It is summertime in Michigan. The heat of the day has been swept away across Lake Huron, and our cottage is shaded by the tall trees that surround it, up here a few hundred feet from the sandy beach where the children have built a sand castle and have begun a second round of Beach Olympics. There is a slight breeze flowing through the windows. The littlest ones are crawling around my feet as I dance my culinary dance in this kitchen I love. Jill is humming as she sits in the Adirondack chair out on the deck. Dave and Chelle have taken a walk over to the golf course across the Singing Bridge.
I tie my apron around my waist. The butter on the counter has softened quickly. I whip it in the trusty Kitchen Aid mixer, sprinkling sugar into it like a lovely snowfall on a summer day. Soon there is the nurturing aroma of chocolate drop cookies floating throughout the cottage. Jill comments through the screen doors from her perch on the deck, an endearing strand of words and sounds. Jill’s voice carries a charm, a musicality that always feels like love to me. My Sarah has that same lilt in her voice. The aromatic evidence of a family gathering makes its way through the trees and over to the cottage next door, where our cousin Teri spends her summertime retreats. Her son Alex makes his way across the deck to the screen door. “Somethin’ smells good!” he calls through the screen. I offer him a warm cookie. “Can’t refuse that!” he says, and steps into the cottage.
|Dave and his sisters, Chelle and Jill|
Rows of cookies line up on the white counter top, like the kitchen wears a polka dot dress. I wash the bowl as soon as the last batch goes in the ovens, then fill it again with two more cubes of butter, whipping it with powdered sugar and vanilla until a light airy frosting emerges. I swirl my knife into the snowy sweetness and cover each cooled cookie with a wave of butter cream.
One by one my mortals ascend the sandy hillside, dipping their sand covered feet in a bucket of water before they enter in the basement. I hear David and Chelle, talking as their feet pace across the boardwalk. The screen door squeals as they enter, and in unison they moan their approval… Mmmmm.
It is summer at the cottage. The sun is slowly dipping into the woodlands to the west of us. The lake is still, her gentle waters lapping quietly against the sand. The cousins, who are the children of our children, are winding down their play. One of my daughters is running a bath for the baby. My son plucks the guitar off of the family room wall and strokes the strings.
Helen Connors, my husband’s mother, built this cottage for moments like this. We feel her presence here, and at the same time mourn the loss of her. This was her space, this was her recipe, these are her children. She has graced us all with a place to gather, a place where memories are piled one on top of the other until the heart is bursting.
Every time I make Chocolate Drop Cookies I think of Helen. I like to think she would be pleased to smell the evidence of her kitchen being put to good use; that she would close her eyes and listen as her daughters chat on the back deck, as her great-grandchildren laugh and splash in the waters of Lake Huron, as her grand daughters bathe and snuggle their babies in her thirsty beach towels, while her grandson strums a tune on his guitar. I can hear her say, in my imagination, “Oh my, isn’t this nice. If I didn’t know better, I could swear this place is heaven.”
These cookies are a family favorite. They cook up quickly. Other cookies take 10-12 minutes, these take 4-5 minutes to cook.) Be sure not to overcook. Bake 4 minutes then check them. If they don’t look kind of liquid-y, they are probably ready. Let them set a minute on the cookie sheet before you remove them to a cooling rack to cool. They will continue to cook while they sit on the cookie sheet. They taste like little pieces of moist chocolate cake.
Chocolate Drop Cookies
Cori Connors (I triple this recipe, so we can give some away)
1/3 c butter (1c)
1/3 c shortening (1c)
¾ c sugar (2 ¼ )
1 egg (4 eggs – yes, I use 4 when I triple the recipe)
9 T cocoa (1 2/3 c)
½ t soda(1 ½ t)
½ c sour milk or buttermilk (1 ½c)
1 ¾ c flour (5 ¼ c)
½ t salt (1 ½)
1 t vanilla (3t)
Cream butter and shortening. Gradually add sugar. Beat well.
Beat in egg.
Sift dry ingredients together in separate bowl. Add to creamed mixture alternating with milk.
Drop by heaping tablespoonful 2” apart on cookie sheet. I use a small cookie scoop.
Bake at 400 degrees for 4-5 minutes. Do not overcook.
Cool and frost with butter cream frosting.
Tip: make sour milk by putting 2 T vinegar in measuring cup and filling the rest with milk. Stir and let it sit a few minutes till it curdles.
Butter Cream Frosting
1 c butter
3 c powdered sugar
dash of salt
Beat butter and sugar till well blended. Add 1 T vanilla and a couple spoons of cream or milk, a bit at a time till it’s the spreading consistency you want. Beat maybe 4-5 minutes. Add a dash of salt while beating it.