Thursday, November 30, 2006

Taste Memory

In the interview I wrote about a couple days ago (with Madhur Jaffrey), the interviewer asked Mrs.Jaffrey if she thought there was such a thing as "taste memory". I was astounded at the question because I didn't realize that taste memory is a theory, I thought it was a known fact because, well - in my world, it is.

A couple weeks ago, I had been thinking a lot about my maternal grandma. She died just after my nineteenth birthday and I've been missing her terribly. As I learn more about myself, I realize I am more like her than I knew. She did things that in her day, were probably considered pretty liberal. She was a very proactive woman who was into politics and held several leadership positions. She was instrumental in the founding of one of the first drug rehab centers in her city, and most important, she was really into health, nutrition and cooking. I think if it weren't for her, I would have never started Raw Melissa.

When I was little, she always took my mom and I to a little food counter in this mom and pop health food store. The shop was tiny and dimly lit and jammed full of dried leaves and flowers and "alternative" health products. Of course, you can imagine the smell: potent yet earthy herbs, spices that opened your nose with their sharp and far-away-land scents, and fresh, healthy food smells coming from the mini kitchen in the back. We'd sit up to the counter and in my memory, we always ordered the same thing. Maybe it's because it was the only main dish they offered, but I'll never forget it- Bible Bread Sandwiches. Bible Bread is the name they gave to pitas. They filled the pitas with a mixture of sprouts, sunflower seeds, tomatoes, onions, avocados and mayo. Their secret ingredient was Spike. A very distinctive spice blend still available today in health food stores. The great thing about these sandwiches was that they didn't just put all that stuff in the pita and serve it. They chopped everything very, very finely, mixed it together with the mayo and then filled the pita with it. I remember sitting at the counter, feeling so special because my grandma and my mom had taken me out.

I also have this distinct memory of eating a certain kind of cheese with my grandma at that same lunch counter. I remember it being the color of caramel and also tasting like caramel. Many years after my grandma died, I started looking for it. I remembered her saying that it was from a goat, but all the goat cheese I ever found was white and didn't taste like caramel. After years of looking for it with no luck, I started thinking I had just made up the memory. After all, a cheese that tastes and looks like caramel? I was just a kid, of course I made it up! Well, the same week I had been thinking so much about my grandma, I happened to be shopping at this amazing store in Salt Lake City called Liberty Heights Fresh. It's a wonderful local gourmet grocery dedicated to giving its customers sensual food experiences while remaining environmentally responsible. It makes me so happy to just stand in there! They have a wall of cheeses from all over the world, and while I've been in there before, I had never thought to ask about the caramel cheese because I had given up on ever finding it. But for some reason, this day, I walked over to the cheese counter and told the chef there my story. I thought I sounded pretty foolish starting out my inquiry with, "When I was a little girl..." but to my utter dismay, when I finished my description, he smiled at me, walked over to the top shelf, grabbed a hard cube of brown cheese and placed it in my hands. I looked down and read the label:
Ekte Gjetost, Goat Cheese, Cooked until Caramelized, Norway. I looked at him with my mouth open, looked down at the cheese, and looked back up at him. "This is it!" I said. "This is it!" I looked back down at the cheese and the tears started flowing then. I couldn't help it. I tried to hold it back, but tears ran out of my eyes and down my cheeks. "I'm sorry," I said. "I can't believe I'm crying. I don't know why I'm crying. It's just that I've been looking for this for so long." He smiled and said, "It's okay, it happens more often than you think." I wiped my tears, thanked him and went to the check out counter to pay for my items: an apple, a Delicata squash, a yam, a loaf of just baked German Pumpernickel, and my block of Ekte Gjetost, Goat Cheese, Cooked until Caramelized, Norway.

Later, when I tasted the cheese for the first time, I was with my dear friend John. We stood in his tiny red brick kitchen. I opened the cheese and we tore off pieces of the brown bread. I carved off a tiny sliver, put it into my mouth - and there it was, Taste Memory. Thoughts of my grandma flooded back to me and I started crying again. I felt so silly, crying over a hunk of cheese, but then I realized, it wasn't about the caramel cheese, it was about my grandma. Maybe she was reaching out to me (through food no less!) or maybe not, maybe it was just one big coincidence. Either way, I needed that reconnection so badly just then and that day will forever remain one of the most memorable experiences of my life because it enabled that reconnection by bringing my past to my present, if only for a moment.

Do you believe in taste memory? I do.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Finally Here it is! The Recipe for Pumpkin Soup!

I finally got the recipe for Pumpkin Soup from Sarah. She and the baby are doing very well, by the way. Sarah was concerned that the recipe came from a magazine and wondered if I should be posting it on the internet, but when she started reading it to me over the phone, I realized she had changed nearly every ingredient, technique and quantity, (no wonder it's so good!) so I am making an executive decision and am officially calling it:

Sarah's Celebration Pumpkin Soup

3 T. olive oil
1 finely chopped onion

1 celery heart, finely chopped
1 red pepper seeded and finely chopped
2 tsp. salt
3 T. flour

1-2 T chili powder
1 T dried poultry seasoning
3 cans vegetable broth
1-29 oz. can pureed pumpkin (Sarah likes to use fresh cooked pumpkin from her garden)
1 can coconut milk
1 tsp. nutmeg (optional, though highly recommended)

In a pan, heat olive oil. Saute chopped veggies and salt until soft. Add flour, chili powder, and poultry seasoning. Stir for one minute. Whisk in broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat and whisk in pumpkin and coconut milk and optional nutmeg. Cook for ten minutes and then enjoy. Don't burn your tongue!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

East Indian Food at its Best

Today I was listening to NPR (national public radio). They were interviewing a woman named Madhur Jaffrey. She's a famous East Indian Cookbook writer and has just written a memoir entitled, "Climbing the Mango Trees" (which I intend to buy as soon as possible).

'Climbing the Mango Trees'Madhur Jaffreys World Vegetarian CoverMadhur Jaffrey's Quick and Easy Indian Cooking Cover

I have one of her cookbooks, Quick and Easy Indian Cooking and have absolutely loved making her Indian food recipes over the years. She also has another I'd like to get: Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian: More Than 650 Meatless Recipes from Around the Globe.

The conversation was fascinating to me. I loved listening to her recall, as a child, her joy in climbing the mango trees and while still in the tree, cutting and then dipping mangos into a mixture of salt, pepper, cumin, and red chili powder she had carried up in her hand.

You can listen to the interview here:

Try the Cauliflower recipe they've posted. It's delicious and easy! Enjoy!

Monday, November 20, 2006

New Babies and Pumpkin Soup

So, in my other life, I'm a doula. A doula is a woman who offers physical, emotional, and informational support to couples during birth. On Saturday, my best friend, Sarah (watch my cooking show in January - she's my guest) had a baby and I was there as her doula. She didn't end up needing me much because she's the most amazing woman in the world. When she was seven months pregnant she was rock climbing these rock faces that hard core grown men I know couldn't climb and the day before she had her baby, she went kayaking down a river until she got to the lake it ended in. Needless to say, she pretty much got that baby out with a smile on her face.

Sarah and I have seriously bonded through food. Everytime we get together, there's food
involved. For her birth, she made and froze pumpkin soup. Yeah, I know, not a big deal, lots of moms make stuff to freeze for eating after the baby's born. The thing is, she made the soup to feed to everyone present at her birth. You could say it was the celebration meal we sometimes hear about in other cultures. After the baby was born, I got it out of the freezer and heated it up and at 6:20 am, we all had a hot bowl of homemade pumpkin soup. Before I ate it, I wasn't too excited about pumpkin soup. I'd had versions before and I wasn't expecting much, but it was absolutely delightful. I know it sounds strange, but we were all starving (maybe from being up half the night) and it just tasted so good. I ate mine in a ceramic bowl that Sarah made herself (I told you she is amazing). It had a couple chips on the edges, but I think it made the soup taste better because I knew the bowl was well loved. After we ate our soup, I was laying next to Sarah on her bed, admiring her gorgeous baby and she turned to me and said, "Labor wasn't that bad." I wonder if the soup had anything to do with it.

Sarah said I could post the recipe but I'm giving her a bit of a break so as soon as I talk to her next, I'll post it. Trust me - this is one pumpkin soup that will change your view of pumpkins forever.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Welcome to the Raw Melissa blog!

Hello! It's so absolutely wonderful to have a new blog. It's exciting to have a chance to communicate via this medium. For my first entry, I want to give you a quote that pretty much sums up my entire philosophy about eating and food:

Nothing would be more tiresome than
eating and drinking if God had not made

them a pleasure as well as a necessity.

Also, I wanted to share this picture of some friends and I picking green peppers out of a friend's over-abundant garden this summer. They were superb!

In peace and health,