In uncertain times, it can be comforting to honor the rituals that have nourished and grounded us over the years. And with so many people cooking at home these days, we thought we’d ask some of the writers in our communities to share favorite recipes and the stories behind them. We hope these recipes provide you with some inspiration, comfort, and company in your own home kitchen. If you’re a writer who cooks and would like to be featured in our series, please reach out to [email protected].

Today’s recipe comes from Alex Espinoza, author of Still Water Saints, The Five Acts of Diego León, and Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime.

Finished chewy chocolate chunk cookies

Photo by Alex Espinoza

I developed a fixation with disaster films at an early age. I recall vividly one afternoon, splayed on my stomach in front of the television, watching the movie Earthquake, starring Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner. Being raised in California, we lived with the ever-present threat of a real tremor of epic proportions—one that would level buildings, destroy cities, and alter our geography in profound ways. I started keeping a pair of shoes under my bed and tried convincing my mother to store cans of refried beans, tuna, and saltine crackers in a box. I read about the essential items every first aid kit should have: bandages, iodine, antibiotic ointment. When I did decide to gather things in preparation for the “Big One” we were assured would strike Los Angeles, though, I panicked, setting aside things that made no logical sense in an emergency—conditioner, several sticks of peppermint gum, prepackaged frosted donuts.

I recalled this when COVID-19 first started making the rounds and we heard about shortages of toilet paper and water, about social distancing and self-isolation. I rushed to the grocery store, panicked, my heart thumping and thoughts racing, as I grabbed anything off the shelves without logic, without plan: canned sardines, cheese puffs, an oversized bottle of Fabuloso floor cleaner. The baking aisle was strangely overlooked and hadn’t been picked over by the throngs of worried shoppers, who seemed far more methodical and exact in their choices than me.

So I got a bag of flour, a few premium chocolate bars, vanilla, and brown sugar. If a disaster’s coming, I told myself, I’m going to sweeten it up just a little bit.

Ooey Gooey Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Shaped dough balls of chewy chocolate chunk cookies

Photo by Alex Espinoza

1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted (be sure to melt the butter!)
1 egg (room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 oz milk or semi-sweet chocolate bar
4 oz dark chocolate bar, or your preference (but honestly, dark chocolate is best)

Note: I was a chip champion. Until this recipe. Chunks are WAY better.

1. Take a large bowl and mix together the sugars, salt, and melted butter (again: MELT the butter) one by one, slowly until completely blended.
2. Slowly incorporate the egg and vanilla into the mixture.
3. Sift in the flour and baking soda, then fold the mixture with a spatula.
4. Break up the chocolate bars into chunks, however large or small you’d like.
5. Chill the dough overnight.
6. When you are ready to bake, remove the dough and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
7. Use a scooper to form round dough balls onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, leaving at least 4 inches of space between cookies and 2 inches of space from the edges of the pan, so that the cookies can spread evenly.
8. Bake for 12–15 minutes, or until the edges start to brown slightly.
9. Cool completely before eating.

Alex Espinoza is the author of Still Water Saints, The Five Acts of Diego León, and Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime. He’s written for the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times Magazine, the Virginia Quarterly Review, LitHub, Alta, and NPR’s “All Things Considered.” The recipient of fellowships from the NEA and MacDowell as well as an American Book Award, he lives in Los Angeles and is the Tomás Rivera Endowed Chair of Creative Writing at UC-Riverside.

Alex will join Alta Asks Live and host Heather Scott Partington on Wednesday, July 8 at 12:30pm PT to discuss the connections and inspiration found at a 50-year-old California writers community, his historical look at the radical pastime of cruising, and so much more. REGISTER HERE.