Tasteful Memories

Have you ever thought about the powerful connection between smell and memory? One whiff of a food or perfume and, boom, you can be instantly transported back to a specific point in your life. Maybe childhood, maybe a person you knew, maybe a trip abroad, maybe the college dorms.

Well, it’s not just smell that can flood your brain with memories. Taste can do this as well. I realized just how true this is a few days ago when I was at an old-fashioned diner serving a full, honest-to-goodness country breakfast.

As the waitress brought out the plates, piled high with freshly baked biscuits, pancakes, fried eggs, and fried potatoes, I breathed in deeply, and when I dug into the food in front of me, I was transported back to breakfast at my grandmother’s.

As my regular readers know, both of my parents are from West Virginia, and we’d spend summers there – with both sets of grandparents. My mother’s mother, Grandma Jimmie would make a full country breakfast with everything made from scratch: biscuits, bacon, eggs, fried potatoes, beyond amazing gravy.

As I sat there, in this country diner, I felt a wave of nostalgia so intense, and I swear I could see that old kitchen, the coal stove, and envision myself sitting there at their table with my grandfather and the rest of the family waiting impatiently for breakfast to hit the table. And when it finally did? Oh boy, pure heaven!

That breakfast – not just any breakfast, mind you, but my grandmother’s breakfast, is a comfort food from my childhood that stands above all the rest. My own mother’s gravy and biscuits (not to mention her fried potatoes – to die for, yum!) summons up the same memories, and well, it’s more than just food, really. Although, it’s some damn fine food, I must say!  It thrills me to no end when I walk in my mother’s door to those delightful smells, knowing what I’ll be sitting down to when it’s time to eat.

It’s not just fresh-baked biscuits or the smell of bacon that reminds me of West Virginia, though. (And while I say these things remind of West Virginia, and I guess they do, it’s just a place – what they really remind me of are childhood, of growing up, and family. When I say West Virginia, to me, it encompasses so much more than just a place.) The taste of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries remind me of West Virginia too. Raspberry and blackberry bushes grew on the side of the mountain at my mother’s old stomping grounds. Blueberries flourished in the pastures where my father grew up. I had the best of both worlds and believe me, I tried my best to eat myself sick at each place.

Sadly, this is a memory that I’m hard pressed to duplicate these days – store bought berries are just not the same, they lack flavor and what flavor there is, is just…different. But luckily, I’m in a rural area and have options, so sometimes when I see them at local farmers’ markets, I’ll stock up on homegrown grown fruit, and all is right with the world again.

Speaking of fruit, I have yet to find a peach that will rival the fruit from my mother’s peach tree from our own backyard, but I try…oh trust me, I try. But for just an instant, with that initial bite of each one I try, year in and year out, it throws me back to a carefree time when that tree still stood. Why is it we don’t appreciate these things more when we actually have them?

Comfort foods are a wonderful thing. The warmth from the nostalgia and emotions they inspire runs deep and a world of hidden memories is just waiting to be unlocked with a smell or taste.

Just Desserts

Today I want to talk about something near and dear to my heart. Food. Not just any food. Dessert.  Sweet snacks. Sugary goodness. My absolute favorite part of the meal. Sometimes I eat dessert first. Sometimes I eat only dessert. I will actually go out just to get dessert or a sweet snack. It depends on if I have found the ideal restaurant that has what I consider a decent dessert. I have yet to find a place with the perfect dessert menu or a pastry chef with extraordinary talents. So for now, I settle for decent or satisfactory. And that is good enough. In case you didn’t know, I take my desserts seriously.

The Dutch gave us a Stroopwafel which is literally a syrup waffle. I know, right!? Yum! The French gave the world a Tarte Tatin, an amazing apple tart. With only four ingredients, it’s a hell of a lot easier to make than apple pie and is much yummier in my opinion. Ireland came up with Irish Whiskey Cake – I mean, really, how can you go wrong there? Do you know what they have in Sweden? Waffle day! Yes, it’s on the 25th of March, which is known as Våffeldagen. I bet if Leslie Knope ever had to live somewhere other than Pawnee, she’d move to Sweden. I certainly wouldn’t mind living in Sweden just to experience Waffle Day. But I digress. The Swedes came up with a snack called a Semla Bun which is a bun made out of wheat that’s flavored with cardamom and stuffed full of whipped cream (the real deal, none of that fake out of a plastic tub stuff) and almond paste. Don’t even get me started on Belgium. Their myriad of chocolates alone is amazing.  Italy created Marzipan, an absolutely decadent confection consisting primarily of sugar or honey and almond meal which can be sculpted into pretty much anything, although it’s often seen as fruit – and tastes delicious by the way. It doubles as cake decorations, so it’s not just lovely, it’s the hard-working multi-tasker of the dessert kingdom.

And what do we have in America as our claim to fame for sweets? Carnival food. Deep fried Oreos and Cheesecake on a stick. Crispy Crème hamburgers. I saw one of those travel shows with a guy who visits diners and restaurants across the country and in one place they were battering and deep-frying Cadbury Creme Eggs. As if the world needs that. Did you know that there actually exists in this country as a snack deep-fried butter? Now I ask you –  is such a thing really necessary? No, don’t answer that. I’m afraid to hear your answer.

I love sweets with the best of them, couldn’t give up my beloved confections on a bet nor would I want to. But I just can’t seem to work up an appetite for some of the choices I’m all too often being offered. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a dessert snob, I’m truly not. But come on people, we can do better!

Now, I’m not going to debate the obesity issues we have here in the States but what I will argue is the sheer lack of creativity in all of this sugary mess. I went to a Friendly’s Restaurant many weeks ago with my daughter, and for those of you who may not be familiar, these restaurants are known for their family friendly atmosphere as well as their ice cream. Upon entry, we immediately ran into a sign (well, not literally mind you, we weren’t hurt or anything, it was just there so you couldn’t miss it) that advertised their special desserts for the summer. And one of the specials was Pop Tart ice cream sandwiches. It was a special dessert. Special. Dessert.

Now we’re not talking a fancy-shmancy restaurant here, I get it, I do, but still.  Are we that out of ideas for desserts and sweet snacks that we have to not only recycle the idea of ice cream sandwiches but also the idea behind Pop Tarts??  I see a similar phenomenon occurring in other, more upscale places as well. There’s simply no creativity anymore. Everything is deep-fried or else it’s Crème Brule.

Does no one take dessert seriously anymore? Or once they graduate culinary school, do the talented pastry chefs quickly skedaddle off to Europe where they might find themselves whipping up something more interesting than Cheesecake on a stick? If so, I wouldn’t blame them in the least.

Or perhaps…maybe…just maybe…is it possible these masters of pastries and sugary goodies are hiding out there somewhere and I just haven’t found them yet? And if so, can someone please, please tell me where, and slip me the password so I can get in?

 

Pop Tarts pass as a dessert special apparently

Pop Tarts pass as a dessert special apparently

 

stroopwafel_dutch_foods

Stroopwafel literally means syrup waffle – yes, please!

 

tarte tatin

Tarte Tatin – a beautiful presentation AND yummy!

 

irish whiskey cake

Irish whiskey and cake — how can you go wrong?

 

Semla Bun

a Semla Bun looks absolutely delish!

 

marzipan

lovely Marzipan, wish I had even half the talent it takes to create these

Kitchen Mishaps

I blame my mother. I’ve written before about this truly amazing yet probably possibly deceptive chef I have for a mother. Trying desperately to duplicate her mouth-watering recipes is what surely brought the demon spawn down (or is that up?) into my humble abode. I haven’t yet caught Mom out in her kitchen-y lies. But I will. Oh, you can be sure, I will. Eventually.

 

summoning a demon

A Little Help, Please?

I love scones. What’s not to love? They’re delicious. When done right, that is. According to Grocery Budget 101, “Scones are a simple, forgiving treat that even an inexperienced baker can throw together easily.” Well. That should make things easy. Any one of you should be able to toddle on over and just whip me up a batch or two or three of these to die for looking scones I found a recipe for the other day (Pumpkin Raisin Scones!) without a problem in the world.  Don’t look at me like that. I know my limitations and I simply don’t have enough Baileys to pull this recipe off.   But, I’ll leave the light on…AND preheat the oven!

Hey, the article even says, these delightful pastries are: “are perfect for those back to school mornings on the go.” (emphasis is mine)

I’m looking at you here M-O-T-H-E-R…your granddaughter needs sustenance. Of course don’t let the fact that her picky eating habits would never ever allow anything even slightly resembling a raisin much less something called a scone (gasp!) pass her lips even bother you for a moment. They are a back to school necessity, I tell you!

Oh!  And I bet they would go really well with that Irish potato soup recipe I emailed you last week. What? Do you think I just send you these things for no reason?? That’s what happens when you cook so well. Guess you should’ve thought of that all those years ago when you started spoiling everyone and we all got so used to it. Bet you wish you had burned more dinners now, don’t you?

And as for anyone else who wants to try their hand…I’m more than happy to be a guinea pig. Just send those scones on over to me!  I’ll get the Devonshire Cream!

 

CLICK FOR RECIPE!

CLICK FOR RECIPE!

God of Cookery

Recent meme I saw on Facebook: “I tried cooking something from scratch and ended up summoning a demon.” God, I wish I had thought up that statement because I swear that exact thought has crossed my mind on more than one occasion in recent years. I’ve come to find that cooking is not like riding a bike. You can definitely forget.

I used to be good. I have memories of when the things I pulled out of the oven were met with mmmmms instead of uggggggghs. This was another lifetime ago, though. A time before I had a family who wasn’t willing to try something new or eat something different. If it’s not a slab of beef, hot dogs, or chicken nuggets, they’re not having it. Any of it. And it has seriously destroyed my cooking game.

I used to come up with crazy concoctions on my own or take notes from gourmet cooking shows (to be put to good use at a later date). There I’d be in the kitchen, like a culinary wizard mixing up some great elixir. I’d toss in dashes of paprika, sprinkle in finely minced basil leaves, and have all the burners blasting under bubbling cauldrons or sizzling pans. Now, after years of inactivity in the creative department of the kitchen, I’ve lost the touch. I’ve tried dusting off the cooking bike and have fallen flat on my face numerous times. No matter how much care I put into it, everything I try (and I stress the word try) to make comes out mushy and burnt when it’s supposed to be firm and, well, not burnt. The spice levels are always out of whack. The consistency wavers. You name it and it’s off.

Thankfully no demons from hell have actually popped out due to one of the abominations I’ve created, although that’s probably not far off unless I get my chef chops back. Until then I’ll simply have to deal with the demons I already have in my house who are currently pounding the table for Kraft Mac n’ Cheese.

 

cooking from scratch pic