My birthday was coming up. You know how that goes. If your children are teenagers and you've been with your significant other a long time, you're probably not going to be the center of attention you might have been thirty years ago. Your family's attitude towards your birthday probably is---what's that French word? ---Oh right, lame. In order to make sure you're not curled up in a ball at the end of the day, wondering why nobody remembered you, you have to plan ahead.
I told the spinning instructor my birthday was coming up precisely so she would ask me what song she should play.
"The sexist one with the sexist video?" I said, my voice a combination of shame and yearning. "I can't remember the name."
The instructor was standing with two other women. One of them shouted the answer.
That was settled.
Then I called in an order for my favorite cake from Le Baker's Dozen (8 inch traditional vanilla cake, butter cream, freezes well, $35) and asked the baker to decorate with the words, "Happy Birthday, Mom." I asked my sister-in-law to pick it up because she lives nearby.
"Don't you think it's pathetic that we have to do this?" she asked and handed the cake to me in a parking lot.
"No," I said. "If you don't want to be disappointed, you have to pay for everything."
Then I made sure that one of my writer friends who thought she might have to work could actually meet me for lunch (she could.) After lunch, I knew that the rest of the day would be given over to motherhood and math tutors and I'd be lucky if my dog remembered to lick me. So I decided to prepare even further. I would call in the chocolate.
Ever year, we have a break fast after Yom Kippur and every year my friend Denise comes and brings something delicious. The problem with Denise is she is very precise and scientific. She has an MBA from a fancy school and excels at spreadsheets and following directions so sometimes her recipes are really complicated. This year, she brought these awesome chocolate meringue cookies. As always when she makes something awesome, I asked her for the recipe and she immediately emailed it. I opened the file, worrying it might be three pages long. But this one was simple. It was only one page and the list of ingredients was double-spaced. And it was gluten-free! I tucked it into my recipe binder and decided to make it at a time when I needed to go to a happy place.
The night before my birthday, it was snowing. The roads were bad. Two days earlier, a terrible thing had happened at the mall near our house. A man was murdered in the parking lot. Two men had demanded his car and then shot him in the head. I had worked at that mall in high school and knew the place well. I had also coincidentally been at the mall a few hours before the murder occurred, getting my laptop fixed. Though I didn't know the man who was murdered, this was not the kind of news you just push past. Moving around the kitchen, pulling ingredients for Denise's cookies off the shelves, I looked out the window. The snow was coming down heavily. My kids' bus was almost an hour late, and I kept calling them to see if they were close. Finally, they arrived and ran upstairs. While they toiled on Facebook and YouTube, I went to work, melting chocolate, separating eggs yolks from egg whites, and measuring out sugar. I doubled the recipe and made the cookies too big but figured what the hell, I was turning 49, I could eat some big cookies. While the cookies were in the oven, my 17-year old, bless him, came downstairs and asked me how I felt about my birthday. "I'm glad we're all healthy," I said, licking the chocolate off a spoon.
Thirteen minutes later, the cookies were done. Five minutes later they were cool enough to eat. I called my kids down for dinner of two-day old brisket and one day old squash risotto. My 13-year old came downstairs first and grabbed a cookie.
"Eat your dinner first!" I yelled.
"It's leftovers," he said. "I can have a cookie first." Then he took a bite. ""Oh my God, these are the best things you've ever made!"
"If you're going to eat cookies, at least tell your brother to come downstairs and have one too." He called upstairs. "Matt, don't come eat these cookies, they're terrible, they have raisins!" (They don't.) My older son came running down and grabbed a cookie. "Oh Jesus," he said, biting down. "Oh my God."
The actual day of my birthday, I directed my sons to write me a card. They looked at me blankly, then produced a poem and acrostic that included the words Arctic, cathartic, heart and fart.
The next morning, I went downstairs. The cookies were gone. A large white plate, covered with a dusting of cookie crumbs, was all that was left. Had the mice and roaches gotten them? Then I saw, hanging from the doorknob of the front door, a paper bag. The cookies were neatly packed up inside. I forgot: Both my kids had to bring snacks for their end of year parties. I had originally intended the cookies for them, not me. Their parties were on consecutive days. Needless to say, my 17-year old had packed up all the cookies. My 13-year old still needed some for his party. I would have to make more.
Birthdays and holidays call for celebration, which inevitably means we have to fortify ourselves against them. Even if chocolate is not your true religion, these cookies will restore your faith and bring you joy. Happy holidays.
Gluten Free Chocolate Meringue Cookies
2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips, divided in half
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups powdered sugar, divided in half
4 teaspoons cornstarch
4 large egg whites, bring to room temperature
1-teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 3 large baking sheets with non-stick spray. Melt one cup chocolate chips in saucepan over double boiler so it doesn't burn. Cool chocolate for ten minutes. While chocolate is cooling, whisk together one and a half cups sugar, all the cocoa and all the cornstarch in a bowl.
Beat together egg whites, vanilla, salt and cream of tartar until peaks form (about five minutes.) Slowly add remaining cup and a half of sugar and beat until mixture is stiff and glossy. Add in cocoa mixture, melted chocolate and the remaining cup of chocolate chips.
Drop batter by teaspoons onto cookie trays. Bake cookies for six to seven minutes. Then remove trays from oven, turn them around, and cook for six more minutes. Let cookies cool for five minutes. Transfer cookies to racks to cool. Try not to eat them all.