When I was a girl, it was family lore that my Aunt Irene, when she cooked something awful, yelled, “It’s a loser!” to my Uncle Bobby as he walked in the house. I’ve been known to come out with more than a few losers (like the time I served my new in-laws pie accidentally made with Borax instead of sugar. (Lesson learned — be careful how you decant) and I’ve made a few dishes that held an opium-like addiction, but it’s the stories behind how recipes evolve that fascinate me.
When I was newly married (nineteen!) my then-husband and I moved to a farm located between Binghamton and Ithaca, New York. His job was being a farm hand. Mine was reading, cooking, and gaining weight as quickly as possible. We were isolated. When the farmer’s son’s wife invited me for breakfast, I was ecstatic. Upon arrival, she offered me a 7&7, a Pop Tart, and a bowl of depression. Thus was shattered my Brooklyn girl idealization about life on a farm.
Christmas week, she invited me to a cookie exchange party. My excitement at having somewhere to go (a bit measured based on our Pop Tart breakfast) was high enough for me to spend my next weekly library visit foraging for the most interesting and exotic cookie recipe I could find.
The cookies I brought (recipe below) were everything I’d hoped. Complicated, sophisticated, delicious…and greeted with faces of horror. What were these lumpy brown things brought in by the Brooklyn Jew, which resembled nothing close to Christmas cookies? I handed out my Plain Jane bags, sans shiny ribbons curling down the sides. My New York style sweets might as well have been wearing little yarmulkes and speaking Yiddish for how much they stood out. All the other offerings were variations on a Christmas sugar cookie theme cut in the shapes of stars and Santa, and decorated (sparkles! red and green sugar! glittering gold balls!) with the skill of Rembrandtesque elves.
My cookies looked like the homely third cousin your mother forced you to invite to the bar mitzvah. But they were the tastiest. Try them. Really.
Years ago, I began pulling together the recipes my daughters knew best, wanting, like many of you, to pass on my culinary secrets. As I copied from spattered cards, torn newspaper pages, and hand-written recipes, I realized the stories behind the recipes were as important as the food. Did my girls know their favorite brownies came from an ancient “found on the street” cookbook, circa my hippie days? How our Passover brisket had morphed into another family’s “Christmas meat?” Did they know which recipe might have sealed the deal with my soon-to-be-husband?
Pages piled up as I matched stories to recipes. From that was born The Comfort of Food— a cookbook to share with book clubs, not for sale, but as a thank you for joining me in my first passion, reading, by offering another love. Food.
Any book club choosing The Comfort of Lies or The Murderer’s Daughters as their book club choice will receive a hard copy and electronic version of The Comfort of Food. Simply go to the book club page on my website, www.randysusanmeyers.com and fill out the form.
French Lace Cookies
½ cup corn syrup
½ cup butter
⅔ cup brown sugar
1 cup flour, sifted
1 cup finely chopped nuts
Dark chocolate, melted (if desired)
Preheat oven to 325°. Combine corn syrup, butter, and sugar. Bring to boil. Combine flour and nuts w/liquid. Place by teaspoon 4″ apart and bake for 8 – 10 minutes.
To add a wonderful and delicious flourish, dip each cookie in melted dark chocolate when it comes from the oven. If you are talented and want to add a special flourish, roll the cookies while they are still warm, into a cylindrical shape and then when the rolled cookie is cool, dip it in the chocolate. If you are lazy, like I am, don’t worry about rolling; simply dip the flat cookies when they are cool. Lay on waxed paper while the chocolate hardens.
Randy Susan Meyers is the bestselling author of Accidents of Marriage, The Comfort of Lies, The Murderer’s Daughters, and The Widow of Wall Street. Her books have twice been finalists for the Mass Book Award and named “Must Read Books” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. She teaches writing at the Grub Street Writers’ Center in Boston.