It is a scientific fact that smells can elicit powerful memories. Walk into a room where someone is wearing a familiar scent from your past, and its like walking into a time machine. Step into someone else's home with that certain undefinable sent, and you can close your eyes and pretend you're back at your grandparent's house once more. The portion of the brain that processes smell is part of the limbic system, where memories are also stored. I remember this being referred to in college biology classes as the "smell brain". That close link within the brain means that smells often bring to us a strong, nearly Déjà vu experience of memory.
Though not based in scientific fact, I believe that tastes can have the same effect. Lemonade has never quite tasted the same to me since an unfortunate combination of vodka, lemons, and sugar rendered its taste unpleasant. A fresh snap pea, snow pea, or green bean transports me back to childhood, sneaking a bean or two off the plants in my parent's garden while they harvested produce for the farmer's market.
Pure maple syrup - something I consider a requirement at any respectable breakfast - reminds me of childhood, too. One year we had the good fortune of visiting my parent's friends Janet and Bob in northern Ohio at sugaring time, when we got to see first-hand the production of maple syrup. Janet is a childhood friend of my mother's, and at the time she and her husband lived in a big, beautiful house in Burton, Ohio. I was completely fascinated by Janet and Bob - they had a big family, with many fostered and adopted children. They were skydivers. They had built their own pool. I think during that visit that my mom and Janet hadn't seen each other in years. They were surprised to discover they had the same bedspread and were feeding their families on the same colorful Fiestaware dishes. (Years later, visiting Janet and Bob at their new home in Georgia, I was awed by Janet's impressive and beautiful Fiestaware collection).
We all piled into the fiery sugarshack to watch as the freshly gathered maple sap was boiled down to syrup. It was a slow process, requiring great patience which I surely did not have at the time. I remember a lot of stirring, and steaming, and waiting. I must have had maple syrup before, but the next morning, after having seen the process firsthand, the syrup tasted sweeter than ever over Janet's french toast. I distinctly remember that special breakfast - where I sat, the tall ladderback chairs, the shape of the kitchen, the bright dishes all over the table. To this day, making a big, special breakfast for out-of-town guests is one of my favorite acts of hospitality.
Most recently, Brian's brother Mark and his wife Jenn came to visit, so I made waffles with fresh fruit and scrambled eggs before we took a drive out to Highlands last Sunday morning. This waffle recipe is an adaptation of several different recipes, with beaten egg whites to add volume and texture, pure vanilla extract for its perfect mellow sweetness, and real maple syrup for everything it represents - trees, nature, purity, warmth, and memory.
Waffles for the Out-of-Town Guests
2 cups whole milk
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
2 cups all purpose flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
powdered sugar and pure maple syrup, for serving
Preheat oven to 200, and place a cookie sheet topped with a wire rack in the oven. Combine milk and vinegar, stir, and let stand for 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. In a large bowl, whisk the milk, egg yolks, butter, and vanilla until combined. Gently add the flour mixture to the milk mixture, stirring just until combined. Fold in one half of the egg whites using a rubber spatula, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until combined. Pour batter onto hot waffle iron. When done, transfer to wire rack in oven to keep warm. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with fresh fruit and pure maple syrup.