Therapy

Have you ever noticed a scent coming back to you hours or days after you inhaled it, as fresh and as potent as it was? And have you noticed that memories associated with that scent come rushing back as well? And that the same thing happens with objects you may see? Or sounds you may hear? A train whistle fading as it passes, a siren rushing to an emergency? Wind chimes warning of an approaching storm?

My head has been swarming with thoughts and memories, dredged up by sensory overload. I could drown out the noise by focusing on yet another volume of fictional angst and fury that dwarfs my own, as I have been doing the past month, but today I yearn only to bake bread.

There’s something wholly satisfying about proofing yeast, the stringent, heady vapors it produces, blending ingredients, small batches at a time until they form a dough that can be twisted, pounded, and kneaded into a satiny mass, rolled into a greased bowl and left to rise, only to be worked again. And when the dough is ready to bake—having been dressed with beaten egg or butter, its aroma rises from the oven, saturating the air, replacing all the other offending scents and sights and sounds with the knowledge that nourishment and pleasure are in the future, along with the joy of that first warm bite, slathered with honey or butter or nothing.

How sweet to look at that glistening, golden braid, or round, or loaf, and say, I made that. How thoroughly soothing; how incomparably delicious.

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Along the Way

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I tried a bit of ice cream the other day, a popular brand, and didn’t like it. The taste of sugar was so overpowering, it was impossible for me to taste anything else.

When I bake, I under-sweeten. I want to taste nuts and fruit and chocolate, experience how they complement each other. Sugar should tone down acidity or bitterness, or simply enhance flavors, not dominate them.

Domination is too prevalent these days, too accepted. Maybe that’s why sugar came to mind.

When foods are cooked properly their natural sugars will develop. I often glaze pecans with a light blend of organic maple syrup and sea salt. Our family and guests love them. But yesterday I was lazy and toasted them without the glaze. They emerged sweet and dangerously addictive from the oven, and we gobbled them up. No one asked about the missing glaze. No one cared.

***

When I was seven my parents sent me to summer camp, far away from where we lived. It was my first time on an airplane. It was the first time I would be away from them for months.

I hated it.

But, strangely, what I remember most about that camp were the raspberries.

They grew wild and in abundance along the mountain path which led to a nearby lake, and our swimming lessons.

We didn’t pick any on the way up. Everyone’s parents had issued warnings about not swimming on a full stomach. Indeed, the trek to our lessons always occurred at least an hour after lunch. But on the way back to our cabins, we picked as many as we could stuff into our pockets and eat along the way, ignoring our counselors’ advice to leave them there.

You’ll get worms, you’ll get sick.

We heard it every day. But we never did.

And I’ve never tasted such large and perfectly ripe berries since, berries that squirted sweetness with every bite, and no trace of acidity.

I used to buy berries for salads and desserts, picking, as I do with all produce I purchase, the ones that look ripest, ready for consumption.

But they are always too tart for me, begging for the sugar they have not been allowed to make on their own.

So I don’t buy them anymore.

***

I learned to swim that summer. It’s the other memory that stands out, because I discovered, once I realized I wasn’t going to drown, I was good at it.

But sometimes I long for those raspberries—the anticipation of putting them in my mouth, delighting in their exquisitely balanced flavors…

…and the incomparable pleasure of finding something good, unspoiled, of knowing it was there.

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