Memorable meals

Can you remember the best meal you have ever eaten? If you were given the opportunity to plan the “perfect” meal, what would you select for the menu? Recently I was listening to a science podcast from the United Kingdom and one of the persons being interviewed was speaking about how much of what we describe as taste is really smell. Our tastebuds can detect bitter, salty, sweet, sour, and umami (savory). Our noses, however, have the capacity for a much larger universe: colognes, roses, other flowers, perfumes, woody, resinous, fruity, citrus, chemical, pungent, minty, sweet, sickening, lemon and a whole host of other odors.

Be honest, is the flavor of popcorn a particular taste, or is our attraction to popcorn based completely on how it smells? It is true that much of our perception of taste comes from the odors we smell.

That simple conversation got me to thinking about the emotional qualities that surround a good meal. When I think back over a lifetime of really good eating, what I remember most about my favorite meals are things other than the menu. I remember the setting, the people I was with and the occasion far more readily than I do the actual food.

I remember that I absolutely loved to eat at my grandparents home when I was a kid. Sometimes, my dad and I would get up early in the morning and fly the fire patrol over Yellowstone National Park and then land at Red Lodge and walk down the hill from the airport to his parents’ house for breakfast. I loved doing that.

But I also remember that my grandmother would ask us each how we liked our eggs cooked. We’d all place our orders: “over easy,” “over hard,” “sunny side up,” etc. Then she would fry the eggs and serve them. Every egg on the platter was cooked exactly the same way: basted medium. She wasn’t one for fancy recipes. She cooked good basic meals: meats and vegetables and desserts. She served potatoes with nearly every meal. Desserts were basic: cookies and cakes.

I loved eating at my grandparent’s home because of the people and the adventure with my father far more than loving it because of the food itself.

If I ate the way my grandmother cooked everyday, my cholesterol would be totally out of control and my blood sugars would probably be out of whack, too. I much prefer the menus in the home where I live. But I have great memories of eating at my grandparents’ home.

One time when I was working at the Radio Station, our station had traded advertising for credit at a ski resort. The resort was quite a ways from our town and none of the other employees of the radio station had been able to use any of the credit. The station manager encouraged us not only to have a few days of skiing, but also to order “anything you want” in the restaurant in order to use up some of the credit. I am not used to going into a restaurant with the ability to order anything without paying attention to price. We planned in advance to have a special dinner while we were there.

I can’t remember what I ordered. Perhaps it was a steak. Maybe I ordered Salmon. I just don’t remember. I do remember that our son, who was a baby at the time, enjoyed sucking on the lemons and I got several wedges from the salad bar to give to him. I remember enjoying the meal. I remember that the skiing was great. I don’t remember the menu.

For me a great meal is mostly about the people with whom I am sharing the meal, the setting and the occasion. Give me the right setting and you could probably pass off cheap wine and I’d think it was the best vintage ever. The food might be overcooked and I’d still say I enjoyed it.

That may be one of the reasons that you don’t turn to my blog for restaurant reviews.

My favorite place for a good cup of coffee is my own home. Actually I make pretty good coffee. You should come over some time. I’ll make you some.

We had a brief conversation yesterday about the menu for our Christmas dinner. We aren’t having guests for Christmas this year. We’ve found that we enjoy just being home, visiting with our children over Skype, and spending time with each other. It turns out that the menu isn’t the biggest thing for us. We’ll have a nice dinner, probably for our evening meal as we have 2 services on Christmas Eve and another on Christmas morning. We’ll likely be tired after the service. We’ll have some traditional foods. We both love sweet potatoes and we’ll make a nice salad. We might have salmon and save the turkey for a day when we have a bit more time. We haven’t made up our minds yet.

For his last Supper, Jesus shared a traditional Seder meal with his disciples. We don’t serve the lamb or biter herbs, but rather only the unleavened bread and wind in our remembrances.

My father in law died unexpectedly. We knew that his health was failing, but had no way of knowing exactly when he would die. As it turned out, he died on Ash Wednesday in the morning. We had been with him at dinner time the night before, which would have been Shrove Tuesday. Traditionally, Shrove Tuesday is a day of pancakes and rich foods. The tradition is to consume all of the remaining fat in the house in preparation for the fasting of Lent. Anyway, he wasn’t very hungry at dinner time. What seemed to be good to him was the small dish of chocolate ice cream that was served for dessert.

I remember the menu of what turned out to be his last supper: chocolate ice cream. In retrospect, it turns out that it was a pretty good choice. I hope I can do as well when my time comes.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!