I was methodically chopping chives into ¼ inch batons to balance on top of the mini crabcakes I would soon serve. I was lost in thought about my 4 ½ year relationship that I had ended earlier that day. 4 ½ years. Sigh. I was thinking about the love and all the amazing moments we shared over that time. I have no regrets, only appreciation for the incredible man that Shannon is and an understanding that love sometimes changes into something else. I glanced down at the cutting board and realized I had cut enough chive batons to feed a sizeable army – which this crowd was not. I slid the greens into a bowl as one of the servers walked into the kitchen.
“Do you have sugar for the coffee and tea service?” the waiter asked the house manager of the apartment on the 33rd floor of the Ritz Carlton Residences where we were catering. The manager opened the ample pantry and started off-loading sweeteners to the side table.
“We’ve got Splenda. We’ve got Equal. We’ve got Truvia. We’ve got Sweet and Low.”
A small herd of boxes– yellow, blue, green, and pink- collected on the table.
“We’ve got agave. We’ve got honey. We’ve got stevia. And we’ve got gluten free sugar.”
We all stopped and looked at each other.
“Gluten free sugar? Huh?” the waiter said. “I thought sugar WAS gluten free.” And he turned to me because, well, because I was the one in the chef jacket.
So I am here to tell you now as I told them there in that kitchen, that this whole thing has gotten out of control. Sugar IS gluten free. That’s the deal. Gluten free sugar is redundant. Now, as with all allergies, cross contamination is a major factor. There are some sugars that have anti-caking ingredients that can contain gluten, but those are specialty sugars like icing sugar. Regular sugar contains no gluten so if you’re going out of your way to find the box that says “gluten free”, you’re wasting your money and your time. I bet there’s more gluten in the ink used to write “gluten free” than in the contents of the box. Those gluten free sugar people are laughing all the way to the bank.
I concluded my diatribe to the chuckling servers and disinterested house manager and caught my reflection in the window. I looked like myself. I know that’s a strange thing to say, but it’s true. Sometimes my image is so contorted by the problems my brain and heart are trying to solve that my reflection is barely recognizable. Those days, I feel like I couldn’t pick myself out of a line up. It was nice to see myself again – and laughing too.
The party went off without a hitch and I wheeled my granny cart full of equipment down the service elevator and through the maze of cleaning supply rooms, room service kitchens, restaurant kitchens, supply shelves, and offices of the Ritz Carlton basement. It’s pretty incredible to witness the view from the top and bottom of life these days. I popped out of the service entrance on 58th and walked to the train. I’m pretty handy with my granny cart and, since I was only toting equipment, I figured I’d save few bucks and take the subway. I slowly lowered my cart down the stairs (ka-kunk ka-kunk ka-kunk) to find the door to the station broken. Turnstiles and granny carts don’t mix so I sighed heavily and dragged my cart back up the stairs. Ka-kunk ka-kunk ka-kunk. I felt the day’s fatigue suddenly catch up to me and I walked to the corner to flag a cab. I waited. And I waited. It was cold. I was hungry. It had been a long day.
I saw an available cab approaching but it looked like it was about to make a turn the wrong way down a one way street. Then it changed lanes in front of another car resulting in a loud car screech and aggressive horning. He was coming in my direction. I did not want to get into this cab. I needed peace.
But more than anything, I wanted to be home and my hailing arm just raised itself.
The cab came to a screeching halt in front of me. The driver had wild, thinning grey hair that he wore long and unkempt. He opened the window and yelled out “Missy, do you need help?” to which I responded that I did not. He popped the trunk, I offloaded my equipment, and nervously got into the back seat.
“Where ya headed missy?”
To say he was a little hard of hearing is an insult to anyone who’s ever heard anything clearly. He was the closest to stone deaf as I’ve ever witnessed, a fact that he was completely unaware of, making every communication triply frustrating.
“I’m going to 122nd Street”.
“I’m going to…” well you get the gist. I’m not going to annoy you with the exact play-by-play. Suffice it to say that every single word out of my mouth was repeated at least three times with my screaming so loud that my throat hurt.
He finally understood my destination and sped off like the speed of, well, not sound.
“So where ya from missy?”
“I’m from here.”
“A real New Yorkah, huh? And what do you do?”
“I’m a chef.”
He then launched into a soliloquy about his life. About growing up in Brooklyn and being on the street and then going to war and working as a cook.
“We would feed 300 guys breakfast in the mess every morning. I could break two eggs at a time, one in each hand, lickitty split for hours. 600 eggs you know. Can you do that?”
“Nope. Sure can’t. That’s awesome.”
“Whassat ya say?”
He went on about food and the army and the war and I was thrown all over the back seat of that cab while he maniacally drove me home. He grew on me though. He was insane, but his world had its charm. He pulled up to my building and he said “I’m hungry. You hungry?” I nodded.
“You know something missy? If I wasn’t married, I’d ask you to dinner.”
“Ah, well, if I was a different person, I’d say yes.” It didn’t matter that that made no sense. He couldn’t hear me anyway.
“But instead, I’d like to give you this.” And he leaned back and handed me a Russell Stover’s chocolate marshmallow heart.
I was both shocked and delighted.
“You know what?” I said, “That’s exactly what I wanted.”
Suddenly hearing me clear as a bell, he whispered, “I know.” And off he drove.
A lot of things are going to be really different in my life now. But hey, I still got it.
I did not eat my chocolate marshmallow heart that night. There will be darker days than this one. I feel like saving one treat for a REALLY bad day makes whatever bad day you’re having seem a little better.
Here’s what I did eat. Because it’s the greatest cookie in the whole entire world.
Salted Butterscotch Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen cookies
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 3 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 teaspoons almond extract
- 1 tablespoon water
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 cups butterscotch chips
- Flake salt, such as Maldon, to sprinkle on top
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large bowl or the bowl to your standing mixer, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar and mix until fluffy. Add the eggs, vanilla, almond extract, and water, and mix thoroughly.
- In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.
- Beat dry ingredients into wet ingredients gradually.
- Stir in almonds and butterscotch chips.
- Drop rounded spoonfuls of batter onto ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 12-14 minutes.
- Sprinkle with flake salt and enjoy!