My Grandma Aurora was a 5-foot tall spitfire of a woman, with gnarled, arthritic hands from years of rolling out dough and a litany of Ladino sayings (a dialect of Spanish spoken by the Jews of Turkey, Spain and other Mediterranean and North African countries) employed liberally throughout her speech. She was an old-fashioned kind of gal in many ways, but fiercely independent nevertheless. A widow long before her own passing, she spent the remaining 30-plus years of her life mostly at home, cooking, baking, sewing and meeting “the girls” to play canasta. During my childhood she must have sent us hundreds of burekitas packed carefully in shoeboxes — both because it was simply her way to do so, and to ensure that my father did not “waste away” on my mother’s eastern european cooking.
Aurora had many sayings that would go down in our family history, among them were:
To me, in regards to my sister, “Don’t worry Ariella, looks aren’t everything.”
To my father, regarding his choice of footwear, “Boats! You could sail away in those things!”
“Colico, Colico!!”, a Ladino word meaning bottom, which she shrieked as she chased after us trying to smack our bums.
“You’re too thin,” to everyone (but especially my father, a thinly veiled jibe at my mother’s cooking.
“You’re getting fat,” also to everyone.
Just to be clear, my mother’s cooking was fine and no one was really too fat, or too thin (or particularly wanting to have their bum smacked). But Aurora was stubborn and had her own view on things — she had some rather choice words on many more modern subjects, which for the sake of political correctness I am leaving out entirely. Aurora Darsa was a character.
These almond cookies are similar to one of the several varieties that she kept in adorable little metal tins around the house, hidden in drawers and cupboards and under beds. I never fully understood why she always hid the tins but my father’s childhood nickname “Tubby” may provide us with some clue. At any rate, these are practically impossible not to love, and rather dangerously easy to consume in quantity. The recipe I used calls for ground almonds but hazelnuts could be used as well.
Almond Crescent Cookies, slightly adapted from, The Foods of Israel Today by Joan Nathan
Though these cookies have a rather unassuming, plain sort of look to them, they are buttery, simple and actually….kind of perfect. Enjoy them with a cup of coffee or tea; their shape is perfect for dunking.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter or margarine (I use Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks), softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup very finely ground almonds (I pulsed mine in a food processor, but you could also buy almond flour/meal, or just chop the nuts finely as you can — I believe this is what Aurora did)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
dash of salt
Preheat the oven to 250º F
Put the butter/margarine and the sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the almonds and then the flour and salt, using your fingers to mix the ingredients until you have a soft dough (you can also do this in a food processor or a mixer, but just make sure not to over-mix or you will miss out on the crumbly texture of these cookies).
Take a piece of dough the size of a prune and roll it into a 2 -inch long tube. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Shape each piece into a crescent and press the ends flat.
Place the cookies, close to each other but not touching, on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake them for 40 minutes, until they are firm to the touch. The cookies should be white in color, not even slightly golden. Remove from the oven, let them stand for a few minutes, and, while they are still warm, sprinkle with additional sugar (optional, they are fine without it).