Friday, December 25, 2015

Nisu Paappas for Christmas!

In 1988 I spent my first Christmas away from my family, having been invited to spend the holidays with my new boyfriend and his family in northern California. I was very nervous but it was a very fun Christmas, I felt very accepted, and it ended with a spectacular hot-air balloon ride on the morning after Christmas.

But one aspect of that holiday visit has really stuck with me and that was my love for the Finnish holiday bread Nisu. I have made it every year since. Eric's mom is of Finnish descent and this recipe came from her mom as I understand it.

The bread has a lovely texture, quite unique in fact. Its both dense and light at the same time and has a lot of cardamom in it. It's wonderful as is, but also makes great toast that is extremely crispy on the outside, yet pull-apart tender inside. As far as that goes, if you have any leftovers it makes superb French Toast, too!

How do you make the stuff, you ask? Like so!

Nisu - Unkastukke (makes three nice-sized loaves)

2 packages of active dry yeast
2 cups of milk
1 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of salt
1 teaspoon of freshly ground cardamom
7 to 9 cups of all-purpose flour
3 to 4 eggs (I usually use 4 unless they are jumbo)
1/2 cup softened butter (room temperature, NOT melted!)
In a large bowl dissolve the yeast in milk. The original recipe asks that the milk be scalded, a process no longer required given our pasteurized milk. However I usually do heat the milk to tepid to give the yeast a head start. Just make sure it's only warm and not hot. You don't want to kill the yeast!

Add and mix in the sugar, salt, cardamom, and four cups of the flour. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Quickly knead in the remaining flour, enough to make an easy-to-handle dough that isn't sticking to the board or your fingers.

Now while you finish kneading the dough, work in the softened butter a little at a time. Cover and set dough in a warm place to rise until doubled in size.

Punch down the risen dough. Divide the dough into three equal parts. Working with one of those parts, divide it into three equal parts, too, and form each into long lengths to be braided together to form one loaf. Repeat process with other two large masses of dough until you have three braided loaves.

Place on one or two large baking sheets (depending on lengths of loaves) and let rise again until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake loaves for 25 to 30 minutes until a lovely brown. You can bake in two batches if needed. An extra 25 minutes of rise won't hurt the second batch while batch one is baking.

Once the loaves are cool, drizzle with Confectioner's Icing: One tablespoon of milk and a 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract mixed with a cup of powdered sugar should do the trick. This year I split the icing in thirds and made red, green, and white icings to drizzle on the loaves.

Now, there is another part of this holiday tradition. For Christmas morning, Eric's mom would always make a Nisu Paappa each for Eric and his sister (and one for me, too, when I joined the family). Pappaa means grandfather in Finnish and it is pronounced "Boppa."  A Paappa is formed by making a large ball (perhaps the size of a small apple) and adding arms, legs, and a head, a bit smaller than ping-pong balls.

Use a wet finger to help cement the pieces together or gently pinch dough on the bottom edge for a little extra security. These little fellow will bake faster than full loaves, perhaps twenty minutes, so watch them.

When cool, you can decorate them - using raisins for buttons and eyes, a red-hot for a nose, a frosting belt, etc. Just have fun!

IMHO, they are best eaten around the Christmas Tree while opening gifts on Christmas morning! With some hot chocolate and fresh orange juice.

He's half gone already!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Life of Lucille

My grandmother Verna Lucille Evans Shanower Cote died a week ago at the age of 99 1/2.  She hated the name Verna and was always known as Lucille. Her laugh was wonderful.

She was born May 31, 1916, in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

Lucille with her father Joseph Edward Evans.

Her father was Joseph Edward Evans, son of Welsh immigrants to the USA.

Lucille with her mother Adella Cecil Grandy Evans Hundhammer.

Her mother was Adella Cecil Grandy, whose early English immigrant ancestors included Mayflower passengers.

Lucille with her grandmother Bertha May Flora Grandy.

Lucille’s parents divorced when she was four years old. Her father mostly vanished from her life. Lucille was raised primarily by her maternal grandmother, Bertha May Flora Grandy.

Anna Belle Stratton, Bertha May Flora Grandy, Dell Grandy Evans Hundhammer, Elma Helene Grandy, Bruce Grandy, Jessica Stratton Grandy, Lucille Evans.

Lucille Evans and Stanley Shanower.

Her mother remarried and the family moved to Mentor, Lake County, Ohio. In school Lucille met Stanley Raymond Shanower.

Lucille and Stanley.

Mentor High School senior portrait, 1934.

Modeling headshot.
Modeling headshot.

After graduating high school Lucille attended modeling school.

Her modeling career stopped when she married Stanley Shanower on April 17, 1938.

Newlyweds, June 1938.

Lucille subsequently worked at the nursery Wayside Gardens in Mentor. She was her husband Stanley’s partner in all of his business ventures, including the Shanower Overnight Farm, a motor hotel; Shanower Electric which serviced refrigeration and air conditioning; and McGarvey’s Beachcomber, a restaurant in Grand River, Ohio. She raised their three sons.

The Shanower Overnight Farm, Mentor, Ohio.

A son's wedding, 1967.

In the 1960s Lucille went back to school and became a librarian. She took a job at Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library in Willoughby, Ohio.

Lucille and Stanley Shanower.

I'm flanked by my grandparents Lucille and Stanley, Winter Haven, Florida, spring 1983.

She and Stanley retired and moved to Winter Haven, Florida.

March 1984.

Lucille and Stanley with their sons, sons' wives, and grandchildren, December 1986.

Stanley died in 1987. Lucille married her second husband Rene Cote in 1990. Rene died in 2002. Lucille spent her winters in Florida and her summers in Ohio.

Lucille at her 90th birthday party, August 2006.

In 2009 she moved into the Residence of Chardon, an assisted living facility in Chardon, Geauga County, Ohio, near one of her sons and his family. The Residence of Chardon was built on land once owned by the Grant relatives of her first husband Stanley.

The Residence of Chardon, Grandma's final home.

I interview Grandma about family matters in August 2012.

Grandma and I discuss a photo of her great-grandmother Elma Conkey Grandy.

Lucille at one of her favorite restaurants, Red Lobster, March 2014.

The week before Thanksgiving of 2015 she came down with bronchitis. It developed into pneumonia. She died at 12:35 AM on Sunday, November 29, 2015. She had been surrounded by family members all day. Her mind was unimpaired to the end.

Grandma and me in December 2013.

Click here for her obituary.

Click here for an earlier post about the secret marriages of Grandma's parents.