I can remember the very first macaron I ever tasted. My husband and I were living in England at the time, and we were coming out of an incredibly busy season, full of work, taking classes, and settling into a new country and new home. Reminded of the wise words of Donna Meagle, I decided to treat myself to a massage at a local spa. I quickly realized that the American notion of scheduling an hour or so for a massage in between other appointments or errands was much improved upon by the Brits. Behold, the Spa Day. Where we lived, it is uncommon to schedule a massage, a facial, or spa treatment without also purchasing access to the onsite spa for the full day, or sometimes a half day. What would be an hour of relaxation turns into full-on pampering and restoration. I was in for a treat.
There was a beautiful spa in an old manor home just down the road from us so I booked my spa day. It was everything I could have imagined and more. The first thing I noticed was the intention put into every little detail - though we were just off the main road, and surrounded by stables and barns, time was taken to shield the spa from the passing cars. I passed through a beautiful wisteria-covered arbor pathway to the front doors, and suddenly the horse manure (a common smell in our area) was covered by the flowery scents of the wisteria and nearby garden beds. Already I was forgetting my surroundings and worries, letting my stressors slide away. I walked through the front door and was met with welcoming faces, walked to my changing room with a ridiculously soft robe and slippers to wear, and then shown the options for my Spa Day. Two saunas, a hydrotherapy pool, something called “experiential showers” which looked a lot like normal showers but more public (no thanks), and a rooftop hot tub. The pool was surrounded by floor to ceiling windows within this gorgeous manor house, and it was gloriously empty and quiet. Happy Spa Day to me.
After my time in the “hydrotherapy pool”, I dried off, grabbed a book, and headed to the spa cafe for a small lunch, in that lovely warm-fuzzy fog that comes with true relaxation. Sitting by the window, gazing at the wisteria blowing in the breeze, I ordered a coffee and some sort of wrap or something - honestly, I don’t remember. But what I do remember, very clearly, is what came next. My husband and I had learned that unless we wanted to gamble with potentially being served instant coffee, lattes were a much safer bet, so I expected a foamy latte with distinct bold Illy-brand espresso. As the server delivered my order, I saw a beautiful microfoamed latte in a delicate tea-cup, and a small violet cookie perched on the saucer’s edge. I smiled at the complimentary offering, and thanked the server. He left, and I returned to my book (Amsterdam by Ian McEwan, if I remember correctly), completely content. I enjoyed the lunch and coffee but… BUT… I had saved the best for last. As I finished my lunch, I reached for the tiny cookie. I had seen them before - what were they called? I took a small bite, and almost cried tears of joy. The entire moment was so completely perfect - heaven on earth. Quiet classical music in the background, just me and a book, coffee, and whatever this perfect, petite sweet was. I tasted nuttiness, cream, and something slightly floral. Was there a hint of citrus? Staring into the little treat, I examined the layers and took ridiculously small bites, wondering if I could recreate it at home. The server must have noticed my enjoyment, because he quietly placed another small plate on the table next to me with one more of the same delicious treats. I beamed, thanked him, and asked what it was.
“A lavender macaron, made in-house by our pastry chef.”
And so the obsession began. Nothing compared to that texture - the slightest crunch then the most perfect chew. Simple flavors dancing together and mingling with the nuttiness of the shell. I was a goner. As dramatic as it sounds, my life was changed.
Then began the hunt for patisseries, corner tea shops, macarons lined up in rainbow window displays. I still remember the path from the city centre of Brugge, Belgium, past the clothing shops, pubs and waffle stands, down past the Beer Wall, around the water to my favorite chocolatier and macaron shop. We often made weekend trips to Brugge for Trappist beer, liege waffles, dark-chocolate-covered candied orange slices, and macarons. Once again, like heaven on earth.
I’d bring the beautifully packaged box of macarons back to our home in England, and savor them throughout the following week. Each bite of macaron became an opportunity to slow down, create a moment of intention, beauty and self-care. It was such a simple, tasty pleasure that made a normal cup of coffee or tea into a real luxury. I was hooked.
P.S. The massage was great too.