There are certain things that I just can’t resist getting my nose into. No, I’m not referring to getting my nose in other people’s business (although I won’t deny that I do like a good sniff of gossip every now and then). What I mean is that I just can’t help myself when it comes smelling. An open bag of coffee, newly washed towels in the morning, Bolognese bubbling on the stove, tomatoes on the vine, fresh cut grass, rain on hot tarmac, brushing your hand through a hedge of lavender, garlic browning in oil. I even have a few guilty really guilty smells- like diverting my route home past the entrance to Subway just so I can breathe in the super-sweet smell of their bread. Like a pig in a trough my nose leads me astray, diving into whatever smell that takes its fancy. If only it led me to the treadmill with such gusto.
I had a cold last week, which clogged up my sinuses like hair in a drain and no matter how many chili flakes I sprinkled on my food or how many eucalyptus steams I did- I just couldn’t budge it. I couldn’t smell or taste anything- my guilty pleasure blown away in one flying snot rocket. I even caught myself tucking into Wasabi peas (which is dislike immensely) without batting an eyelid. I was no longer eating for pleasure; I was eating for the sake of eating. I found myself falling into a deep state of depression- this potentially meant weeks of lost taste buds! What if they never came back? I may as well live on celery and come out of this whole debacle thin!
Back at work, I was a mess. I couldn’t smell that I’d left the gas on the stove. I couldn’t smell my pine nuts burning in the oven. I couldn’t tell if the garlic in my sauce was fresh. Everything that I naturally did in the kitchen was affected by my chronic nasal impairment. The first thing my boyfriend always says as he walks through the front door is: “mmmm, smells good.” Well- trained? Perhaps. But whilst I will usually nod in agreement as I shove him (somewhat) affectionately out of my tiny kitchen; this past week- I lost my marbles. “Does it?!” I raged as I waved my celery stick sword at him. “Good, great. I’m so pleased you can smell this! I hope it tastes like ****!”
Overly dramatic, you’re thinking. I’m not so sure. When I think about it (which as I’ve not been cooking I’ve had a lot of time to do) smell and taste are imprinted in so many of my memories. I regularly smell my childhood walking down the street, ex-boyfriends cologne on the subway, the smell that summer is on its way, that winter is here. And each time I’m reminded of someone or something, I’m reminded of the foods that I associate with that memory. So now you can see my depression. Not only was I bereft of current smell/taste sensations I was also to be denied of any past memories too.
Coming out of this cold was as rewarding as a bottle of water at the end of a long-distance race- well almost. I could feel my senses becoming stronger as I neared my allergy-free finishing line. My thirst for flavours drove me on and made me more and more determined to get this damn cold over and done with. I crossed that final hurdle in the queue at Whole Foods. Two nostrils blowing into a tissue in harmonic unison- the twist and fizzing sound of my lime seltzer water as I removed the cap. Head back as I felt the cool bubbles tingle in my mouth and down my throat. And there it was- that subtle lime-flavour that I had missed out on all week. Water had never tasted so good. My life was back.
I leave you with a recipe that my mother used to make when I was as a child- coming home from school to the smell of this in the oven is something hard to forget- even with a blocked nose.
Lemon Victoria sponge cake
Serves 8-10, in theory.
My mother makes this on balancing scales (the eggs serve as the weight and the butter, sugar and flour should all weigh the same.) As all kids love to do- we would fight over who got to lick the spoon and who got the bowl. It’s beautiful just warm out of the oven with a cup of strong tea. This is filled with icing sugar mixed with lemon juice but I also like filling it with crème fraîche and lemon curd.
2 eggs (weigh them) 2 large eggs usually weigh 125g/ 4 1/2 oz
Sugar, (equal weight to eggs) plus extra to sprinkle
Butter, softened (equal weight to eggs)
Self-raising flour (equal weight to eggs) or cake flour with 1 tsp baking powder
Zest and juice of one lemon
Icing sugar and lemon juice mixed to desired consistency
1/ Preheat the oven to 350F/170C. Bake Grease and line two 6 inch Victoria sponge tins. In a large bowl, beat the sugar and butter with electric beaters until light in colour and fluffy in texture.
2/ Add one egg at a time along with 1 tbsp of sifted flour and a squeeze of lemon and beat until fully incorporated. The mixture may curdle at this point and if so, then just add another tablespoonful of flour.
3/ Now, sift over the remaining flour and using a rubber spatula fold it through in figure of eight movements until it is nearly incorporated. At this stage add the remaining lemon juice and zest, and fold through until everything is completely combined.
4/ Fill the prepared cake tins evenly and bake in the oven for 30 minutes before opening the door. To test if done, gently press your finger on the sponge and it should pop back. The cake should have moved slightly away from the side of the tin and a skewer inserted should come out clean.
5/ Once the cakes are cool, turn one cake over topside down and pour the icing into the middle of the cake. Use the underside of a spoon to spread it out toward the edges. Alternatively spread with a 200ml tub of crème fraîche and 4 Tbsp lemon curd Top with the crème fraiche and then top again with the other cake, top side up. Sprinkle with more icing sugar to serve.