On December 24, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, Carol Larsen made her way into this world. I didn’t meet her until about sixty-five years later because she happened to be the mother of my dearest friend Anastasia, but I can guarantee that none of her youthful snap and effervescence had diminished. From the instant I met her, I loved the way she gave her opinions (forcefully, and often with incredulity that anyone could possibly disagree) and I loved the way she gave her love (generously, but not blindly).
Broadway musicals, baseball, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, the Catholic Church, her children, their spouses and her grandchildren: all these things lit sparks in her eyes. Because my bestie Anastasia is such an amazing and giving person, The Unit and I spent much time with Carol (and the rest of the gorgeous Luby/Freymann clan) over the years: Thanksgiving dinners, Christmases, summer evenings on Squam Lake, holiday parties, 70th and 80th birthday bashes. We got to see Carol dance and sing and glow with pride in the presence of her family.
On December 13, Carol died, surrounded by her family. Anastasia told me that in the evening they all sang show tunes together and listened to vintage Brooklyn Dodgers games (God bless the internet). At the risk of sounding maudlin, it seems like a great party.
If you’ve ever talked to me for longer than seventeen seconds, you know that I had a, ahem, complicated relationship with my own mother. In Carol, I found a friend with motherly overtones but also with a healthy dose of cynicism. She and I shared a birthday and a love of vintage Pucci (Carol even gifted me one of her Pucci slips from the 1970s when the designer did a line of underthings for Formfit Rogers), but that didn’t keep her from giving me a good “snap out of it!” talking-to when I acted like a nincompoop. She loved my husband, too. Together they took on matters of great doctrinal and sociopolitical importance in conversations that lasted hours.
At Carol’s funeral mass, her son Tim read a glorious Scripture from Proverbs that described her perfectly:
She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. (Proverbs 31:25)
Strong, stylish, and appreciative of a good party.
When I am sad or confused, I often bake. The precision required for measuring, mixing, and cooking distracts my troubled mind and often calms me. During Carol’s service, I tried (unsuccessfully, I might add) not to sob like a baby by wondering what I would bake for her. I thought it should be something Irish to honor her heritage. Maybe tart and snappy. A little bit decadent, but not pretentious. At home in diverse situations.
I decided, somewhere between my second and third crying jags (seriously, it was the Irish prayer that got me), upon a savory shortbread. Ina Garten’s recipe was my guide. Later that day, I gathered Irish butter, blue cheese from Jasper Hill in Vermont (where Carol lived for a while in the 1970s), and walnuts. I weighed, measured, blended, and baked. The house smelled glorious.
These biscuits have a delicate crumb but a stealthfully assertive flavor—the oomph from that Bayley Hazen blue plays nicely with the creamy butter and slightly bitter walnuts. They would go great with a cup of strong tea, but I chose to pair them with a tipple of Redbreast Irish Whiskey*, named after the robin redbreast, a songbird so loyal to what it loves that it refuses to leave even in the harshest of conditions. Again, a lot like Carol.
(*Anastasia gave me my first bottle of Redbreast! Score another one for the Lubys!)
We cannot thank Carol’s family enough for letting us trespass so brazenly on their family time to visit Carol while she was in the hospital and hospice. To all the Lubys: we acutely appreciate your generosity of time and spirit. We see Carol’s love reflected in all of you.
I’ll sign off with a Christmas song I think Carol and I both enjoyed: she for Bing Crosby, I for David Bowie, both of us for the joy promised in the lyric.