Silence. I do not think most people feel comfortable with it. I am. There are just some times when nothing needs to be said, and that’s okay. I think my grandpa, my Pepaw, felt this way too. Maybe he was not always a reserved person, I do not really know, but the Pepaw I knew was a quiet presence. I like to think this is one of the things we had in common and as I reflect on our relationship, I have noticed others.
We are both homebodies and would prefer a night with a good TV show or book than almost anything. We have lazy, almost puppy eyes in photographs. Our mornings set the tone for our whole day and a good breakfast plays an important part in that. We tend to get low blood sugars and, this may be a bad thing, like to reach for a cookie or something sweet to perk us up We both own a somewhat ridiculous quantity of books (my grandpa had way more than I will probably ever have and our subject matter differs greatly, but we love books). Coffee shops bring us a strange comfort. Neither of us are much for talking on the phone, however, our last interaction was a phone call I will hold dear forever.
You see, my Pepaw got sick. He was likely worse off than he let on. I think he hated to be a burden and maybe he was not ready to face what was happening to him. I know he wanted so badly to get better; almost until the end he had woodworking projects he wanted to work on in his shop and research waiting to be finished. He never gave up his office at the university he worked at for over 40 years and as painful as it probably was for him, he continued to trek to his favorite coffee shops.
The family knew things were not well with Pepaw, but not as bad as they were. This simulatenously makes me happy and devastated. I wish we could have been more helpful to him, but he wasn’t the type who wanted to be fussed over and likely wished to be treated like his normal self. This made it hard for me to talk to Pepaw and my family about what was happening and I felt helpless.
For me, food can express more than words and since I was scared and Pepaw was many miles away, I knew I had to tell him how much I loved him through food. So, I sent him a care package with a blanket I had knit, a card, a poem asking for peace and comfort, and his favorite biscotti.
A few days later I got a call and Pepaw was on the line. As usual, few words were said, but this time it was because we were both fighting back tears. He said, “you are a sweet young lady.” Simple words, but I knew what he meant and I think he knew how much he meant to me. That was the last time I talked to the true Pepaw. By the time I got to Kansas City to visit him, he was so medicated that he was no longer mentally present. While it is a blessing that he was not in pain, it was hard for me to not get to say the goodbye I had hoped for.
Today marks a year since Pepaw’s death and, at least for me, it is still something I struggle with. Pepaw was a wonderful grandpa, great-grandpa, father, husband, professor, and woodworker (and and “old poop” too). His memory continues to bring me joy and inspiration for the kind of life I want to lead.
Today I celebrated my Pepaw by making a batch of those favorite biscotti, by myself, in my silent kitchen.
Adapted from Nonna’s Biscotti, Gourmet Magazine January 2009
Makes about 30 cookies
Note: As I am sure many of you already know, biscotti is the Italian word for twice baked. These cookies get their delightful crunch from being baked two different times. Of course this means these may take a little longer to make than the typical cookie, but believe me, they are worth it. Everyone I have shared these with, not just Pepaw, love these cookies. Also, with the holidays just around the corner, these make a great homemade gift or a nice addition to a cookie tray.
1 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons pure almond extract
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup whole almonds, with skin, lightly toasted, cooled and coarsely chopped
3 large eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Using a wooden spoon, stir together sugar, butter, and extracts in a large bowl. Then stir in almonds and eggs until well combined. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt until just combined.
Chill dough, covered, for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350° .
Using wet hands, divide dough in half and shape 2 (16 x 2 1/2 inch) loaves on an ungreased large baking sheet.
Bake until pale golden, about 30 minutes. Carefully transfer loaves to wire racks and cool for 15 minutes.
Cut loaves into 3/4-inch slices with a serrated knife. Arrange biscotti, on one of its sides, on the baking sheet and bake until golden 20-25 minutes (I usually flip biscotti halfway through so that both sides get browned evenly). Transfer to rack and cool completely