me from a deep slumber. As the
scent trickled through my nose and down my throat, I could taste individual ingredients.
Cinnamon? I inhaled, filling my lungs with the delectable fragrance. No. It wasn’t cinnamon. I tried again. Chocolate. Yes, but there was something else. Something I couldn’t place. That’s when I heard her voice.
“Hey, baby. Do you think the kids will enjoy this?”
Grandma! There was no other voice that sounded like her. I ran into the kitchen, breezing past my own parents, and leapt into the waiting arms of Grandma and Grandpa Tallent. After hugs, kisses, and countless “I love yous,” my grandma always did the same thing. She took my hand and led me into the kitchen, teaching me each intricate step to bake a world of delicious treats.
Once Grandma shared her culinary expertise with me, nothing was off the table. The rest of the afternoon was spent learning how to measure and sift, fold and bake. Those minutes turned into hours, until we had made the perfect chocolate brownies.
Years passed before I saw my grandmother again because we lived in different states. The next time we were together, she showed me how to whip and blend. In a house of picky eaters, she taught me a trick to get everyone to eat a little healthier.
“I know the boys won’t eat their vegetables,” Grandma said with a wink as she picked up a carrot and grater. “A couple of these won’t hurt. They won’t even notice, I promise.”
“But Grandma,” I whispered. “They’re orange!”
Grandma chuckled. “Don’t worry. They’ll mix in.“
“They’re stringy,” I tried again, wrinkling my nose at the thought of chocolate-covered
“So is coconut,” Grandma replied. She placed the bowl of cake mix in front of me. “Fold
it in, just like I taught you.
I mimicked her movements, scooping up some of the silky batter and folding it into the
rest. After a few minutes, the carrots had disappeared.
That evening, nobody said a thing as they bit into their German chocolate cake. Even the boy who hated his vegetables ate every last drop.
Through the years, Grandma and I saw each other less and less. Yet when we did, she
surprised me with another baking lesson. The time in London while I was a student overseas led to heirloom cookbooks shipped back home. When I had my own child, more recipes were handed down. Every bite of love passed down with them.
Until one day, when Grandma was not healthy enough for a plane flight. I was thinking
of what the next phase of my life should hold, when my mom spoke to Grandma. “What about donuts?” Grandma asked. “Do you remember my donuts?”
My mom grinned, unable to hold her excitement. “You would be willing to share the
“When you’re as old as I am, you understand what’s important. You can spend your life
collecting every little thing, but you can’t take it with you when you’re gone. Things like recipes are meant to be shared with the people you love, especially the people who take an interest in them. You and that baby girl of yours are two of the most important people in the world to me.”
With that came the recipe for Grandma’s donuts. It has filled my mother’s and my kitchen with her love for years.
Hannah McKee is a published author and personal injury attorney from Hawaii. She can be found on Instagram.
Evee’s Glazed Doughnuts
2 packages active dry yeast (1 package equals 2 1/4 t.)
1/4 c. lukewarm water
1/2 - 1 c. sugar
2 t. salt
1 c. Crisco shortening, plus additional for frying
2 c. hot milk
4 - 5 c. flour
Soften yeast in water for 5 minutes, then stir.
Place sugar, salt, and shortening in bowl.
Add hot milk and stir.
Mash shortening against side of bowl until it forms small lumps.
Cool until lukewarm.
Stir in 2 c. flour to make thick batter.
Beat until smooth (about 100 strokes).
Add yeast mixture and eggs, stirring until blended.
Stir in 2 more c. flour, adding more if needed to make a dough that doesn’t stick.
Turn dough on lightly floured board and knead for 2 minutes until dough is free and elastic.
Place dough in a greased bowl, grease surface of dough, cover with cloth, and let rise
for 1 1/2 hours.
Punch dough down and roll out on lightly floured board to 1/2 in. thickness.
Cut with doughnut cutters.
Let rise uncovered for 30 minutes.
In a deep fryer or pot, place enough Crisco to make 2 – 3 inches, and heat to 365 F.
Fry doughnuts and doughnut holes, a few at a time, on one side for 3 minutes.
When doughnuts rise to the surface, turn them over.
When golden brown on both sides, remove from fryer and drain on paper towels.
Let cool on a wire rack before dipping in vanilla glaze.
2 c. confectioners’ sugar
3 -4 T. water
2 T. butter, softened
1 t. vanilla extract
Blend together, making mixture thin enough so that doughnuts can be dipped.