I went to my friend Emily's annual holiday cookie exchange over the weekend. Not an advanced baker, I usually bring something fairly simple: chocolate chip cookies or the like. But I decided to do something special this year. For the first time ever, I made peanut butter balls. This was a bittersweet undertaking for me. My grandmother, my father's mother, made peanut butter balls every year for Christmas. These delicious little orbs came to represent not just the perfect blending of two great flavors but that time of year when many of the people I loved most in the world came together.
My grandmother was an amazing woman. She was smart and tough, with an incredible sense of humor and an enormous capacity for love. She raised four sons to be men who shared her sense of equity and compassion. An artist, she recreated her world in paint, clay and metal. I am honored to have one of her paintings hanging in my daughter's room.
She shared a life with my granddaddy. She was his partner in the truest sense of the word. Theirs was storybook love. A couple who sneaked kisses and held hands, even after 50 years of marriage.
But a beast came to her world. A cruel and unrelenting animal that ravaged her mind. The most heartbreaking of ends for a woman with so much. I can't even express the depths of sorrow I felt as I watched Alzheimer's take away my grandmother one bite at a time over the course of a decade. There is no crueler thing.
She has been gone six years now and although she did not leave us during the holidays, it is at this time of the year that I feel her absence the most. She made Christmas a special time. A time for togetherness. A time for joy. She was never far from my thoughts throughout the time it took me to craft my own version of her beloved holiday treat. Nor will she be throughout the holidays.
Although not her exact recipe, this one comes fairly close. In her honor:
Peanut Butter Balls
1/2 Cup Butter, Softened
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Creamy Peanut Butter
3 Cups Confectioners' Sugar
1 1/2 Cups Graham Cracker Crumbs
1 1/2 Cups Rice Crispies
2 Cups Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
2 Tablespoons Shortening
1. Cream together the butter, vanilla, salt and peanut butter. Stir in 2 cups of the confectioners' sugar, rice crispies and the graham cracker crumbs.
2. Form the mixture into 1 inch balls. Roll each ball in the remaining cup of confectioners' sugar. Set the balls in a single layer on a cookie sheet and refrigerate until firm.
3. To Dip the Balls in Chocolate: Microwave one cup of chocolate chips and one tablespoon shortening for 60 seconds. Then stir well. If not completely melted, microwave in additional 10 second increments. Insert a toothpick into the chilled balls and dip into the melted chocolate until coated. Set on waxed paper until hardened. Melt remaining chocolate and shortening as needed.