It’s odd how life works out. In my early years, I was a picky eater. A really picky eater. I would eat pasta with butter and Parmesan, or chicken with ranch dressing, but apart from a few sweets, that was it. My mom despaired, trying to tempt me with all manner of tasty and high-priced food, but to no avail.
In my teens, I finally started trying different foods, the primary reason being that my younger brother ate everything, and I couldn’t be upstaged. But once I began eating more conventionally, I realized that my mom didn’t like to cook, and I started making most of the family meals. Turned out, I was good at it. I never felt that I was missing out on childhood—my parents worked incredibly hard to make sure that childhood lasted. But when I find I’m good at something, I like to impress others with it. I'm a people-pleaser.
I live in California now, and when I visit Mom in New Jersey for the holidays, we often bake cookies together. She’s more crafty and creative when it comes to decorating. She loves precise measuring and knowing how something will turn out. I like constantly experimenting with flavors and ingredients, adjusting and seasoning as I taste. We are opposites in this way, but we balance each other out.
Mom is the most generous and caring person I know. Her parents took in foster daughters as she was growing up, so she never hesitated to make sure that other kids felt welcome in our home. She is the person people call in the middle of the night when they’re in trouble or need a ride to the hospital. She's an athletic trainer, and when anyone got hurt, the joke was that if Ms. Happy couldn't fix it, you knew you were in big trouble.
Cooking with her is always less about eating and more about creating a bountiful and relaxing environment. My immediate family is small, but everyone who drops by is welcome to join us, and the nights when people wander in are the best. She loves being able to give something special and homemade to others. And by “others” I include the clerk at Target, the gas station attendant down the road, and the barista at the local Starbucks. Ever since my brother and I were kids, at holiday time Mom had us choose two people who impacted us in a good way during the year. We give them gift cards from a “secret Santa,” never revealing our identity. Finding ways to deliver the gift without being discovered is part of the fun.
In a similar way to my mom’s open-door policy, my friends all have keys to my apartment and are more than welcome to come by whenever they want. I try to be a constant in other people's lives just as my mom has been for so many. Food helps to keep us together as a family, an extended family, and even radiates out into the greater community.
Perhaps it’s not so odd how life works out.
Kylie Mazon-Chambers is the writer/cook/photographer behind Cooking with Cocktail Rings.
2 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 t. cream of tartar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. chocolate chip cookies (optional)
Preheat oven to 225 F.
In a small mixing bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar on high speed until foamy.
Add sugar, 2 T. at a time, beating consistently until sugar is completely dissolved and egg whites are glossy and stand in stiff peaks.
Gently fold in optional chocolate chips.
Drop round spoonfuls of meringue or pipe through a pastry tube, 1 inch apart, on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet.
Bake until firm and easily lifted off of the waxed paper, about 1 hour.
Turn off the oven and let the cookies stand in oven with door closed until cool, dry, and crisp, for at least an hour.
Store in an airtight container.
Makes about 24 meringues.