I try to write my massive missives about restaurants to share the love that I feel as a diner — the love that emanates from those kitchens, from the people working really hard jobs to keep us fed and happy and returning, from the savory and sweet dishes themselves. If I encounter brusque and impersonal service, I don’t mind writing a food-focused review and accentuating the positive. Some restaurant staff members and owners are almost comically curt and curmudgeonly as a matter of course, but if the food is good enough, I’ll keep coming back for more. I can take it.
But I really try to shine a spotlight on the nicest, friendliest, warmest, most welcoming places and the people behind them, like Trina Gregory-Propst of Se7en Bites, Kwame Boakye of Chicken Fire, Brennan Heretick of High Tide Harry’s, George Markward of The Pastrami Project, Patrice and Terence Phillips of Something Fishy, Rafaela Cabede of Mrs. Potato, Andy and Evette Rahman of Sister Honey’s Bakery, and the famously friendly Walid Ali at Mediterranean Deli. Every time I return to these establishments, I always feel like a special, valued regular, even when I don’t make it back to them as often as I would like, to earn my regular status. But at these restaurants and a handful of others around town, the warmth and friendliness of the owner-operators and their staff make the whole experience even more special.
Another one of these is Heartsong Cookies (https://heartsongcookies.com/), a true mom-and-pop operation that sells Orlando’s absolute best cookies at farmer’s markets and cafes around the city. The mom in question is a wonderful woman who I would go so far as to call Wonder Woman: Kathy Paiva. Kathy has the kind of story I enjoy reading and sharing: a proud mother and grandmother, she has a degree in advertising (a fellow Florida Gator!) and a business background, but she got into baking because she loves it, and more importantly, because she loves to make people happy. Her husband and business partner Mike makes most of the regular cookie dough, Kathy creates the recipes and bakes the cookies, and they have a wonderful partnership going.
Since I changed careers many years ago to find my calling, then left it earlier this year to try a new challenge, I thrill to the courage of people who gravitate toward passion projects, who are truly gifted at something and share their infectious enthusiasm and enviable talents with the world. She is one of those people, and her creativity, care, and compassion come through in every perfect bite of a Heartsong cookie. Note that the cookies are $3 each, or three for $8. A regular person can easily take a couple down by him- or herself, but I always recommend buying a variety and cutting them into halves or quarters to share, so you get to try an assortment of fun flavors.
Here are some of her classics: the traditional chocolate chip, dulce de leche sea salt, M&M chocolate chip, coconut caramel chocolate chip, cookies & cream, and chocolate lava crunch, made with Nestle Toll House chocolate lava cake-flavored baking truffles. All of her cookies are moist and pillowy-soft, but not so soft that they feel under-baked or raw in the middle. The texture is the ideal cookie texture, as far as I’m concerned, but I’d rather eat raw cookie dough than dry cookies that shatter into a cloud of crumbs when you take your first of several disappointing bites. Heartsong Cookies are that masterful midpoint between the two extremes, elevating cookies to a rare and glorious pinnacle. Baked to perfection? You bet they are.
I’m not big on nuts in my baked goods, but that toasted walnut fig cookie is really something special, let me tell you. It helps that I love figs, and she uses chewy dried figs for a really interesting combination of textures in that one.
Come on! Caramel apple pecan? White chocolate cranberry pistachio? Who else would come up with flavor combinations like these?
I’m always a little saddened when people denigrate the humble oatmeal raisin cookie. It isn’t human, but it needs to be loved, just like anybody else does. But if you’ve dismissed oatmeal raisin cookies before as a “consolation prize” or a marauding trickster when you’re hoping for a mouthful of chocolate chip, I implore you to give Heartsong’s version a chance.
She always has at least two gluten free vegan flavors available, and trust me, even if you don’t eat gluten free or vegan (I surely don’t), the texture and flavor is just as good as all her other cookies. In fact, since I love lemony desserts, her gluten free vegan lemon blueberry cookie (with chewy dried blueberries) is one of my favorites of all her creations.
This photo is from a previous visit from April, when I ran slightly amok. Clockwise from top, I brought home an M&M chocolate chip, a strawberry hazelnut chocolate chip with dried strawberries, an orange Creamsicle cookie with dried orange bits and white chocolate chips (one of my favorites), a coconut cream pie cookie (we both loved this one), an oatmeal raisin (like I said, forget every preconceived notion you’ve ever had about oatmeal raisin cookies), one of those gluten free vegan lemon blueberry cookies (if you’re skeptical, I assure you it was amazing), and in the center, a brown sugar sprinkles cookie.
Earlier this week, I contacted Kathy over Facebook Messenger and asked if she took requests for special orders, specifically sugar cookies. She delivered in a major way at the Maitland Farmer’s Market earlier today, with a beautiful selection of both “drop”-style sugar cookies sprinkled with red sugar crystals and lovely glazed cut-out sugar cookies shaped like trees and leaves to symbolize fall (even though it sure still feels a lot like summer). In the top left, you should also see an “ultimate snickerdoodle,” her classic cinnamon sugar cookie made with Nestle Toll House frosted cinnamon roll baking truffles inside. That’s going to be a life-changing cookie, I just know it.
Here are some more I brought home today. Some will be for us, but I’m bringing a bunch of them to work to share with my stressed-out co-workers: a caramel apple pecan cookie made with chewy dried apples, a festive funfetti cookie, a cookies & cream cookie (very meta, but I do love Oreos and cookies and cream anything), a gluten free vegan dark chocolate espresso cookie (my wife already called dibs on that one), a gluten free vegan pumpkin spice latte cookie (reserved for a pumpkin-loving co-worker who tries to eat vegan), and a coconut caramel chocolate chip cookie.
How can you go wrong with any of these? You can’t. I am looking forward to sharing the wonders of Heartsong Cookies and Kathy’s generosity, love, and artistry with the good folks at work. These people could all use a hug, but since I wouldn’t dare make it weird, Kathy’s cookies are like hugs you can eat, and that’s much more workplace-appropriate.
She even put together a beautiful Happy Birthday bag for some of the cookies for someone I work with! This is what she does — makes people happy. You can tell she takes that seriously. That’s an honorable calling and one to be proud of, now more than ever.
Kathy and Mike often set up at the Winter Park Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and the Maitland Farmer’s Market on Sunday mornings, which is where I usually catch her. I try to visit her table early before she starts selling out of everything. (Trust me, these cookies will go fast!) Follow Heartsong Cookies on Facebook for their whereabouts on any given weekend, and what flavors Kathy will have available at any time and place. Anywhere she pops up next, rest assured she will be ready to share the most delicious cookies, hugs, and some much-needed joy wherever she is.