(Or, how I got a skeptical Frenchman with Grinch-like tendencies to like Peeps, making his heart grow three sizes just in time for Christmas.)
I opened the large white carton with curiosity and anticipation, feeling very much like Pandora innocently opening the mysterious box only to release what should have stayed safely under lock and key. 'This could be my downfall," I breathed silently.
Where was my Christmas spirit?
But innocent it was and I knew what that carton contained. Peeps. Marshmallow Peeps. "Would you like to try our Christmas Peeps?" I read on the email. "Another marketing ploy," I thought when it popped into my inbox, but decided to check it out anyway. One never knows. Especially with the word Peeps in the object line. But this one seemed to have been sent to me with knowledge and forethought, my passion for Peeps being what it is. Stacey, writing on behalf of the Peeps people themselves, kindly inquired whether I would be interested in testing the new flavors of marshmallow Peeps, the chocolate mousse, the gingerbread, the chocolate-covered mint.
Oh boy, would I! I returned. Merry Christmas, indeed!
And then I pulled back the flaps to reveal a tiny bit of heaven: dancing white snowmen, jaunty gingerbread men with their funny little grins, chocolate mousse reindeer, adorable Rudolph heads staring into space like deer caught in the headlights and chocolate-covered mint marshmallows in the shape of holiday fir trees in shiny foil wrappers. A box full. I shrieked with joy.
My passion for Marshmallow Peeps goes way back to my childhood. You see, we didn't celebrate Christmas and although I loathed having to sing carols in school, I loved the trimmings and wrappings and glitter of the holiday. While we were lighting the Hanukkah Menorah, simply, discreetly, I watched with envy the swags of colored lights being hung up and down the street, the trees being trimmed, draped with tinsel and dotted with decorations in every other living room window, the life-sized Santas and reindeer prancing across rooftops or lawns, the stunning luminaries lining the street behind us, glowing elegantly in the night, and I wanted the same. And the holiday treats! As Christmas approached and the stores began their preparations, setting up tables piled high with gaudy decorations and seasonal goodies, candy canes and foil-wrapped chocolate Santas, the chocolate-covered marshmallows in holiday shapes, boxes and bags of candy for stuffing stockings and handing out at office parties in shades of chocolate or come-hither green, red, gold and silver or speckled with sugary snow, I watched forlornly, looked on jealously as boxes and bags were snapped up, filling up the other moms' shopping caddies. Those Santas and snowmen were destined for the other kids and the other kids' holiday. Not mine. They got the candy canes, the Whitman's Samplers and the marshmallow Peeps in fun shapes. We got a tiny mesh bag filled with chocolate coins, the gelt, wrapped in gold foil.
But my mom and I had a ritual. The day after Christmas, we would head to the supermarket and find the holiday candy piled willy-nilly on the display tables, leftovers marked down to half price, all jumbled together in a great heap like unwanted, abandoned toys. That candy, those marshmallow Peeps in joyous holiday shapes were no longer symbols, festive treats for a holiday that we did not celebrate in our home; they were now simply candy. And we would slide those snowmen and Santas and the fir trees into our shopping basket in a wonderful conspiracy. A Jewish girl's giddy, anticipated Christmas ritual.
But now I found myself staring into a carton of Peeps all for me. Yes, Of course, I knew that I had a duty to test those holiday Peeps with the critical eye of the food blogger, food writer, home cook and mother that I am. Scientific and journalistic was this Marshmallow Peep-a-thon! Very serious, indeed.
So while my husband looked on, shaking his head in dismay, as he wondered aloud how and why, with some of the best artisan chocolate in the world within a five or ten minute walk from our apartment, I would eat these silly little industrial creatures, I tore open the packages and tasted.
And it all came rushing back to me. The intense joy, the delectable marshmallow treats of my youth. The snowmen were tender and soft without being too melt-in-the-mouth ethereal, just dense enough for a satisfying give. And with a barely-there sugar crust coating that crackles ever so delicately when the teeth press into the confection, no artisan marshmallow can compare. And chocolate lover than I am, I adored the Chocolate Mousse Reindeer, with the lightest of chocolate flavor. I will admit I was nervous about the Gingerbread Men, fearful that the gingerbread flavor would be too strong, or too chemical but no! The flavor was light, delicate and with no chemical flavor at all!
And the biggest Christmas Miracle of all? My husband, the man who rarely eats sweets, the man who grunts and rolls his eyes in disgust at American holiday candy, who Bah Humbugs every box of Peeps I have ever received from friends over the years, picked up one of those Gingerbread Men Peeps and bit off the head. And went wild. And excitedly offered Marshmallow Peeps Gingerbread Men to his work colleagues, pressing this amusing festive little confection onto Frenchmen who had never seen a Peep before, as if it was more special, more spectacular than a truffle, a slice of foie gras or a glass of the finest Champagne. And they each bit the head off of one of those Peeps and, eyebrows raised, a smile appearing on their lips, popped the bodies in their mouths and exclaimed "Oh my, these are good!"
And in the true spirit of Christmas, my husband and I shared the rest of the Peeps, divvying up the mint-flavored marshmallow trees dipped in chocolate -- milk for me, dark for husband -- deliciously and delicately tasting of the finest chocolate-covered thin mints but all creamy marshmallow instead. And happy we were.
And a very Merry Marshmallow Peeps Christmas to all....
Jamie Schler lives, eats and writes in France. To read more of her work visit Life's a Feast.
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