Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Salsa, Rosemary and James Bond

When I was in elementary school I spent a lot of quality time with James Bond. On many a Sunday afternoon, my father and I cocooned ourselves in the sun dappled basement TV room with Dr. No, Live and Let Die, or my personal favorite, Goldfinger. Along with Tuesday night ice cream (soft serve chocolate dipped in chocolate) to be eaten while watching the adult softball league game nearby, Sundays with James Bond was a father-daughter ritual that I loved. Each afternoon I would curl up on the couch with my Dad and drape an old crochet blanket all the way over my head. Through its woven holes I could see the TV while simultaneously felt protected by its bulk. I loved the small jolts of fear the scary scenes inspired in the back of my throat. Yet I always felt overwhelmingly safe. The soundtrack in my mind to those lazy afternoons contains a methodical crunch and the rustling of a plastic chip bag: Agent 007 was always accompanied with tortilla chips and chunky red salsa. Ever since then the smell of salsa has immediately conjured up an image of a young Sean Connery, a Roger Moore, and a happy young girl with her dad.

Today, salsa does not bring any scent oriented memories to mind. In my largely odorless world, the muted taste and more important texture is what ties me to what I eat. The soft creaminess and delicate sweetness of my mom’s freshly made fall applesauce transports me to afternoons in the kitchen of my childhood. The warm crust of bread right out of the oven sends me to the bleary eyed 5am shift at the bakery I worked in before going to college. The crunch of almond biscotti feels like an afternoon in Florence; the bitter thickness of espresso is Rome. I can bring memories to mind with texture and a bit of attention almost as strongly as I had previously taken for granted that came with smell. With concentration and an inkling of imagination, I find that I can more closely understand the complexity of flavor available to me without a full sense of smell. I chew slowly and swallow, breathing out evenly, closing my eyes. On the exhale I can ‘taste’ in the back of my throat, even through my nose. I feel a subtle increase of flavor with each long exhale. When I move slowly, taste slowly, the sensations grow. On the exhale a sugary soft crunch becomes laced with tangy citrus zest, a sip of wine moves from simply sweet to layered with fruit and vine.

Not surprisingly, however, I overwhelming miss being able to taste fully. Without smell, my palette is extremely muted. Each bite is in a quiet fog; it is difficult to tell herbs, spices, subtleties apart. Sometimes I just want to feel something in my mouth without thinking about it. I want nothing more than to have a full taste sensation. This is where salsa comes back into my life, minus its smell related memories. These days I like it hot, spicy, and on everything. I put generous shakes of Tabasco sauce into my ‘extra hot’ salsa. I layer it onto tortilla chips with a spoon. Where the hint of cinnamon in coffee is a delicate grasp of an odor, the heat of jalapeno laden salsa is an unmistakably pleasant burn in my mouth, an undeniable warmth on my tongue. It is a taste that I do not need to think about; a physical sensation rather than ghostly possibility.

Beyond my unmistakable new love of salsa doctored with Tabasco, I am making progress in other arenas as well. I am walking with both legs, balancing only a bit on a (very stylish) black cane. I have a job as an assistant baker and pastry chef waiting for me as soon as I am strong enough to professionally wrestle with a good deal of dough. And last night as I was chopping up a bunch of fresh rosemary to garnish a roast lamb and goat cheese panini, its smell fairly assaulted my senses. The woodsy, rich odor of the pungent herb lodged itself wonderfully in my nasal cavity. I immediately saw myself, strangely enough, on a horse in Colorado where my family and I had spent a vacation over a decade ago. The scent brought to mind a western ranch, a walk through the wilderness, a dark brown horse more interested in eating trailside grass than agreeing to take me out for a ride. I was so happy I wanted to shove that rosemary right up my nose. I continued to smell my hands the entire night. Its lingering scent gave me goose bumps of pleasure; it reminded me, in an odd way, of James Bond.


Anonymous said...

If rosemary can make you that happy, you are a lucky woman!

I'm a new reader, but I'm glad to hear you're better and up and going!

s'kat said...

Each day, a little more. I had to laugh, though, at the thought of you stuffing rosemary up your news!

Shauna said...

Beautiful, my dear, as always. I love how you wove all this together in your mesmerizing way. But even more, I'm thrilled to hear that you smelled the rosemary. Baby steps, eh? You're coming back.

Anonymous said...

Though difficult, I am sure your positive attidude has played an important role. The act of I want to smell vs. I can't smell. one day at a time!

Molly said...

thank you all for the comments!

rosemary does indeed make me quite happy these days, and though i haven't actually stuffed it up my nose (quite yet), i have been using it in all recipes possible (and of course spending ample time sniffing it and my rosemary-scented hands while i cook).

and jennynab (as well as anyone else who would like to get in touch with me) i've updated my profile to include an email address and would love to hear from you all.