The Nose Knows

Well, it’s happened again. Whatever bug that’s been going around I got. Not Covid (I tested twice) and not terrible: just coughing and runny nose and an inability to smell anything that isn’t, shall we say, a bit definite in it’s strength? So I have been putting on two spritzes of Penhaligon something or other and planting myself in the office with a closed door and a boatload of Kleenex.

Cinnamon this week wrote about hibernating with the colder weather and I can relate. We have (thankfully) had on and off rains coming through Southern California and the highs haven’t been in the 70’s much with lows dipping down into the 40’s (“get those pets indoors!” warn the anchor-bots at Action McNews) so putting on flannel jammies and an extra bankie takes on that sense of luxury that only a climate where it’s never cold enough to kill you can engender. I’ll take it.

March wrote about baking this week which did bring back holiday memories. My mother baked, as did our neighbors. I remember some neighbors primarily from their baked goods: the elderly couple in the house next door made donuts: real, fried cake style ones which were small and brown and delicious and probably fried in something that was clogging arteries for blocks around just by breathing the air. Our neighbor on Pine street, another lady in the only 1920’s California-style bungalow in that part of Mass (which I loved) made, among other things, litle jam filled shortbread cookies. She used raspberry and apricot, and whether they were hers or Smucker’s they were awfully good. My mother made all sorts of things: this was the late 60’s and early 70’s and Julia Child was firmly on the airwaves- enough for kitchens to get a portable TV that was tuned to WGBH in the afternoons, or to the Galloping Gourmet (who may have created the need for Betty Ford), Joyce Chen, Justin Wilson and the slew of others appearing on TV as cooking well became a thing. My sister and I got into it as well- baking and cooking and attempting to outdo each other while my parents (no fools they) sat back and ate the rewards.

Many years later after a few years here in Los Angeles, a good friend moved with her little family to a small house in West Hollywood. After a while and through a couple of addresses we started doing Christmas at her house. Mainly for the kid, or so we told ourselves, and I will admit that it always made me feel a bit special to get that call early on Christmas morning asking me to some early since the child would not open presents until I arrived.

The baking went on for a time- batches of cookies to be given out as presents and to decorate the tree: Meringue dots colored red and green for the season and presented to guests as both gluten-free and Atkins friendly (no carbs!) Chewy oatmeal raisin and crisp-edged chocolate chips with melting centers. Butter cookies so rich with Kerrygold you could hear your arteries slamming shut over your moans of pleasure.

The most fun were the decorated ones. We’d make sugar and ginger ones in various shapes that we would do the edges with a piping bag filled royal icing then flooding the center, letting the kids (and sometimes the hanger-on adults) decorate them with various colored sugars and other bits and bobs. Even some of the Godchild’s most jaded pals would want to join in when seeing how their cookie could be Prada Pink with silver beads or Vuitton brown with gold dust. Some of their parents might not have been thrilled with little Morgan or Montana or Megatron coming home with a bag of goodies guaranteed to make this month’s payment on their Dentist’s Maserati, but it’s the holidays and they went home happy and feeling accomplished.

But honestly, kids or no, we had great fun doing the baking together. Eventually, as things do, Christmas sort of petered out. The Godchild went off to college back East and was quickly followed by my friend, who was offered a great job that brought her back to Manhattan. While we aren’t freeway-close anymore, one of the positive aspects of the interwebs is that we can be cyber-close, and savor our infrequent face-to-face meetings.

And we will always have Christmas.

March mentioned a Buche de Noel which was one that I did actually make: there are tons of recipes out there and if push comes to shove I am sure you could do it with a box mix cake: all you’d need is a rimmed baking sheet and some parchment paper to make the cake thin enough to roll, whipped cream and cocoa for the filling and whatever frosting you like (even canned) for the cake itself. It’s supposed to look like a log, not a bust of Abraham Lincoln so it can be as rough as heck and you hit it with powdered sugar (the baker’s botox) at the end to look like “snow.” You can make little meringue mushrooms or spun sugar moss or marzipan elves to decorate if you feel like it. Who’s going to say that it’s not a proper log, as found in nature? The log patrol? To heck with them. Tell them “no cake for you.”

I know a lot of you shared some delicious stuff you baked in the comments on March’s post. Please post more, or your holiday memories you’d like to share here. We’d love to read them.

Photos from Pexels except DWP Christmas lights, which is mine.

  • cinnamon says:

    Feel better. There are so many lurgies lurking this year. Donuts. I’m sure we got home made donuts at one of the places we went apple picking in Westchester decades ago. Absolutely delicious. I love the idea of yule logs but I now find I can’t eat that much of one. So, not something I bake. I might try the apricot jam horns my mother used to make but not until mid-winter. I think they’d be great in early February.

    • Tom says:

      I’ve made it a rule that I will only have the best donuts, and those are at orchards at apple-picking time. I really don’t like the Krispy-Kreme kind and store-bought cake donuts are a fail.

      Plus it’s better for my diet to cleve to that rule.

  • alityke says:

    Get well soon Tom & tell us more about Penhaligon’s something or other. I’m sure we need to know what can fight it’s way through the snotty snitch.
    I’m a cook, not a baker other than my weekly sourdough & DH would have been the size of a house if I was a baker. Boy can that man eat. Even on his filthy, intensive chemo, he’s eating at least 6 normal size meals a day!

    • Tom says:

      It’s Penhaligon’s Castile and while it doesn’t cut through I know it smells like I’ve washed and one (or two) extra spritzes wont gas anyone out even if I can’t really smell it.

      I’m glad your BH has a healthy appetite!

  • Portia says:

    Get well quick buddy.
    You mentioned doughnuts! Mum used to have a machine, just like the store but a bit smaller. We would make the dough, squeeze them into the boiling oil and then roll them in cinnamon sugar. HA! I’ve just had a million memories flood back.
    Thanks for the reminder,
    Portia x

    • Tom says:

      My neighbor didn’t have the machine but they did have one of those “Flair” stoves with the pull out drawer for the burners, just like Samantha Stephens in “Bewitched”

      They also had two kitchens- one was a temporary one they out in while they remodeled the real one. They kept the “temp” one as an extra for holiday meal cooking.

      • alityke says:

        Wow! Two kitchens, my idea of heaven. I mean TWO, like my 3 ovens & 7 burners aren’t enough. Please tell me they also had a proper outside kitchen too, with built in bbq, smoker, pizza oven & tiki bar.
        If I ever won Lotto or Euromillions a weatherproof outdoor kitchen & second house kitchen would be top of my wish list

        • Tom says:

          Well, I am glamorizing by saying 2 kitchens- one was really just a laundry room/enclosed porch they put the oven and icebox from the old kitchen into while the Brady Bunch Harvest Gold number was done up. They kept it because it ended up being convenient to their bedroom for late night snacks and she found the newfangled Flair stove with the pull-out burner drawer kind of a pain just to boil a kettle.

          Now I am sure whoever owns it has at least a barbeque.

  • March says:

    Oh, Tom, I’m sorry you’re not feeling well — a number of friends have had colds … you know, those things we used to get in the Before Times and just shrug our way through. Your self-care sounds great. My mom who didn’t really like to cook (we had the regular rotation of meatloaf, tuna noodle casserole etc.) LOVED cookbooks and magazines and cooking shows, she watched Julia Child regularly. I used to think it was weird that she never really, you know, was interested in actual cooking, but my dad was a former midwestern meat/potatoes guy and perfectly happy. And as an adult I’ve met all sorts of people who read about A Thing with great interest but don’t do it themselves, so I guess it’s fine! Your buche de Noel commentary made me laugh — you’re right, who’s gonna complain?!?

  • Pam says:

    Another great post, Tom. Justin Wilson and the Galloping Gourmet. Among others. Well, yesterday I said I’d been baking cookies all day. And today my friends and I swapped cookies and I now have dozens. Of all kinds. It will take me days to investigate them. Feels like Christmas.

    • Tom says:

      Having dozens of cookies in my house is an active danger. One that would be passing however, since I would doubtless eat all of them pretty darned fast..