DATELINE 4 December 2018 - As a kid growing up on Long Island, my favorite cookies arrived pre-packaged from the local A&P or, more often than not, from my mother’s grocery runs to the commissary one town over in Hempstead’s Mitchell Fielid. Our household favorites rotated between Mallomars (my brother) Chips Ahoy (sister & mother) and Fudge Town (your’s truly).
That my mother died after suddenly suffering a massive stroke during a last -minute trip to the commissary did little tamper my appetite for cookies, or food, for that matter. In my case food subsequently - and consistently -served as a solace. Over the passing years food also served as a vehicle to celebrate anything, combat boredom, express creativity, bond with strangers, friends, frenemies and family members.
Eventually my palate managed to mature beyond the packaged cookie stage (well, mostly) sometime during my junior high years in San Francisco. The cookie - type treat that helped create my very first culinary obsession was available for sale a mere two blocks from Marina Jr High, where I spent my days during grades seven and eight. Each morning before school - because this was a bakery in the original sense and these folks must have opened by 730 every single morning, except Monday their day of rest - I detoured from the corner where the 22 Fillmore Muni-bus deposited a gaggle of moderately energized students. Sauntering over to the bakery whose name, sadly, I no longer recall, I knew nirvana awaited me. This was my version of Starbucks before there was a Starbucks. My daily kickstart, craving queller, and coping companion: this was my introduction to the wonderfully sweet, airy world of meringues. I turned my friends onto this new-to-us treat and for the rest of the school year, a small corner of the massive cement playground a mere 90 second walk from the San Francisco Bay, resembled the preteen version of a very popular discotheque back then: the latest beats squeaking from someone’s contraband transistor radio and the hippest kids (at least we thought so) congregating under the exoskeletal iron stairwell just outside the gymnasium, passing around the bag of puffy crunchy confections capable of transporting a lucky indulger to bliss, if only for a moment or two. Yes, during the hour leading up to our first class of the day, the schoolyard at Marina Jr. High was our Studio 54 and meringues were our cocaine.
Well, after this deflowering of my previously innocent palate, there was no turning back to mass produced sweets from Nabisco or Burry. Even the occasionally indulgence - usually for sentimental reasons - went by the wayside with the unexpected development of a chocolate allergy (I know, right?!) No worries, Meringues were my gateway vice, and after learning how easy and inexpensive it was to make these suckers, which happened almost every weekend through high school, I moved onto bigger and better baking projects.
These days, I still harbor significant affection for sweet treats, even as my maturing palate appreciates an ever-increasing array of savory delights. Homemade, bakery created, and artisanal items take precedence over pre-packaged varieties from the local warehouse-type market. I’ve expanded my cookie repertoire with a cookbooks worth of multi-layered sweet savory deliciousness, two of which will make an appearance in honor of this specially designated day:
oatmeal raisin cookies topped with vanilla salt
I plan to enjoy these a little later today, with a steaming cup of rich golden turmeric milk or a nice tall French 75, depending on my mood. And I’ll imagine telling my parents about how the youngest of their four children, their pickiest eater, spent the last 48 years since their untimely departures, learning to eat her way through loss, pain & misery, eventually turned that indulgent practice into a means of embracing the beauty, joy and true sustenance found by a meal shared.