Growing up, year after year, my Mom made the worst Christmas Cookies. Her skill with other baked items and innumerable personal merits duly noted, these cookies were the worst. Rock hard, floury, unevenly baked, often burned, and not especially sweet. Nevertheless, every year my brother and I looked forward to them, requested them, and happily ate them, because they were our tradition.
One of the first foods fell in love with when I moved to Astoria was the Melomakarona (meh-loh-mah-KAH-roh-nah), the traditional Greek Christmas cookie served year-round in Astoria’s Greek bakeries and cafes. Specifically, I fell for the Melomakarona cookies at Artopolis, a shrine to Greek deserts nestled in the crook of Agora Plaza (a building that is so bizarrely ugly that I have come to regard it as beautiful). The Melomakarona is a dairy-free crumbly cake-like cookie that is soaked in a sweet and well-spiced honey syrup and dusted with crumbled walnuts. The first time I had one, without even knowing the cookie’s traditional history, I exclaimed that it “tasted like Christmas.”
Last Christmas Eve morning, I was at Artopolis at 8am, buying Melomakarona cookies to bring back to my family for the holiday. The woman behind the counter, who knew me well from my daily frappe addiction, offered me a piece of the homemade cake that she had brought to celebrate the holiday with co-workers and friends. As I was walking out the door she shouted after me to be careful! There might be a coin baked into my slice of cake, but that would be a good thing because it would mean good luck for the entire year. I didn’t find the coin, but I felt acutely my luck at living in a neighborhood where tradition is so seamlessly integrated into our day-to-day activities and interactions with one another. Filled with this deep, warm glow of appreciation, it felt especially fitting to be headed home.
Artopolis 2318 31st. Street, Astoria, NY (in Agora Plaza)