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Credit: Marisol Rivera
personal essay

In My Search for Inner Peace, I Found the Perfect Cookie Instead

updated Apr 15, 2021
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For a long time, I wanted the hurried pace of parenthood to slow down. But then it did — in 2019 I stopped working as a lawyer, my youngest started kindergarten, and my husband sold his business — and all I felt was cooped up and adrift. Even when I set my devices aside to connect with my family, I felt distracted, my mind still scrolling or trying to open another tab. 

That’s why, just weeks before lockdown began in Connecticut last year, I joined a weekend workshop at Kripalu, a holistic retreat housed in a former Jesuit monastery in the foothills of western Massachusetts. In retrospect, it’s funny I thought I’d already reached my breaking point before the start of the pandemic, when I had yet to comprehend what asynchronous learning was for my three kids. I’m sure the mindfulness techniques I learned at Kripalu would have served me well this past year, if I’d actually practiced them. Instead, the longest-lasting vestige of my respite is the chocolate cherry cookie I discovered at Kripalu’s café.

In retrospect, it’s funny I thought I’d already reached my breaking point before the start of the pandemic, when I had yet to comprehend what asynchronous learning was for my three kids.

In the opening workshop session, I settled into a meditation chair in a giant vaulted space that was once a chapel. I wrapped myself in the blanket I’d brought from home, wondering how, if I’d wanted to be more present with my family and thoughts, I’d ended up on a worn carpet with a hundred strangers. 

We began by journaling to help “notice what you notice.” From a dot in the center of my notebook page, I drew a tight spiral until it filled the paper. Then, in quadrants, I listed seven things I’d done that day, seven things I’d seen, a sound I’d heard, and a doodle of one observation. Slowing down seemed to open a gateway to greater awareness: the stark beauty of a passing flurry and the surprising tang of apple mint chutney.

After an intense yoga flow class, I ordered tea and browsed the café menu for the sweet missing from the nourishing rainbow-inspired lunch buffet. I’m usually a classic chocolate-chip girl, but a treat boldly labeled OMG Chocolate Chip Cherry Cookie caught my eye.

The name seemed over-the-top, until I took a bite. The chewy, earthy cocoa-buckwheat base burst with chocolate morsels and tart dried cherries. Smitten, I knew I’d stumbled onto what must be Kripalu’s magic formula: Relax the mind, energize the body, marvel the taste buds. I gobbled the rest too quickly, then rushed to the bookstore to check The Kripalu Kitchen cookbook. The recipe was not in the index, not under cookie, cherry, chocolate, or OMG. 

In my closing workshop, I doodled my discovery, emphasizing the letters OMG amid cheerful cherries and chocolate chunks. I headed home carrying good intentions to continue my mindfulness practice, along with a dozen OMGs nestled in kraft-paper bags. Except for my daughter (whose heart belongs to sprinkles), my crew loved them. We devoured six right away and stashed the rest in the freezer.

And then the world came rushing back. Sunday, I was eating sprouts in silence; Monday, I was hurrying kids to school and discussing hospice for my 96-year-old grandmother who’d always seemed invincible. On Saturday, I arrived at her bedside in Florida, just in time. We planned a funeral, then scrapped it for a small graveside service, given the growing concern over COVID-19. 

Back home, our governor announced school closures. My husband sourced sanitizer and toilet paper, and I learned to sew masks. Trying to breathe routine into homeschool, I handed out notebooks and explained quadrant journaling. My oldest balked; the younger ones humored me. By day three, we all gave up. We hadn’t left our house: What was there to notice? 

We finished the last of the cookies I’d brought home from Kripalu just as I began feeling overwhelmed by my new normal: a world without phone calls with my grandmother and the reality of months in lockdown. Then my mother fell ill with coronavirus. It was hard for me not to panic as her temperature rose and her blood pressure and oxygen levels dipped. Thankfully, she recovered and my dad didn’t get sick. 

My husband and I focused on keeping our kids schooled, happy, and safe. As others started sourdough and baked banana bread for comfort, I reached out to Kripalu Guest Services by email: I had a great stay, loved the OMGs, would they share the recipe? No answer (they’d closed temporarily). I messaged the center’s chef, Jeremy Rock Smith, on Instagram, praising the house dressing as so irresistible my kids would dunk any raw vegetable in it, then segueing to my request. 

While awaiting his reply, I studied the ingredient list on the empty cookie bag I’d saved. I ordered buckwheat flour and sucanat sugar, relieved I could still source them during the pandemic baking frenzy. Trying to crack Kripalu’s perfect confection felt like a hopeful distraction in a dark and uncertain time. Here, I thought, was something I could figure out. I copycatted quantities from another cocoa-based cookie and attempted a batch. The tray of lumps I pulled from the oven looked like failure and tasted worse; oily and overly sweet with no discernible cherries. 

Incredibly, I heard back from Chef Jeremy. (I’m amazed he could even entertain my cookie-craze during such a difficult time.) He promised to share the recipe as soon as Kripalu re-opened. I attempted one more batch in July, pitting dozens of fresh cherries for cookies, which were good, but not OMG good. And then, just in the way we’ve had to adapt to life on standby, my feverish search for the recipe finally cooled. I accepted I’d just have to wait it out until I could return for another taste (and for the spiritual retreat we’ll all need when this pandemic ends). 

So you can imagine my wild delight when I read Chef Jeremy’s update on Instagram this winter: This for those that have been repeatedly asking for the OMG Chocolate Cherry Cookie recipe … congrats. You have manifested your dreams. 

I was certain he was speaking directly to me, but when I logged onto his virtual baking class, I encountered 150 like-minded enthusiasts. My first batch was as dreamy as I’d remembered, perhaps even more satisfying.

Trying to crack Kripalu’s perfect confection felt a hopeful distraction in a dark and uncertain time.

In a year where purpose feels elusive, I’m proud to be churning out my own OMGs. With each bite, I’m transported to simpler times, when we said oh-my-god in response to a magical mouthful rather than a devastating death toll. The pandemic pause, while fraught with loss and worry, gave me ample time to connect and notice my family’s new routines: My husband brewing our morning coffee, the kids FaceTiming their grandparents, being alone, together, on long hikes and bike rides.

Aside from a few trippy yoga videos with my daughter, I haven’t yet returned to my mat, but I’m finally understanding that if it took me 10 months to get a cookie recipe, it may take a little longer to develop the balance I’ve been seeking all my life. 

Get the recipe: OMG Chocolate Cherry Cookies from Chef Jeremy Rock Smith of Kripalu