The Cookie : My Summer in San Sebastián


Endless creaming of butter and sugar. 

Scoop, smoosh, pat, package. 

Sunshine, Daft Punk, and Cantabrian sea breezes.

And liter-sized buckets of sweat.

These have been the patterns and rhythms of my life this summer. My friend Emily and I have embarked on a great adventure involving a bicycle and one of the world's best desserts, and we call it The Cookie. Every day of this summer that suddenly turned beautiful, we roll our electric-blue bike around, park it in front of San Sebastián's famous La Concha beach, and sell America's favorite dessert: ice cream sandwiches.

Artisan, made by our hands, fresh daily, these sandwiches might be the best ever. As a professional cook whose road to the kitchen began with Oreo pies at the tender age of 11, I have a demanding, exacting sense when it comes to sweet baked goods. And you know what? My three years living in the culinary paradise of San Sebastián has done nothing if not hone that taste. In a donut-, cookie- and muffin-less land, you sure do learn to appreciate a perfect, buttery, crispy chewy baked good. THIS is what The Cookie is all about, and THIS is the perfection we strive for in every bite.

So what do we make? At the one month mark in our ice cream sandwich bike, I can list a few of mine and the public's favorites. We always, always have on hand a chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream, because it seems to me to be the backbone of the ice cream sandwich tradition.  I love our Nocilla (Spanish Nutella) cookie, which pairs with milk ice cream and buttery, sugary toasted white bread crumbs.  

And please don't get me started on our honey cookie, a chewy wonder, which I love most with cinnamon ice cream and toasted oats. A rare, prized sandwich, the summer dessert equivalent of a liliger sighting, would be our apple cookie with Idiazabal cheese ice cream and toasted walnuts.  On the other hand, the thin, chewy chocolate cookie with pistachio ice cream and pistachios in a meringue-ish candy coating is more like spotting...a  squirrel. They're everywhere, but they're still so dang cute.

The people of San Sebastián have received us with slowly opening arms.  My greeting is always "¿Sabes qué son?" (Do you know what they are?) and 90% of the time, the answer is no. The Cookie, therefore, is probably the closest thing San Sebastián has to an American embassy. We've been on the radio, on TV, online press, et cetera, which is all well and good.

But no amount of publicity can compare to Bike Moments. Bike Moments like the adorable family, led by 11-year-old Telmo, who comes back not twice, not three-times, but ten times over the course of the day...high-fives and laughter all around (love you Naroa y Alex!).  Like the older, very very Basque man who buys a cookie (and you wonder, 'who is that for, because he DEFINITELY is not the ice cream sandwich type?') and then, passing by later, says: 'Did you make that?' and you say 'Yes' and he looks you in the eye and says 'Well, congratulations.' Bike Moments like the anglophone tourists who make your ice cream sandwich a staple in their San Sebastián memories, stopping every day on their way to the beach. Bike Moments like taking an entire family, who you met when they tried to pay for sandwiches in rupees, to your old village for a special, cider-filled night. Bike Moments like that last client of the day that invites you to Mugaritz.

It's been the most challenging thing I've ever done...balancing it with a full-time goat cheese job and life in general has me hitting the pillow at night and sleeping like a rock for as long as I can permit myself. But I've learned so much and filled my summer with relationships and experiences that never would have been possible.  Another stage in my life in this city, which began as a poor exchange student, here for a weekend in 2005. Continued as a tourist, repeating (as so often happens to people with this place) the same vacation years in a row. I thought I had made it when we moved here, finally a resident, but even within this framework my relationship with the city has changed. And now I know it from the underside, waking up before the streets are clean, with partygoers as my only company, buried in a kitchen, sweating through all my shirts, carting box after box past beautiful people dressed for a night of beachside mojitos (didn't that used to be me?).

And I love it. Please, please, pretty please follow The Cookie on Facebook.  On Twitter. And on Instagram.

To be continued.......

photo by Chalo :)