Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Remembering Oma and Hazelnut Cookies


As many of you may have previously read on my blog, my Oma and inspiration for The Old Country Blog, had a stroke less than two weeks ago.  Sadly, she passed away on Thursday.  I would like to take the time this week to remember her. My sister Julie, with my assistance, wrote a biography of Oma's life and I have decided to share it here with you today.  


Charlotte John, or “Oma” as she was known to most, passed away Thursday, January 17, 2013 surrounded by loved ones. She was 87 years young. She leaves behind two daughters, Leslie and Paula, as well as a son-in-law, Bob. Oma had four granddaughters, Julie, Caroline, Stephanie and Jennifer. She is preceded in death by her husband John and brother, Albert.
 
Oma means grandma in German.  She was also a beloved aunt, sister, mother, in-law and wife.  So many of her grandchildren's friends have sent us messages of condolences from around the country and the world.  She was a positive example of unconditional love for all of us. When Charlotte offered you hospitality, you went away having eaten one of the best meals of your life, and a little bit too full.  Charlotte loved flowers, and flower boxes, and loved walks in pristine woods and meadows.  She and her husband were expert hikers and rock scramblers.  She loved the Alps and the Rocky mountains equally.  Charlotte loved to ice skate, speed skate, and more than that she loved to ice dance. 

Born in Augsburg, Germany in 1925, Charlotte was an avid hiker and cyclist. She also competed in track and field events such as the 200 and 400 meter dash and she set a Bavarian state record for the high jump.  Charlotte also reached the highest level of gymnastics, despite the beginning of WWII.

Baby Oma 

The war meant the loss of friends to exile as they fled the Nazi regime. Because of the war she matured far beyond her years. During WWII, she acted as a guardian to a small child who was left by his parents and she also acted as the caretaker for her ailing parents while providing food for the elderly residents in her building. She completed Interpreter School and Court Reporter School for the U.S. Army.  Following the war, she took a position with the United States Army, working as a stenographer and translator. Fluent in English and German with language skills in French, Hungarian and Romanian as well, Charlotte was a valuable asset to the United States.

With the little boy she helped raise in Germany.

Through her work, Charlotte met John J. John, an officer with the United States Army.  They wed on October 15, 1949. Charlotte was known to all for her generous and independent spirit, a spirit that led her to leave her home country of Germany in 1949, to move to the United States. Charlotte’s beloved boxers, Carlo, Bielo and Donna accompanied her to her new home in America. [You can see her boxer in the header.] 

Her first home with John was in New Orleans. They enjoyed exploring America together, travelling cross-country through the American West in their Studebaker. John was called back to active duty in the Korean conflict.

My grandparents out West.

Charlotte lived with her new in-laws in Louisiana for about two years while John was in Korea.  While living in Sulphur, she enjoyed seeing her first Rodeo.  She dearly loved her mother-in-law, and sisters-in-law, and soaked up every ounce of knowledge about Southern and Lebanese cuisine from them.  Of course she was an expert cook.  Charlotte sent John care packages throughout the war, continuing her legacy of caring for those in need with food, love and practical support.

A pin up she sent to my Opa in Korea. 
  
Upon John’s return, the couple moved to New Orleans. Their time in New Orleans was also marked with the arrival of both their daughters, Leslie in 1954 and Paula in 1956.
 
Oma as a new mom.

In 1960, Charlotte returned to her beloved Germany with her family when John was stationed there. Charlotte enjoyed the time with her family, taking the opportunity to expose her children to her birthplace by teaching them the language, traveling to countries like Switzerland and Italy with them and carrying on Bavarian culinary traditions.
 
When Charlotte returned to the United States, she and her family resided outside of Chicago for eight years before returning to New Orleans. Their time in Chicago was full of adventures apple-picking and ice-skating. The backyard of their Midwestern home hosted Charlotte’s garden, which was filled with yellow gladiolas, mint and snapdragons.
 
In the 70’s both Leslie and Paula attended LSU. An avid LSU football fan, Charlotte spent many a Saturday night in Tiger Stadium cheering for the Tigers, even making football shaped kibbie and Purple and Gold cheesecakes in honor of her beloved tigers.  She witnessed many exciting moments in LSU football history from Billy Cannon’s legendary run to the Tiger’s 1958 National Championship win.
 
Charlotte became “Oma” in 1984 when her first grandchild was born. From that point on, she could always be found with home-baked cookies on hand and usually a small gift or two in one of her many purses.

Me and my sister with our Oma. 

Charlotte’s four granddaughters all have her smile and each carries some special love of hers – whether it be running, cooking, ice-skating or music, these traits live on. Even though Charlotte only had four biological grandchildren, she was Oma to many, many more. 
 
Oma would often say that “life is for the living” and she lived every day with that in mind. When other eighty-something year olds were content to sit still, Oma was on her treadmill daily, on the roof cleaning the gutters, trimming her cypress tree branches from an extension ladder, gardening and of course, knitting. This last Christmas, Oma cooked an eight course meal for 10 people. It is often said that youth is wasted on the young, but Oma lived her mantra, “forever young” in the sassy blue jeans she bought, the flirtatious twinkle in her eye and in her trademark advice – “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” There wasn’t much that Oma wouldn’t do and following her advice left us all with a world of possibilities – it really only ruled out eating carrots. Oma hated carrots.

Our last multi-course Christmas dinner.

Through patience, generosity and tolerance, Oma taught everyone she met that joy can be found in the moment, in the every day and in the smallest gestures. At Oma’s house a plate never stayed empty long, a glass was always topped-off and the heart was always filled with her ever-present laughter.
 
Oma had a love for all creatures from the tiny squirrels she fed to the hippos she liked to visit at the Audubon Zoo. In her later years, she would laugh and refer to herself as a “dinosaur” because she thought she was a relic of the past. She wasn’t though, she kept learning and living until the end.
 
In the hospital she told us of her dreams. As she drifted in and out of consciousness, we watched her garden, knit and prepare meals. We shared family stories in moments of lucidity and learned her recipes. We watched her ice skate, climb mountains and feel the warm sun on her face as she lay in an alpine meadow. We watched her live. 

Hazelnut Cookies 
The last thing Oma taught me ... 

The last recipe Oma taught me how to make were her delicious hazelnut cookies. We baked together on a Thursday, and on Friday she had a stroke. Just like my sister said above, Oma was independent and an inspiration until the very end. I want my beautiful cousins and friends to have this recipe, which is just as significant as all the other ones she prepared for my family and will be missed.

Oma's wonderful hazelnut cookies. 

Oma’s Oblatten Hazelnut Cookies
·      240g sugar
·      240g butter
·      1 pat butter (less than 1 tablespoon) for greasing baking sheets
·      454g (1 pound) hazelnuts, ground to small nibs, not meal
·      3 teaspoons flavor extract: 1 part pure vanilla, 1 part pure almond, 1 part arak if available = the preferred combination
·      2 tablespoons flour plus ¼ teaspoons baking powder, in reserve
·      1 to 2 tablespoons milk, in reserve
·      1 egg yolk, beaten
·      40mm rice paper baking wafers AKA Oblaten (comes in packages of 100)
__________________________________________________________________
Thinly and sparingly grease a baking sheet with the pat of butter.  Fit the Oblaten wafers on the sheet, evenly spaced, and not touching.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Let butter soften but not melt before creaming. Cream the sugar and butter - beat very well - until the sugar is dissolved.  When the butter and sugar are thoroughly creamed, beat in the egg yolk. Blend in the ground hazelnuts and stir by hand until blended. 
Focus on the flour and liquids for good results. The dough will melt off the wafer and not form a nice, mounded macaroon if it is too liquid.  Add two tablespoons of flour and ¼ teaspoon of baking powder and blend gradually and evenly through hazelnut dough.   Add milk by the teaspoon if the dough is too stiff.  Stir by hand until mixed.  The dough needs to be stiff enough to scoop. Refrigerate dough to firm it for handling between baking batches.
When firm enough to shape, scoop balls of dough onto center of each oblaten wafer.  Center a scoop of ball on each wafer, with a border of wafer showing all the way around the dough.  Use enough dough to make a mounded macaroon that does not melt past the edge of the wafer while baking.  Make an experimental cookie or two before baking a whole sheet.  You can still blend in flour or milk to adjust the dough’s consistency before baking a whole batch.
When baking the test cookies, watch the cookies carefully to see how quickly they brown.  A rich caramel color is desired.  Baking time should be between 5 and 10 minutes.  Oma’s oven requires 8 minutes.  Let the cookies set several minutes. Gently lift them to a plate.  They get firmer as they cool.



5 comments:

  1. This is such a wonderful representation and tale of her life, and such a fantastic way to honor her.

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  2. I am so sorry for your loss and I'm sending my condolences! This was such a special thing for you to share though, and it's great you continue to tell your Oma's story on the blog here.

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  3. This is just beautiful. She was such an impressive lady

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  4. Thank you so much for all the support. I think my grandmother had a wonderful life which I will always admire. And Stacey, you are so right. I never thought what this blog would mean to me after Oma passed away. But my family has been using it as a tool to remember her life, stories and recipes. Thank you all again.

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