Here's where I let my thoughts go this way and that on food-related topics.

Peeps: A Love Story

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I have always loved Peeps. Peeps are - this is for the benefit of the uninitiated out there - soft, sugar-coated marshmallow chicks which come in cellophane wrapped boxes to where they snuggle together, five to a row. Peeps do not really look like chicks so much as suggest them. If they didn't have those two dots for eyes they would look like plump little abstract forms. Beautiful and artful forms I might add; their voluptuous simplicity suggests the Venus of Vilendorf or a  Brancusi sculpture.

Peeps appear amid the other Easter confections in the candy aisles of supermarkets and drugstores across the nation around this time every year. To me, Peeps are joyous heralds of spring just as much as flowering cherry trees, fresh asparagus, and that moment when you realize it's not dark by six o' clock in the evening anymore. I love the surprise of spotting the first crop of Peeps in the candy aisle at the end of February. In my excitement I want to share the good news with my fellow shoppers. I can barely suppress the impulse to shout, "They're here! They're here! The Peeps have arrived!"

Peeps season is brief- less than two months. It ends with uncompromising finality on Easter day. The day after Easter you cannot find a single Peep to save your life. (I know, I've tried.) In the space in the candy aisle they occupied just yesterday, you will only find a few Easter stragglers: damaged chocolate bunnies and nougat eggs accompanied by a 50% off sign. (My advice to budding Peepsters: Shop early and often!) The brevity of the season makes it all the more piquant. As Peep season draws to a close I love the impassioned urgency I feel, knowing that I have just a few short days to revel in Peeps until Easter arrives and Peeps depart.

I wish I had a Love at First Peep story. But I can't remember exactly when during my childhood Peeps first entered my life. I do know that I've eaten more than my share of them every year since then. In truth, Peeps are almost tasteless. What they do have is a piercing, single-pointed sweetness, so intense that the roof of my mouth itches and tingles when I eat my first Peep of the season. What they lack in taste they make up for in texture. The counterpoint of the gritty sugar to the squishy marshmallow is exquisite.

Over the years I have become a Peeps connoisseur. As sure as an oenophile can designate the vintage of a zinfandel blindfolded, I can ascertain the vintage of Peep by lightly pressing my knowing fingertips on the plastic packaging, feeling the resistance factor of the Peep within. I have gained a finely-tuned knowledge of the hierarchy of the Peeps kingdom. Yellow Peeps are the finest; their color shows they were descended from the first Peeps which were yellow. Next comes Pink Peeps, minor nobility, if you will. I hesitate to even mention White Peeps and Lavender Peeps. They are to Yellow Peeps what the Monkees are to the Beatles: inferior, graceless copies. I will only buy this last category of Peeps if the selection is bereft of Pink and Yellow ones. You could argue the objective validity of what I'm about to say, but I swear they taste worse.

I used to think I was unique in my love of Peeps. None of my friends liked them. When they said, "How can you stand those things?" I secretly felt their disdain only confirmed the special exclusivity of my eccentric obsession. Sadly, my perfect little construct came crashing down last year when a friend happened to say, "You should check out all the Peep sites on the Web. There are a ton of them." What??? I thought I was the only one! And now she was telling me there had been Others all along!  The awful truth was confirmed when I went on the Web and saw the evidence for myself: 71 Peep-related sites. What I thought was my intimate little love nest was shared by thousands. (The Unofficial Peeps Site claims 42,736 visitors in the past two years!)

Although I was crushed, I got over it soon enough. (We are, after all, talking about marshmallow chickens.) Peeps will always be a fact, albeit an minor one, of my life. Peeps and me go so far back that they are no longer just a fun food, they're a personal tradition. I am thrilled that my daughter is also developing a love of Peeps. It warms my heart when we fight over the last Peep in the box. Peeps will become a family legacy.