Friday, October 7, 2011

A Great Smell is a Thing of Beauty

There are few moments I love more than walking into a house that smells like something good is cooking. For that brief moment, nasty weather and a bad day at work and a long commute disappear under delicious aromas, and I feel instantly soothed, like I am going to walk into the kitchen and my grandma will be there with cookies and milk, a hug, and a blanket fresh out of the dryer.

Smell is just as important to eating as taste; when foods smell good, it makes them even more appetizing. Sometimes our wires are crossed and we love the smell of something but not the taste -- I think the classic example is coffee -- or vice versa. To me, the smell of cooking and baking has a monumentally pleasurable attribute: anticipation. When I catch a whiff of something aromatic in a kitchen, I feel a bit like I am counting down the minutes to Christmas.

Everyone has their favorite cooking smells, the ones that trigger memories or make us instantly ravenous. If I had to construct a list of my top five, it would be a close race, but here is how I would rank:

5. Bacon. The perfume of frying bacon, sizzling away on a griddle, is full of guilt and satisfaction. I can envision it with thick slices of tomato, next to scrambled eggs, or all by itself, each greasy bite savored while the scent still hangs heavy in the air.

4. Cinnamon rolls. Anything baked with cinnamon brings me instantly to the holiday season, but cinnamon rolls in particular, their sweet, spicy flavor permeating the air, are divine. The smell of fresh rolls out of the oven always make me long for a snowfall, Bing Crosby, and a warm sweater.

3. Lasagna. Nothing but the word "bouquet" is sufficient to describe the smell of tomato sauce, meat and cheese slathered over slender noodles. It is a friendly smell, meant to be shared around a full table, and perhaps that is part of the allure.

2. Garlic. Chef Matt often says that if he found out he were allergic to garlic, he would eat it anyway and deal with the consequences. When I breathe in the sharp, flavorful smell of garlic sauteeing in butter, I cannot help but concur. I sometimes find myself leaning too far over the pan and coming away a little dizzy from that intense, invigorating aroma.

1. Bread. The smell of bread baking, to me, says "peace." It is soft and warm and reassuring, reminiscent of childhood and long Saturday afternoons and thick slices with melted butter. I always want to cozy up on the couch with that smell, taking deep breaths to inhale as much of that vaporous comfort as I can. Everyone has their favorites, but I think bread is universally endearing, one of the foods that almost compels us to take huge, appreciative lungfuls to prolong the joy.

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