Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An Ode to Cinnamon

There are certain smells that simply make you happy: the smell of fresh earth after a rainstorm, roses, bread baking in the oven.  These aromas just make you feel better.  They might awaken some long lost childhood memory, or make you think of a lover.  They may refresh your sense of awe, or merely put a smile on your face. 

Sight and sound are hard, almost scientifically clinical senses.  They are passive, unintended, and automatic.  But your sense of smell (and therefore taste) demands your full participation.  A smell will smack you square in the face and insist you pay attention.  

For those who believe in the theory of evolution (myself included, but not passing judgment on other belief systems) this makes absolute sense!  In terms of sensory evolution, smell and taste were there first.  These represent the most basic and primal of our senses.  Why do you think babies are instinctively compelled to put things in their mouths?

For me, cinnamon is one of the most alluring of all common kitchen spices.  It can so hot that all you want to do is gag.  Or it can provide just the right amount of balance to a sweet dessert.  Some people put it in their chili recipes.  Others simply prefer it on their ice cream.  And then are those strange thrill seekers who put it in their mouths by the spoonful and then try to swallow (I know because my younger brother in the U.S. Coast Guard is one!). 

Being an avid collector of recipes and cookbooks, I’ve come across scads of recipes that feature cinnamon as the main event.  Snickerdoodles…Sweet potatoes… Even ice cream!  But one of my favorites is candied pecans. 

Last week I was asked to make a batch of these little gems for some family friends so they would have something to “munch on” as my mother put it, while they drive across several states.  I agreed, though turning on the oven in the afternoon after work takes serious effort some days. 

Now for those who haven’t experienced the joy and pleasure of an Alabama Summer, imagine the hottest level of Hell then increase the humidity to about 99.99%.  VOILA!  Instant Alabama Summer!

Nothing could be further from the mental images of Christmas and Thanksgiving.  But for a few short hours last week, the smell of roasting pecans covered in sugar and cinnamon was enough to shatter the brutal hold of a summer on steroids.  And any aroma that is evocative enough to challenge an Alabama Summer is OK in my book.

So “Thank You” cinnamon!  You will always hold a special place on my palate and in my culinary heart!

Eat good food.  Drink good beer.  And above all, stay classy.

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