'Is this your first time in the shop?" asked the man behind the counter, an older gentleman whose dignified but amiable demeanor reminded me of a retired professor. And indeed, he had been cheerfully teaching me for the past five minutes or so about Good Better Best, the little pastry shop I had stumbled across on the northern outskirts of RTP. He explained, with an obvious note of pride in his voice, that all the cakes, pies and cookies in the display case are baked by his daughter, owner/pastry chef Christi Holder. He pointed out that the pastries are made without refined white sugar or artificial additives of any kind, and he added that the shop also sells sandwiches, all made with preservative-free meats.
When I replied that this was in fact my first time in the shop, he said, "Well, as a first-timer you're entitled to one free cookie of your choice. We want people to know that just because something is healthy doesn't mean it can't taste good."
What the heck, I thought, even though I'd tasted enough "healthy" sweets to be skeptical. I surveyed the options: Oatmeal raisin, cinnamon cookie, Spanish peanut and granola all looked tempting, if a shade darker than their refined sugar equivalents. I finally settled on a childhood favorite that's seldom seen nowadays: a molasses cookie.
With its cracked brown surface reminiscent of a dry riverbed, the cookie's appearance was hardly as elegant as Proust's madeleines. But its soft, chewy texture and its taste -- a hauntingly familiar mingling of ginger, cloves and molasses -- was every bit as effective at stirring up my own remembrance of things past. The smell of my grandmother's kitchen when she baked them, in particular, and of the pantry where she kept them, in a big tin next to her homemade blackberry jam.
Needless to say, I'll be happy to pay the regular price next time.