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Entries in family of origin (2)

Saturday
Mar162013

Nana's authentic Scottish shortbread - an heirloom recipe

My mother's mother, whom we called "Nana," came to New York City from Scotland in the early part of the last century. Because she had such a dominant personality and a thick Scottish accent, I remember her much more clearly than my father's mother.

Nana had little nicknames for all of my siblings and me: Brian-me-boy (which she pronounced "buy"), Red Feather (for my sister Heather), I was Gale Girl (which I use as a screen name today), and Rossi Bairn for my brother Ross. We thought she was saying Rossi Bear and still refer to my brother Ross as "Rossi Bear" today because we were just silly American kids. 

While I was growing up, she came to visit our farm in Berks County regularly even though she and my father fought a lot. Because of the delectables and recipes she shared, sometimes it seemed we were like a little Scottish outpost situated in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

Many of my memories of her revolve around food and tartan dresses. (Always tartan, never plaid, mind you. And let's not even get started about how most people mispronounce "Auld Lang Syne" by saying Syne as though it begins with a "Z".)

Nana's shortbread never looked fancy but it's the best I've ever tasted.In my previous post, I mentioned having received some heirloom recipes from my Scottish nana. So without further adieu, here is the recipe for my favorite treat Nana used to make--Scottish shortbread.

This recipe is the best in the world. Forget all those chi-chi shortbreads with rosemary, rosewater, and god-knows-what adulteration. This is the BEST recipe for authentic shortbread you'll ever find, and oh, so simple.

You can sort of hear my nana's personality in her recipe--she was a bossy one, that's for sure.  

My mother handwrote this recipe and gave it to me during my wedding shower in 1985:

Nana's Scottish Shortbread

1 lb. butter (no oleo)
1 full cup sugar
Cream butter and sugar. Then add 3 and 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup at a time.

Mix well and knead thoroughly. Add more flour if needed. The more you knead, the tastier the shortbread will be.

Pat the dough into a round, square, or oblong pan (don't roll it or grease the pan; the dough is rich enough). Prick with a fork all the through, top to bottom,  in a design if you can.

If you like thicker shortbread, use an 8 x 8--just watch that the bottom doesn't brown. If you like it a little thinner, an 11 x 7.5 x 1.5 (deep) is ideal. 

Bake in 300 degree (very slow) oven for 45-60 minutes. Don't let shortbread get brown on top. 

Happy baking!

* * * 

And of course, no post about Scottish food would be complete without invoking Rabbie Burns' famous blessing:

Some hae meat

by Robert Burns

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thanit.

(And the fact that I posted this the day before St. Patrick's Day would make my nana even happier. If you're not sure why that is, then you've never grown up with Scottish people.)

Sunday
Oct102010

Family of origin issues ideal for story starters

If you're reading this post, then you have a family of origin. You may have disowned them or may spend time with them several times a year--like me. Regardless of how you feel about your family of origin, they can be a rich source for storytelling, no matter the genre you write.

A year ago, I submitted a story I wrote to a fall fiction contest sponsored by Scratch. I used a prompt from Janet Burroway's book, Imaginative Writing, that went something like, "Begin a story with something your parents used to say..."

Some of my mother's expressions cut so deeply into my psyche, despite not having heard them in years, I'm able to retrieve them from the memory center in my brain, as if I went searching for them daily rather than every ten years.

My  mother use to say things like, "You can fall in love a rich boy as easily as a poor one." Who knows? Maybe her mother said it to her. What is clear is that no women in my family have followed the previous generation's advice about who to fall in love with. None of us married Rockefellers. I guess example also speaks louder than words.

Though I have friends who swear they hate writing prompts and won't use them, I have a strong track record with prompts. I like the discipline of meditating on something--a saying, a word, a visual prompt like a painting or an image in real life, and then forcing myself to write about it.

After I typed my mother's saying, "You can fall in love with a rich boy...," the story poured out of me. As it turned out, my opening sentence caught the judge's attention, and she awarded me first place. (Maybe she had unresolved family of origin issues, too.)

Why was this prompt so successful? For one thing, the viewpoint character and point of view were established in an instant, stemming from a very organic place. Without thinking much about it, I realized the storyteller was an adult who'd be relaying an anecdote that occurred during her teenage years.

If you met my sweet little 83-year-old mother today, you might not believe we once had a tempestuous relationship, or, alternately, you would ascribe all the blame to me. Though I can't say I am grateful for the one-time animosity between us, I now realize it's a rich vein to mine for fiction writing.

How about you? Do you use prompts? Are there any prompts that you've used successfully and can share with Scrivengale readers? To what extent have you used family of origin issues in your writing?