Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Olfactory flashbacks...cinnamon

I tried coming up with a catchier title but nasal memories sounds kind of gross. Anyways, do you ever catch a whiff of a smell and it brings back memories? This happens to me quite a bit...maybe that's why I love food so much; instead of being a visual person, I'm a nasal one!

Freshly sawed wood makes me think of my dad: whenever he'd have a building project around the house, I would help him lead the wood through the circular saw. Probably why I love that smell plus love old fashioned hardware stores. The scent of Chanel No 5 is my mom...I can feel her giving me a kiss, as she is all dressed up to go out to a party when I was young, looking very glamorous and "Mad Men" styled.

And brings me back to Japan when I was six and we lived for 3 months in the Hotel Okura. Instead of Eloise at the Plaza, it was my version: Lee at the Okura!  Every day, when I would get off the school bus, I'd head to the coffee shop and they would have my hot cinnamon toast waiting for me! It was that type cinnamon toast where the sugar and cinnamon have been put under a broiler and they caramelize to a hard, crispy layer on top of fresh, slightly toasted thick white bread. I've never had cinnamon toast that tastes so good!

But let me back track a bit. When we moved to Tokyo in 1966, we came from a small suburb outside of Pittsburgh and with the exception of my dad, had never left the States before. So when we arrived at the Hotel Okura, it was like heaven: a five star luxury hotel, with the most wonderful service, staying in a 3 bedroom suite...who can blame my mom for not wanting to leave?! It took her 3 months to find just the right place for us to move to and I think they still had to drag her by her feet while her hands clenched the suite door frame attempting to stay.

While we were living there, I learned origami: the housecleaning staff would leave an origami crane on the pillow each night and the ladies taught me how to fold the paper birds. I passed this skill onto my sons (what a great airplane activity for kids! ) and now my 22 year old still practices it, though he has moved onto "modular" origami which is way beyond my skill.

All sorts of famous people stayed at the Okura: the Beatles (stayed there after we left), Peter, Paul and Mary were there when we were (my teenage brother and his friends knocked on their door and discovered how embarrassing it is to violate someone's privacy) and John Glenn, the astronaut. This was in 1966, not long after he had orbited the earth and John Glenn had rock star celebrity status. One afternoon, my mom and  I were in the suite, my mom helping me with taking a bath. My sister ran in, all excited and informed us that John Glenn was checking into the hotel and was still in the lobby, giving autographs. My mom gets giddy as I've never seen her and tears out of the bathroom, grabs some paper and a pen from the hotel desk and she and my sister take off to the lobby.

I remember sitting there in the bath, a bit shell shocked..."Mom? Cathy? ....anyone?" They were gone! and here I was, left naked in the tub while they pursue the astronaut. Fortunately I was six, not in danger of drowning in the tub but still...I used to bring that up to my mom, how she abandoned me for John Glenn.

The princess of Japan had her wedding reception at the hotel while we were staying there! My brother and two friends almost caused an international incident at the time. My parents got a call from the hotel management saying that it appeared that someone was dropping those "cracker-balls" from an upper floor down onto the royal entourage as they were entering the hotel and they traced it to our balcony. Turns out my brother and two other boys who were also living in the hotel, were out on the balcony and thought it would be fun to drop them down on the cars as they pulled up to the hotel. These were those tiny pea-size fireworks that when you threw them down would emit a loud BANG when they hit a hard surface. Can you imagine if that had happened USA? We would have had the secret service banging down the door! But in Japan in 1966, we received a polite but very concerned call from the hotel management asking my parents to control their children!

Anyways, back to cinnamon...I love it and that is why it reminds me of Japan! It is the one ingredient I rarely adhere to the proscribed amount in recipes. My philosophy is that you can rarely get enough cinnamon. I have it in my greek yogurt, on my oatmeal that my husband makes me for breakfast, even in the macarons that we made last friday! I'm including a recipe here for cinnamon chip cookies. These are adapted from an online "tasteofhome" recipe. The dough is a slight variation of the tollhouse chocolate chip recipe. They are delicious so try them:

Cinnamon Chip Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 package (10 oz) cinnamon baking chips 
Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy with a mixer. Beat in eggs and vanilla. 
In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, then gradually add the dry ingredients to the sugar/butter mixture and mix well. Fold in the cinnamon chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden brown. 

1 comment:

  1. I did not throw any cracker-balls off the balcony, and I suggested that it was a bad idea to the two friends. The hotel, and parents concurred with my opinion. - your innocent brother