Happy Birthday Hazel!



April 1 2021 would have been Hazel's 98th birthday.  I miss her terribly everyday, but I also know how much she hated getting older and relying on others for help.  I imagine I will probably be the same way, I am her granddaughter. 

She's been on my mind this last year a lot.  She was a problem solver and I feel like that skill has been in high gear for the last year.  Much of her behavior was shaped by the great depression and I often wonder how much of my behavior will be shaped by this pandemic. 

For newer fans of Top Shelf Cookies, Hazel is my grandmother and who our chocolate chip is named after.  A friend of mine named a lot of our opening menu and picked that name because to her it was just obvious.  


Chocolate chip cookies are the first thing I remember baking. The first person I baked with – Hazel.  I called her gram or grandma.  But in conversation as an adult to other people she was Hazel or my Hazel.  My parents divorced when I was six.  Hazel was around us always. When my parents split up, my mom decided to go back to college, a single mom with two kids needs help.  So Hazel – she was always helping out.  She took us a ton on weekends, same routine always. Home from school – she already had me packed and we had to get moving.  She lived in Kittery, ME and right near the Navy Yard.  I still hear her rushing me after school to get moving because “We have to beat the Navy Yard”

Apparently getting stuck in the traffic when the Navy Yard let out was nothing to be trifled with. I don’t know what it was like, because we never got stuck in it.  Hazel hated traffic (maybe that’s where I get my hatred of traffic from) but the routine was the same – leave home, stop at the store for weekend provisions and beat the Navy Yard.  In our provisions for the weekend – always that yellow bag of toll house morsels.  We would have dinner and then set out our butter to soften overnight.  I would ask for chocolate chips to snack on – I would be denied.  Ice cream and staying up way later than I did at home would commence.  Saturday morning was reserved for breakfast and then we would bake.  Hazel would pull a few chocolate chips out into a pyrex custard cup – those were snacking chips.  Then we’d measure together.  She taught me how to level off a measuring cup and measuring spoon.  As I got older I could do more than measuring, I graduated to mixing and portioning.  We made a mess, we had laughs but mostly we had a lot of fun.  Toll House Cookies were our Saturday snack, as I would try to stay up late with Hazel to watch Saturday Night Live.

I remember always feeling proud when cookies came out of the oven.  I knew I had done that – I had made something.  I would bring cookies home to my mom on Sunday afternoon.  She would always be proud and excited and we’d have cookies to snack on till the next baking session with Hazel.

As I got older, I didn’t spend as much time with Hazel.  But I always enjoyed baking.  I enjoyed putting it all together.  The sad part about baking in volume like I do now – I never level off a measuring cup because I weigh ingredients.  I always think of her when I level off a measuring cup or spoon.

We didn’t see each other a lot when I moved into Boston.  I didn’t have a car – so getting up to New Hampshire became harder and I was kind of building my own life.  She had gone to visit some family in Maine for an extended amount of time.  I got home one night after going for post work drinks and opened my mailbox one night and there was an envelope that wasn’t a bill on its own in my my mailbox.  The handwriting was unmistakably Hazel’s.  It was a picture of her on a tractor holding a cocktail.  On the back it said “Am Alive, picture taken Aug 30. Will see you soon. Love You, Gram”

Later in life, I would come up to visit her and I would bring my baking tools and I would make her cookies or muffins.  Just something to do and keep company, she was always pretty active so I guess I tried to keep busy for her.  She didn’t want to help me, she was content to watch me and ask questions. But she still would look at whatever came out of the oven with the same excitement as she did when I was little.

When she passed away, my heart broke.  She was there for us when we needed more help than ever and she was a huge influence in my life. I wish she were alive to see Top Shelf Cookies. I wish she could see our new shop and the new equipment and how we set the whole thing up.  I wished she were alive to watch our recent segment of Chronicle, she was always telling me about people and places she saw on Chronicle.  She always said "I saw this girl on Chronicle and I just though she was a scream, Heather". I'd like to think she saw it and thought I was a scream!  I think she might think some of my cookies were a little fussy.  But I’d do anything to have her tell me that. 

Hazel's Chocolate Chip is not like the Toll House cookies I would make with Hazel at all.  I don’t leave my butter out overnight anymore.  I actually take the steps to brown my butter – elevates the flavor. I don’t use semi sweet chips – I use 60% bittersweet chips.  Good chocolate makes all the difference.  However, I DO pour out a couple chips for snacking – sometimes even in those little Pyrex custard cups.

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