Smells that bring you back in time

During brunch on Sunday, the bathroom had a smell that brought me back to the bathroom in my church growing up. Strange as that might be. It reminded me of the decor, the darkness of that dank basement where we had Sunday School and other such memories. It was not an uplifting place so the memory of the bathroom did not bring me to have a smile on my face. More a reminder of memories from childhood.

It amazes me how easily a smell can bring you back to a moment in time. You can run the play-by-play of events through your thoughts, reviewing what happened when that smell is brought to your senses. I have had it when smelling a specific food, an item of clothing in my closet, linens on a bed. At times the smell brings back wonderful memories, and other times it is a reminder of a past that might better be forgotten. Sometimes a smell of certain foods is nostalgia of childhood, and then when we are able to recreate those recipes, the taste is nothing like the smell to us. We have grown up, changed, and honed our taste buds.

At times a lotion or hair product might make me think of my grandma, a type of make-up my mom, and an aftershave my dad. Even if I have not seen them for 15-25 years the smells are ingrained in my thoughts and memories and nothing can take that away. Smells trigger memories, and we are quickly jettisoned back to a moment in time as we try to recollect why the smell reminds us of something. When we do remember, it is as though we were 10 or 12 or 20 again. A smile might cross our face, or a tear fall towards the ground.

Are there smells that trigger specific memories for you?

Random recipe: Vegan Dark Chocolate Coconut Cupcakes

We tried it. Being vegan. We could not do it. While I could probably give up meat, it was impossible to give up cheese and eggs. I love both way too much, and the fake vegan version of cheese just does not compare. I am my father’s daughter. My dad was all about cheese (even if he probably at the time was not “cultured” in his cheese knowledge — no pun intended). With that all in mind, I love finding recipes, especially desserts that have the core of the ingredients inclusive of coconut milk and creme because it is so much better for you. This recipe is vegan and almost gluten-free, (if you can find a substitute for the flour). Maybe I will try to recreate into a gluten-free version. These cupcakes were good, and super moist (ugh I hate that word, but it is true). The frosting was not that sweet which is just the way I like it.

Vegan Dark Chocolate Coconut Cupcakes [Original recipe from Love & Olive Oil]

Yield: 1 dozen
Total Time: 1 hour

Cupcakes:
1 cup full-fat coconut milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup coconut oil (softened)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted (we used dark chocolate cocoa powder)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Frosting:
12 ounces coconut cream, chilled overnight*
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake pan with paper liners.
  2. Whisk together the coconut milk, sugar, and coconut oil until incorporated. It you are making it in the summer you might need to slightly warm the coconut oil (depending on where you live). Since it is warm here, no need to do so as my coconut oil is not solid right now. Stir in vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Pour the coconut milk mixture in the middle of the dry ingredients. Stir until dry ingredients are just incorporated (do not overmix).
  4. Spoon into liners, filling each with a scant 1/4 cup of batter (cups should be no more than 2/3 full). Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
  5. For whipped coconut cream, spoon solid coconut out of can, discarding any remaining liquid in the bottom (or reserve for another use). Place in a chilled mixing bowl (keeping it cold is key here!) and beat on high-speed until smooth. Add powdered sugar and mix until smooth and holds soft peaks. It won’t firm up quite like whipped cream. Return to refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes to firm up slightly.
  6. Frost cupcakes with a thin layer of coconut cream. It’s pretty lose, so it won’t hold huge swirls like buttercream. Dollop a bit of frosting on top of the cupcake, then dip top in a bowl of shredded coconut. The coconut will help hold the frosting in place.
  7. Cupcakes are best enjoyed the day they are made, but can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 1 to 2 days.

Note: We did not read early enough that the coconut cream needs to be chilled overnight. So we made the cupcakes at night and finished the frosting the next morning. Breakfast anyone?

*You can also use full fat coconut milk but will need twice as much. Refrigerate at least 24 hours until thoroughly chilled. When you open the can, spoon off the solid layer of coconut at the top; this is what you will use to make the frosting. Any liquid at the bottom of the can can be discarded or reserved for another use. Note that if you use full-fat coconut milk instead of coconut cream, you may need 2 cans to get enough cream for the frosting.

Random recipe: Chocolate Chess Pie

My mom was not always the most amazing cook or baker, but somehow I have childhood nostalgia for a few recipes we made as kids. My mom’s recipes had a bit of an early burial. After college my sister purchased a used laptop. This was back in the day when a laptop was as thick as a brick, and cell phones were used in cars for emergencies and also looked like bricks. Not long after she purchased the laptop she decided to transfer all of my mom’s recipes over to the laptop and get rid of the paper versions. Made sense at the time right? Not until the laptop died and she lost everything on the hard drive. This was before we had a zillion ways to back up a computer.

It was a sad day. Over the years I have thought about that laptop and all the recipes we lost. I still have some of my mom’s cookbooks, but the recipes on index cards, worn and used are long gone. A few of the recipes I remember and have not tried to recreate, but there was one particular recipe that I have tried countless times to recreate with no success. I have tried to remember the ingredients and put together what I think were the amounts, and I have tried to find a recipe on the Internet with similar ingredients, with no luck. I have had runny finished products, nasty tasting ones, and ones that were just boring. Chris has given up on me finding it. I am relentless. I will try until I find it.

Recently I found this version on Design Sponge. Still not my absolute favorite but it gets closer to the real deal. We were lazy and purchased a pie crust rather than making it from scratch. For the full recipe click the link below (pie crust included). We also just used ice cream rather than their whip cream. To me a good Chocolate Chess Pie should be served warm with cold ice cream to make the pie congeal. A bit like a warm brownie and ice cream. If you have your own version, let me know – I will try it!

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Chess Pie (From Design Sponge)

Pie Filling

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 1 (5-ounce) can evaporated milk

In a medium bowl, stir together both sugars, the cornmeal, nutmeg and cocoa powder, mixing until completely combined. Stir in the vanilla, butter, eggs and evaporated milk and mix until fully incorporated. When ready to bake, position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the filling into the unbaked pie shell. Place on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Remove the pie and cool for at least one hour. Serve with ice cream.

Inherited recipe card nostalgia

I am a sucker for a feel good novel. You know the kind that makes you dream about living on a farm or opening up a bakery, regardless of all the work it actually takes to pull such ventures off. Over the weekend as I was finishing up such novel, one of the very last paragraphs on the last page of the book reminded me of my mom and grandma:

“My grandmother’s handwriting filled the yellowed index cards, her letters tall and elegant, directing the creation of breads and cakes, pies and pastries, cookies, and of course, muffins. Even in the faded peacock-blue ink, her words live on.” page 341

The book? The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe by Mary Simses. A novel about a woman whose grandma had asked her to deliver a letter for her and then dies, and the journey the woman has to make to unravel a past she did not know about her grandma. A fluffy, fun book? Yes. Still, it was good. She talks about food throughout, and juxtaposes it with the woman (a Manhattan attorney) who is always careful about what she eats only to find comfort in the food she eats on her journey.

I still have a few of the index recipe cards in both my mom and grandma’s handwriting. You can tell how often a dish was made by the grease and spill marks, the worn look of the paper, and sometimes the bleed of a pen. I only have a few remnants of these recipes. At one point many years ago, when laptops became a hot item (although they still looked like bricks) my sister and I transferred the recipes we inherited to her new laptop so we could both have copies, and then not too long later the laptop died and was not able to be resurrected. In some ways it is fine as we have found, explored, and made our own favorite recipes, but there are still a few that linger out there that I have not been able to replicate.

Sometimes Chris asks me if the memory of the time, or the memory and nostalgia of that favorite recipe is strong but if I actually was able to replicate the dish would it still have the same effect on me? I love my mom’s coffee cake, and yet that was not lost (thanks to Betty Crocker). I have even changed it up and added my own twist. There are many that I probably never even know that I am missing. The one that I have tried over and over to recreate with horrible luck was her chocolate chess pie. I remember making it often as a kid and loving it, but each time I try now it is a runny mess. I think Chris has given up on it. So if any of you have a chocolate chess pie recipe that you want to share, I am all ears!

Groundedness and gratitude

I recently read a book that has made it to my top ten list for 2013. It is a memoir of food, life, and recipes. I find that I am often a magnet for good food writing. Which is funny because I cannot cook for the life of me. I am a baker, but do not expect me to whip up a dinner, unless you want to go with raw foods. So when I read “Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes” by Shauna Niequist, not only was I inspired by her outlook on life, I found pages and pages of recipes that looked easy, unpretentious, and like the yummy comfort food that makes you want to snuggle on the couch with your significant other and nibble away.

Niequist intersperses God and her faith a bit throughout the book, but not in an over the top way. She made me think, ponder, and appreciate life and food so much more. She uses the word “groundedness” in this quote and I love it. Don’t we often look for what is next? For something more? Just last weekend I was looking at a painting of mine and said to Chris I want to give that painting another life. It is time to paint over it and move on. I do not do that often, as I love most of the artwork I have done, but there has always been something about this set of paintings that I have wanted to change. I am grateful for the time it served in our home, but time for something more.

“I want to cultivate a deep sense of gratitude, of groundedness, of enough, even while I’m longing for something more. The longing and the gratitude, both. I’m practicing believing that God knows more than I know, that he sees what I can’t, that he’s weaving a future I can’t even imagine from where I sit this morning.” page 59

Does Niequist mean this about that next job we want, or that person we want in our life? Who knows. Maybe it is our next meal that we are craving because we have such an insatiable desire for food — its tastes, flavors, and our craving for it. That could be, as she talked often about her addiction to food. Whatever it means I feel she has encapsulated such a wonderful idea. To cultivate gratitude and groundedness. To know that what we have is enough, even as we stay open for something more.

We cannot be overly grateful, and yet, in order to grow and not stay complacent we need to yearn for more. Gratitude and groundedness seem like just the right balance.