a special feature by Nancy Zoulendyk*, Grandmother Extraordinaire

You know, it’s really unbelievable. My grandchildren think I am the very best cook in the entire world!  No matter how I try and demur, they persist using a whole laundry list of flattering adjectives. I remember the time I put together a Strawberry Shortcake, and one of my grand boys declared in a joyous tone with his arms outreached, this cake was, “THE BEST thing I have ever eaten.”  What if he was only four or five at the time, and hadn’t experienced too many of life’s culinary delights – so what? !!!! Flattery can go a long, long way.

I believe that my connection as a grandmother is through my cooking, which gives me great pleasure and joy.  In turn, food links our family, establishing conversation, interest, lots of smiles, time together and life-long traditions that I hope our grandchildren will pass along.  What we bring from generation to generation is a product of our familial environment and experiences.  I know for me, this is quite true.

My own grandmother had a powerful effect on my own cooking interests.  She was a farmer’s wife who lived through the Great Depression. Food, therefore, was very humble fare for our family. She moved herself to California when I was a little girl to help my single mom who was raising my sister and myself. Although my grandmother only had an eighth grade education, she had a curious mind, so she was a life-long learner and interested in everything.  Mexican culture and food was especially embraced, so from a very early age, our family time was making tacos together. To this day, I pretty much make them the same way for my family, and we do it together.

Food is an expression of love in our family. It’s that plain and simple. My grandmother would also make her pancakes for my sister and me for breakfast. She would make them larger than silver dollars, and cook them in bacon grease so the edges would be crispy. Ugh, you say bacon grease?… but that was her way, her personal rendition, and people who don’t like the thick plate–size pancakes love these. They are famous in our family and with our friends. And while this food is definitely not “best cook in the world” material, it doesn’t matter. When I was a child, I thought my grandmother’s pancakes were THE best.

The influence upon my life and my cooking embraces all of my grandmother. Her mark will forever be with me. And although she didn’t do a lot of baking or making cookies for me, I have developed my own personal interest in baking for my grandchildren. I have a special recipe that’s been around in our family for so many years, I can’t even count. I especially remember one year when my grand girls were very young. I had a plate of my ‘famous’ Pecan Cookie Balls sitting out with all the other homemade desserts on the table. Little by little the cookies disappeared, but no one actually witnessed how they disappeared. Later that same day, it became apparent that the little girls had been the culprits – they ate them all and ended up with very upset tummies.

No matter what your level of cooking expertise is, you can create magical food for your grandchildren and family, be it humble or magnificent. It doesn’t matter – “just do it”, as they say. Go ahead, and get messy, try something that becomes your cooking legacy. Your grandchildren will have special memories of Grandma’s Magical Food.

Here’s one of our special cookie recipes:

Pecan Cookie Balls

These mouth-watering cookies are great for all seasons and they are sure to disappear. They’re fabulous right out of the oven, or even better stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks.


1 cup soft butter                                                2 tsp. vanilla

½ cup sifted powdered sugar                      ¼ tsp. salt

2 cups sifted flour                                            2 cups finely chopped pecans

(plus small amount of additional sifted powered sugar for rolling cooked balls into)

Gradually add ½ cup powdered sugar to butter. Cream thoroughly. Add vanilla and mix in flour, salt and chopped pecans. Bend well. Chill. Shape into small balls (size of marbles) and place on ungreased baking sheet.  Bake at 350 for about 15 to 18 minutes.  Let the balls cool for a bit. Roll the cooled balls in powered sugar that you have placed in a bowl. Shake off excess. Recipe makes 8 to 10 dozen.


* Nancy Zoutendyk and her husband John, married for 53 years, reside in Scottsdale, AZ, and are the proud grandparents of six. They have two amazing children: one son who is a Marine Biologist residing in California, and a daughter who is definitely a mother extraordinaire to four children in Scottsdale. Nancy and John cherish spending time together with their family.