01 December 2012

Tribute to Aunt Mary Crea

On Friday, when I left the house, I had Dropkick Murphys "Rose Tattoo" stuck in my head, and I considered, would I get memorial tattoos when my close family members die? I'd keep them skin deep. No, I laughed in the pale blue dawn as I walked to the Metro, I'd keep them six layers of skin deep, deep six them, keep them six feet under.

The ridiculous number of views on the aforementioned music video? I'm partly responsible; I've been looping it as a playlist of one for most of yesterday and today. Last night, I called my grandparents to chat, and my grandmother informed me that my Great-Aunt Mary Crea died on Wednesday at age 87.

As I mentioned in the spaghetti casserole post, on Christmas Day, in the evening, we used to go to Aunt Mary and Uncle Paul's house for a party. Aunt Mary always made spaghetti casserole, a concoction of spaghetti, a lot of meat, and (the secret ingredient) cheese whiz. I remember eating holiday m&m's, spaghetti casserole, bread, and Italian salad, and drinking soda rather late into the evening, serving ourselves from foil trays in the unfinished part of their basement, to the stage left of the bar and right of the stairs. I think we stopped going to their house on Christmas Day around when I was 12, and I don't know why. My cousin Sam and I used to have so much fun with our matching, new "escape bags" (whatever matching bag we received each year under the tree), exploring the house and smiling politely when adults remarked on how similar we appear to our parents. I do look like my mom, albeit a gothy, rounder-faced mini-Jo. Aunt Mary always seemed put-together, like the one doll in any given set of dolls that I own that never needs fussing with.

Upon hearing the news of her death, I asked Mom-Mom what, besides spaghetti casserole Aunt Mary was known for, food-wise.

Peanut butter-stuffed dates rolled in sugar.

I remember having one on one of the last Christmases we were there. The crunchy white sugar was just sound effects to the syrupy squish of the dateflesh, followed by the slow slurp of smooth peanut butter. I think the appearance of dates turned me off, though, because I only remember eating one; before I became vegan, I ate prunes more readily than dates because of appearances. Hey, prunes are Goth by virtue of their darkness!

Anyway, peanut butter-stuffed dates rolled in sugar are already vegan and gluten-free, as long as the sugar in the PB and the sugar itself is vegan (not filtered through animal bone charcoal filters). As it is the beginning of December, though, it's cookie season. I knew I wanted to make something to honour Aunt Mary Crea. I also knew I wanted to make some kind of portable treat for the lovely folks at Tattoo Paradise, and a cookie combining peanut butter, coconut, and dates, though not the most allergen-friendly treat, would check off both goals. And I'd maybe make a dent in that five-pound bag of roasted, in-the-shell peanuts I bought at Costco because it was a better deal than five pounds of salted, shelled peanuts (buying ridiculous amounts of food because it's a good deal is a Naples, not a Crea/DiBlasio, trait).

Date-Peanut Butter-Coconut Cookies

1 cup dates
1 cup water

4 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup peanut butter (I used Crazy Richard's no-sugar, no-salt chunky)
1 teaspoon chia seeds
1/4 cup soaking liquid
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup organic granulated sugar

1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup teff flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup in-the-shell roasted peanuts, shelled (yields about 1/4 cup peanut halves)
3/4 cup dates, chopped

Pour water over dates in a small measuring cup and walk away. Do something else for an hour and then begin. Alternatively, pour boiling hot water on dates and begin recipe immediately.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, xanthan gum, cinnamon, and salt. Strain the dates and reserve 1/4 cup of the soaking liquid. Combine chias and 1/4 cup soaking liquid and set aside. In a food processor or blender, combine drained dates, oil, peanut butter, vanilla, sugar, and chia mixture. Obliterate the dates. Once everything is uniformly combined, pour on top of the dry ingredients in three addition, stirring after each addition. Stir in the peanuts, coconut, and dates, mixing well (the batter will give you an arm workout and this is normal). Use a two-tablespoon cookie scoop dipped in water to distribute dough on sheets. Press down to 3/4-inch thickness with a wet fork. Bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating pans and switching them up halfway through. Once the cookies spring back when touched and have begun to brown on the tips and bottoms, remove from the oven. Let cool on the pans for five minutes before removing them to a rack to cool completely. Makes about 30 cookies.

Maybe this was before my time, but Mom-Mom told me Uncle Paul and Aunt Mary used to have birch beer on tap. I'll tip Aunt Mary a metaphorical birch beer when I sit down to enjoy one of these. Requiescat in pace; you are missed.

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