Meringues may very well be my favorite sweet. As a child, I could inhale entire baking sheets filled with the egg white and sugar confections. When my grandmother made her famous (to us, at least) Heavenly Lemon Pie, I'd sneak the meringue crust with my equally naughty cousin, long before the dessert made it to the table. And even when I was older, my grandmother knew that she had to keep her chocolate chip-dotted meringues hidden (often in the laundry room, I discovered) from my thieving fingers.
So when I became a mother, I knew I had to try to make meringues for, and with, my daughter.
My grandmother, a Southern belle by way of New York, taught me to crack the eggs, and how to move the yolk from half-shell to half-shell to separate the whites out. I remember her glossy manicured fingernail delicately picking out rogue pieces of broken egg shell, while my own clumsily bitten-down ones just slushed around in the viscous gel.
Then, out would come the behemoth wish-list kitchen monster of lore and envy: the KitchenAid. I stood mesmerized in the magic of the rotating whisk. The clear egg whites frothing, seething, until they whitened, became something else. Something more substantial. More important. Something more apt to be considered "food."
"Whip until soft peaks form," she would say, as if reading from a recipe. A wooden spoon in hand, she would test the eggs, encourage me to weigh in. "What do you think, Sugar Babe?" And then she would tell the machine to stop — and it did. It knew who was boss.
Fast forward to the present and my daughter is 2, a little young for separating eggs. But I hold her chubby hand in mine as we lightly crack the eggs. She whines at the liquid sullying her tiny fingers. We wash our hands together, lathering, her hands fitting entirely in my own.
I place her in her pod, an enclosed stool that allows her to stand at the kitchen counter with me, and out comes the KitchenAid.
"Mizer!" she cries, and points to her own wooden toy version that sits on her wooden toy kitchen at the side of the room. This gives me an absurd amount of pleasure and I think my grandmother, for whom my daughter has been named, would also get a kick out of it.
I add some sugar. My daughter adds the rest, all at once, which is decidedly against the recipe's instructions. The small, sweet molecules hover in the air around us. My daughter draws lines in a mound of spilled sugar, licks her fingers. These days, this is the thing that makes this whole endeavor worth it.
My KitchenAid mixer is stainless steel; a newfangled cousin of my grandmother's, which had been the generic whitish color of all 1980s appliances. But they do the same thing. It whips the egg whites. They froth the same. They pucker the same. They shine the same.
"Look. Look, Sugar Babe, see how they changed?" I say to my daughter. And I think: See how they are also the same?
With wooden spoons, we test the consistency. It looks more like soft-serve ice cream and I'm entirely unsure if the little cookies will turn out. I toss in a few chocolate chips, handing a few to my daughter and keeping some for myself. We giggle and eat them. I am too slow to stop her from sticking her hand in the bowl, into the fine-spun snow of the delicacy.
While we wait for the meringues to bake, my daughter toddles off to entertain herself with her play kitchen. She whisks something in the sink, pours water into a cup from a teapot, opens and closes her mini mixer. And then I hear it: Whee-uh, whee-uh, whee-uh. It is quiet at first, and similar to her fire engine sound — but it's not the fire engine. It's the mixer. Her mixer.
When the meringues are done, I think I've baked them a little too long, or possibly at too high a temperature. I actually do not have the written recipe from my grandmother. But, no: They're actually right on. Burning my tongue, I take one into my mouth and it melts on impact.
I, being of good motherhood tendencies, wait before I give one to my daughter, who is busy making her own, anyway. When I give it to her, she gobbles it up messily and says, simple "Moe."
I give her another. One for her; one for me.
"Is it good?" I ask her. "Moe?" she says-asks. And I oblige: one for her; two for me.
The pediatrician and the dentist and even my husband would be horrified. We eat about four in one sitting — each the size of a fist — sitting on the floor, unable to even place them on a platter, to say nothing of a table.
Then my own little Sugar Babe does the international symbol for "delicious," the one her own grandmother, my mother-in-law, taught her. Rubbing her chest and arching her back slightly, she says "Mmmmmm."
Yes, they are right on.