BY CHRISTINE BARBOUR
Not long ago, on a gloomy day of flat, gray skies and damp, to-the-bone cold, I found myself craving the aroma of simmering garlic, onions, wine, and the unmistakable tangy essence of lamb. I could practically taste that smell, could practically feel it wafting through the house, wrapping us all in savory warmth. Finally, I couldn’t stand it; I hauled out a leg of lamb, started caramelizing onions, and set the oven for that long, slow braise that yields a houseful of good smells and lamb so tender that, as the French say, you can eat it with a spoon.
Only trouble is, I don’t eat lamb with a spoon. I don’t eat it with a fork. As a mostly vegetarian, I rarely eat lamb at all; I just cook it for the aroma. (I know, right? Like those guys who read Playboy for the articles.)
But it’s true. The smell of food can be as deeply satisfying as the taste and without any of the guilt and indigestion. Smells can evoke hidden remembrances and help us celebrate cherished ones. More than once I have been stopped in my tracks by a haunting whiff of something delicious that has sent me zooming through a time warp to a long-forgotten moment. On New Year’s Eve, my Dad’s birthday, I cook his favorite spaghetti sauce and for the space of a deep, fragrant breath he is back with me again, stirring the pot and adding just a little more cinnamon, a little more spice.
I hadn’t really given much thought to how much I am led around by my nose until the lamb incident. Shortly after, a friend texted me that she was cooking a big pot of [Italian cookbook author] Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese sauce. Instantly I texted back, “Your house must smell amazing. Oh, yeah, and I am sure your sauce tastes great, too.”
Recently, a visit from my stepdaughter, Andrea, who has mastered Southwestern cooking living in Durango, Colorado, coincided with our local Kroger selling bags of fresh-roasted New Mexico chilies. The biting smell of blistering peppers hit us as soon as we got out of the car and it wasn’t long before a big pot of posole—
a soup of hominy, tomatoes, and chilies—was bubbling away on our stove. That corny, spicy, luscious smell will forever after remind me of a cozy hearth on a chilly day when we were happy to just stay at home, breathe deep, and appreciate family.
Sometimes, when I am doing a food photo shoot, I think yes, it all looks beautiful and appetizing but oh, if I could just capture that smell with my camera! When I was small, video phones were a thing of the future, a Jetsons-fueled fantasy that I never thought I would live to see, much less take for granted the way I do FaceTiming with my mom a half a country away. Is there an aroma-capturing camera in the works out there somewhere, maybe something with a sophisticated scratch-and-sniff attachment? If it existed now, trust me, the photo here of Andrea’s posole would make your heart sing.
Recipes for Andrea’s posole, Christine’s Dad’s spaghetti sauce, and the seven-hour braised leg of lamb are coming. Sorry for the delay. Read about Christine’s food adventures and travels on her blog.