Growing up in my home was a multicultural experience. My mother’s family was German Jewish, Irish, Scottish, and Welch. She married into a family of Hungarians and Romanians. (Both of my father’s parents immigrated to America on the Carpathia, the year after it rescued hundreds of passengers from the Titanic.) My mother attended synagogue until converting to Christianity at age 19. Surprisingly, the families got along fine, and our way of eating reflected our melting pot. The most popular dinners at home in our small southeast Michigan town might include cabbage rolls, spicy goulash, matzo ball soup, latkes, challah bread, or shepherd’s pie.
Certain recipes resulted in big messes, but my mom was a pro at making the kitchen look spotless by the time dinner was ready. “Clean as you go," she’d tell me, and I hear myself telling my children the same thing. Classic rock and roll was the soundtrack of her kitchen—she’d sing “Paint It Black” and “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” while cooking breakfast. I especially loved helping with holiday baking, each sweet made from scratch according to recipes that my Grandmother Kramer had written out. Tasting the finished product was a good lesson in patience and the benefits of hard work.
(with my sister and Mom)
When I was a teen, my mother and I sometimes clashed, but never in the kitchen. The kitchen was a place where we came together and usually resolved any disagreements. It’s the same with my daughter. She loves to help cook, and she will sometimes bring up unresolved issues while we’re together at the stove. I’ve actually heard her say, “Mom, I’m sorry for my attitude, and I’ll listen better next time.” It’s like looking in a mirror at a younger me.
Most of my life I’ve worked in a fast-paced environment (literally fast food), and I work with a sense of urgency in my home kitchen, but I’m diligent and deliberate, and everything else is put on hold. No distractions until the cookies come out of the oven. The name of my favorite cookie reflects the love in a recipe passed down through the generations of women in my family: It’s the German word for “little kisses.”
Christina Peck is a freelance writer who lives in southwest Missouri with her husband and their three children. She also enjoys modeling and acting.
Bussels (German meringues)
4 egg whites at room temperature
2 1/4 c. powdered sugar
1/8 t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 c. walnuts, dried fruit and/or chopped chocolate
Preheat oven to 200 F.
Whip egg whites by hand with a wooden spoon or in an electric mixer on medium speed, until they look like foam.
Continue whipping (in mixer, increase speed to high) until egg whites stiffen.
Add powdered sugar one tablespoon at a time.
Add salt and continue beating for several minutes until glossy and stiff.
Add vanilla extract and walnuts, dried fruit and/or chopped chocolate.
Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.
Form cookies with two spoons or a pastry bag.
Top with optional sprinkles.
Bake for 1 hour with the oven open slightly.
After 1 hour, reduce temperature to 175 F. for 1 hour.
Store in airtight bags or tins.