The air is cool and crisp as I climb the stairs up to my grandparent’s home. Every so often afterschool, I would make the two blocks trek with my aunt to this house on the top of the hill. It was Daly City where the weather was never warmer than sixty degrees and I was bundled to the brim, the normalcy of living and attending elementary school in such an area. Each time was the same; the journey would take me up the tall and difficult steps in order to hear the familiar high-pitched ringing of the doorbell. Some shuffling would be heard from within and before I knew it, my grandmother’s arms were wrapped around me tightly, providing me with an unbreakable shield from the cold.
Inside it always smelled the same, a hint of my grandmother’s perfume mixed in with the aroma of something baking in her oven. The house was tiny, comprised of a few rooms barely large enough to fit the furniture my grandparents collected over the years, and the walls covered in particular wallpaper that I had never been very fond of. It consisted of several bows all repeating on top of one another and while I usually concentrated on the continuous pattern, this time I was more focused on the smell emanating from the kitchen.
The warm, buttery scent was fragrant and I could not help but wander toward the kitchen, my sense of smell guiding me in the direction of the oven. I had almost reached my goal before my grandmother stopped me short, taking my coat and telling me that whatever was in the oven was a surprise. Hungrily, I headed toward the living room instead, just waiting for the reveal of grandma’s latest concoction. I climbed onto the sofa, the plastic covering squeaking and creaking at every move I attempted to make quietly in order to get comfortable. It is not until my grandfather arrives to take his seat that I can truly be satisfied with comfort, laying my head on his chest and listening to the sound of his breath as he once again turns on the Shirley Temple version of Heidi, our favorite to view together. It may have been the way that he smiled and laughed at all the same moments with me or maybe it was the way that I paid attention to his chest rise and fall that made me forget about that surprise waiting for me in the kitchen. But just as if I was sending out a signal of neglect toward my grandmother’s hard work, she rounded the corner with a small plate in her hands.
She had called them madeleine cookies, handing me one, still slightly warm and light in my fingers. The appearance resembling that of a seashell washing up on the shores of a beach, the cookie felt rough to the touch and unlike any cookie I had ever eaten until then. The surface was porous, leaving a reminder of each and every place in which the air had escaped during its journey to completion. The buttery smell was only accompanied by the wafting smell of vanilla as I held it up toward my face, ready to take my first bite.
I could feel my taste buds erupt as my teeth bit off part of the fleshy surface, the vanilla taste coating my palette. I could taste the butter in the back of my throat as I continued to chew, releasing more and more of the flavors present: a slight hint of citrus and even the taste of almond toward the end. I looked back down at the cookie and examined its ridges, small waves reminding me more of the beach that this little buttery shell must have been snatched from. The warmth of the fleshy morsel reminded me of a sunset that must have occurred on that beach, warm and glowing much like the color of the cakes themselves. I can only remember taking bite after bite of that madeleine, smiling and laughing along with my grandparents as we spent that afternoon together. Not until that plate of madeleine cookies was gone did we stop smiling, wanting more of the small golden cakes that were now among my favorite desserts. I cannot say that I was not disappointed when my grandmother told us that sadly she did not make anymore, but the smell of vanilla and hints of almond and butter still lingered in the air, making me hungry for more as we finished watching our film that afternoon.
Since that day, I have not had a madeleine more fragrant and satisfying. While these cookies are not difficult to come by, being sold in many coffee shops and cafes around us, my grandmother’s homemade ones are always held in higher regard. Perhaps it is the memory of coming into their home and out of the freezing weather outside or spending precious time with my late grandfather, but the madeleine cookies that I shared with my grandparents that one day after school all those years ago is what I would consider my most memorable meal.