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Comfort Food, #1 – The Scones at Alice’s Tea Cup

As someone constantly working to repair her relationship with food—a relationship which, other than supporting our survival, is a manifestation of that lofty business we call self-love and care—I thought it would be nice, helpful even, to explore the stories behind some of my favorite foods. The hope is that other people will have stories to share down the line too. (*Note: Initials changed because not everyone wants to be talked about, even if in kindness, on the Internet!)

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The Scones at Alice’s Tea Cup

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One middle school weekend, my friend K* invited me to stay with her while she visited her father on the Upper West Side of New York City. The prospect thrilled me for two reasons. First, I was always drawn to New York City, where I was born and raised until age eight—returning, in any context, felt a bit like coming home. Everything about it seemed better suited to me than the whitewashed suburb I was now submerged in, and I was sure that I, myself, looked better when wandering amongst the city sidewalks. This meant a lot to me, really—I was twelve or thirteen and ferociously insecure.

Second, K is the kind of friend whose life always seems one thousand percent better than yours—a life that unfolds only in sepia tones, buffered by a soundtrack streaming songs that always comfort you despite never knowing their names. We are still close, and I’m still endlessly convinced that her life is ideal. I am also well aware that this is not really true, that she has her own very specific bullshit to carry around and deal with like the rest of us. But logic, as we all should know, is weak. Anyway, I had hoped back then, I’m sure, that by going with her this life magic she seemed privy to would sprinkle down on me a bit—that I, too, would suddenly appear to be living cloud-free.

So I went, with all the energy of someone about to endure major transformation, and though that didn’t quite happen, it was a weekend that left a mark—one rumpled card from the deck of my tiny history that, whenever revisited, never failed to lend me a little warmth.

I believe it was fall, and while I could be wrong, my memories are of the fall and that’s what matters. The potential for starting over seemed to shroud everything in a glorious, can’t-look-away light. Simply being in the city, it’s large crowds teeming with people going to so many different somewheres, lifted the dead weight of suburbia off my shoulders. We ate deliciously, visited funky flea markets where we purchased smelly vintage items and contemplated stealing rings, and went to a strange independent film entirely in Chinese. To me this was wild, unfamiliar territory that also felt immediately like the norm I’d been craving. It was placidly exotic, giving just enough shock to the system.

When K took me to Alice’s Tea Cup, though, a tiny tea parlor named after the Alice of Wonderland, which caters to the youthful set, it felt like some tiny life climax I’d want to hold onto well into the future. It was a place steeped in fantasy, transporting me back (not far, really) to my days of whimsical storytelling and imaginary games. While at thirteen you spend much of your time trying to rush into your teenage years, I felt that in this space I could take a break—indulge the little girl tendencies still within me. It was a literal tea party, with sweet, herby concoctions I knew nothing about, and chunky scones the size of my open palm. These sweet biscuits were perpetually toasty, no matter how slow you nibbled, their soft bits sticking to the walls of your mouth in the way that any good scone should. Biting into them felt like heaven in the brief—a glimpse, for sure, of the afterlife.

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Growing up depleted not just my penchant for magical worlds crafted entirely in my head, but the ease with which I indulged in food. College struck me with a few extra pounds (a phenomenon that had not yet been experienced in my blissfully body positive life up until that point) and introduced me to a form of self-hatred sharp enough to render carbohydrates the enemy. But Alice’s still managed to pull its weight whenever I’d stroll by, often—ironically—between my eating disorder treatment sessions. It was one of the few safe spaces, as if their specific creations were akin to air—leaving me unaffected in all the ways I feared, while turning my near-decorative despondence down a notch. Alice’s still stands as one of the few places capable of eclipsing my bakery-induced dread, their mysterious combinations of shortening and cream allowing me to step out of the present and slip into a time when treat was not a dirty word.

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