The Kindness of Strangers

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The rebuilding of The Culinary Cellar has begun.  The Cellar is now stark and bare except for the lonely, empty shells of the bookcases.  But soon they will be filled again, probably not these exact shelves as I don’t know yet how internally damaged they are after being under seven feet of water and mud.  I think new ones may be forthcoming.  Along with new shelves will be new books, and I already have a good start. That is because shortly after the flood, books started showing up at my doorstep.  Books from friends, readers, and books from perfect strangers. Boxes and boxes of books.

Since this is the first blog to write about the new books for the Cellar, I wanted to tell you about the very first package that I received after the flood.  It was postmarked Negaunee, Michigan.  Negaunee is where my husband Bill’s Finnish grandparents ended up after leaving their homeland, his grandmother first landing on Ellis Island.  Bill still has many cousins in Negaunee so I assumed it was from one of them. But this name was different.  Brenda Washnock.  I didn’t know her.

The package arrived not long after the flood, so to say I was still shell-shocked is an understatement.  I was not expecting the joy that would change my way of thinking in that moment.  I opened the box to find a lovely note.  Brenda wrote that she knew I was heartsick over the loss of my Culinary Cellar, and hoped I could find comfort from people who cared and could appreciate my passion for cooking and cookbooks.  Inside were several cookbooks and a box of chocolates.

Brenda wrote the note on the bag.  Yes, chocolate does make us feel better.  I know this because I tested one immediately just to make sure.  Indeed it did.

These are the beautiful books Brenda sent.  From her own collection she sent a signed Bobby Flay grilling book.  At Grandmother’s Table is a collection of stories and recipes that Brenda said she used to sell at a children’s gift shop she had in nearby Marquette.

I used to have a Bobby Flay grilling book although it wasn’t this one and wasn’t signed, so this was fun!  My daughter Kara gave me At Grandmother’s Table for a Christmas gift and I was sad to lose it, but now I have a copy back.  Both are wonderful.

The third one Brenda said she selected herself.  I was so excited to open the bag because it was from my favorite store called “A Touch of Finland” in Marquette.  It’s one of the first places I head to when we visit Bill’s family in Negaunee.

Brenda wrote on two pages inside the book:

Such kind words.


I loved this one, a Julia Child quote all in Finnish!  Brenda said it was her favorite Julia quote and her way to make it pertinent here!  Here is the translation:

“It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate, you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.”

Isn’t that great?!

This book is a jewel!  The recipes are fabulous and include such Finnish classics as Pulla bread, Finnish rye flatbread, strawberry cream cake, and one of my favorites, Finnish Browned Butter Teaspoon Cookies.  Oh my, they are heavenly.  A little fussy, but worth the effort.  Here’s a funny story about these cookies.  Bill’s birthday was just a week before the flood and Kristina had made him the teaspoon cookies.  He was savoring them and kept some in the freezer.  When I saw them in this cookbook, I knew I had to take photos, so I raided the freezer.  The cookies are wonderfully buttery and delicate, tossed with granulated sugar while still warm, then sandwiched together with raspberry jam.  They are a classic Finnish cookie, popular on buffets or cookie trays during the holidays.  I had to pull out some Christmas props to make them look festive.

Of course, you don’t have to wait until Christmas.  They are good anytime!

The next time we are visiting Bill’s family in Negaunee, Brenda and I have already planned to get together.  I can’t wait to meet her and give her a hug.  I want to tell her how receiving that very first generous and heartfelt package started a welcome and much-needed new mindset and focus.  It was even more special because Brenda is from Negaunee.  What a small world.  I realized that there were people who really cared and understood how awful it is to lose memories and treasured family heirlooms. It also showed that there is hope for a whole new beginning, but mostly that the world is full of good people and we can survive on the kindness of strangers. Except now, Brenda is no longer a stranger.  She is my friend.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Finnish Browned Butter Teaspoon Cookies
  • 1 cup salted butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
  • ⅓ cup raspberry jam
  • Additional granulated sugar (Note: the recipe in this book used confectioner's sugar, but according to our Finnish relatives, granulated sugar is the authentic way to make them. I think they are superior with the granulated sugar)
  1. Brown the butter by melting it in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally. When butter begins to foam up, stir constantly until it turns a deep golden brown. Watch carefully, because at this point, the color changes quickly. It takes about 7 minutes to brown. Cool to room temperature.
  2. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix the flour and baking soda together.
  3. Combine the cooled butter, sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl and stir until evenly mixed. Add the flour and mix to form a dough.
  4. Shape the cookies by placing about 1 teaspoon of dough into the bowl of a teaspoon (a real teaspoon, not a measuring teaspoon) and pressing against the side of the bowl, leveling the top. Press out cookie, flat side down, onto an ungreased baking sheet.
  5. Bake 10-13 minutes or until lightly browned and set. Let cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes and remove to wire cooling rack.
  6. While cookies are still warm, roll in additional granulated sugar, shaking off excess.* Let cool completely.
  7. When cooled, spread a scant ½ teaspoon of jam on the flat side of one cookie. Make a sandwich by pressing the flat side of a second cookie onto the jam. Makes 24 sandwich cookies,
  8. *If you wish to dust with confectioner's sugar instead, let cookies cool without rolling in sugar. After cooling and filling with jam, then dust the tops with confectioner's sugar.


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20 Responses to The Kindness of Strangers

  1. August 7, 2017 at 6:33 am #

    All I can say is this post made me want to do a happy dance!!!

    • August 7, 2017 at 7:09 am #


  2. August 7, 2017 at 10:11 am #

    Great read! The cookies look amazing too! I have to make them now.

    • August 7, 2017 at 10:41 am #

      Another wonderful story. A small world.

      • August 7, 2017 at 11:52 am #

        Thank you, Katherine. It is indeed a small world.

    • August 7, 2017 at 11:54 am #

      Thanks, Anita. The cookies are addicting! I’d love to hear if you like the traditional granulated coating or confectioner’s sugar. Confectioner’s sugar is just not used as much in Finnish cooking. Not sure why!

  3. August 7, 2017 at 10:56 am #

    Hi Debbie, this is Lisa from Conroe. I am filling up a box of cookbooks to send you right now. It really touches my heart that so many people are reaching out to you. When I think about it I smile! I will let you know when I send the box. It will be in a large flat rate box.

    • August 7, 2017 at 11:49 am #

      You are so sweet, Lisa! I’ll look forward to it. Is your adorable little Elliot helping you? It touches my heart too how much people care.

  4. August 7, 2017 at 11:55 am #

    Lovely, Debbie! I got chills reading this. Brenda is a very sweet lady who I have been friends with for some time. I’m glad her box came to you first. The worst is behind you. Now you have happiness starting in your beloved Cellar! Enjoy your rebuilding!!!!! <3

    • August 7, 2017 at 3:07 pm #

      Thanks, Ronna! I can’t wait to meet Brenda. It was the most perfect first box! Happiness is definitely in the air, along with extreme gratefulness.

  5. August 7, 2017 at 1:05 pm #

    Of course Elliot always loves to help. He likes putting the books in the Box he likes helping regardless of what you doing and he loves to help the fold clothes too!

    • August 7, 2017 at 3:05 pm #

      I knew he would be helping you!

  6. August 7, 2017 at 6:25 pm #

    These look so scrumptious! I’m so happy for you – you’re new culinary cellar is going to be even bigger and better.

    • August 7, 2017 at 10:55 pm #

      Thank you, Dana. I have high hopes for the new Culinary Cellar! Good things are already happening.

  7. August 9, 2017 at 7:39 am #

    I’m so happy you like the books I sent and as Forrest Gump’s mother said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get” Ain’t that the truth!

    • August 10, 2017 at 7:01 am #

      It sure is, Brenda! I LOVE your books. They will be getting a lot of use! I also looked up Sayklly’s and thrilled to find they sell online. I’m sending some to my mom for her birthday. (I hope she is not reading this!)

  8. August 14, 2017 at 2:51 pm #

    I bet your recipes from all these gifted cookbooks taste even better because of all the love (that secret ingredient!) sent with every page. Thanks for sharing another heartfelt story. I quickly printed your cookie recipe because I don’t have this yummy Finnish cookie recipe. Can’t wait to make them!

    • August 14, 2017 at 7:19 pm #

      You’re right about the secret ingredient, Kim! It comes right out of the pages. You will love the cookies, a Finnish classic!

      • August 15, 2017 at 8:48 am #

        I have my ingredients and am ready to bake but 1st I am going to make my hubby a birthday cake using your recipe for Bill’s favorite chocolate cake. However, I am going to layer the cake with chocolate mousse and cover it with a rich dark chocolate ganache. Obviously, chocolate is his favorite, too! Thanks for sharing the cake recipe cause I have been looking for the best chocolate cake.

        • August 15, 2017 at 8:58 am #

          Sounds yummy!

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