Life’s Luck: From Lemons to Sour Grapes, Mine is Weirdly, all Fruit Related.

Last month sucked. I mean really, really came out looking like an ugly puckery lemon.

I smashed a finger in between two 75lb boulders (yeah, while trying to do that rock wall myself—from last month’s blog).

I got a wicked thrashing from a wrathful, hell-bent-on-sparing-no-one poison ivy plant.

I got diagnosed with a second basal carcinoma (treatable skin cancer that plagues many pasty white Midwesterners who are unfamiliar with this thing local people call summer).

I broke my lawnmower.

I was stung by a wasp whose last dying wish was to leave a flesh wound and memorial to himself the size of an award-winning walnut.

And I got a UTI.

Okay, none of this stuff actually happened last month. That was a lie.

It happened this month.

Month and candor aside, the reality of so many calamities all at once did not bode well under the “Thank God, I got my Covid vaccine—it’ll sure be great to get back to normal” mindset I was cultivating.

Those thoughts ultimately tanked, and in their place crawled splints, bandages, skin grafts, physicians, lab techs, prescriptions, pills, ointments, potions, and spark plugs.

It was often hard to keep track of what went where, and on one miserable afternoon I found myself visiting the library to pick up a book I was hoping would take my mind off my miseries.

I was in line, waiting in the lobby for my turn to come in and approach the desk, when I heard someone triple tsk from behind me. I turned to see a woman as wrinkled as an old crabapple, her white hair braided and wrapped into a bun, held together with what looked to me like a couple of birch twigs and a meat thermometer.

I smiled, nodded politely, and turned to face forward again, only to hear her sigh and utter, “Dear me,” under her breath. She tapped me on the shoulder and when I turned, pointed to one of the many bandages wrapped around my arms and said, “You really should let that breathe.”

“Let what breath?” I asked.

“Your poison ivy.”

I looked down at the book she was holding in her arm. Kitchen Witchery: Spells, recipes, and rituals for something something magical something enchanted something something. I narrowed my eyes at her and tried to ascertain how this witch had discovered one of my ailments. “How do you—”

“You haven’t quite covered all your blisters,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Yeah, I really got walloped this time.”

She shook her head. “What did you do, roll in it like a dog in a cowpie patty?”

“No, I was weeding, but I bet my dog had a hand in spreading it.”

“Do you hug your dog?” she asked, pointing for me to move forward in line.

“All the time. He’s the best dog I’ve ever—”

“Stop doing that.”

“Exactly. I know. The oils on his fur transfers to my skin …”

“Not where I’m going. Stop doing it because dogs hate to be hugged. It makes them feel like they’re being devoured, and they’re helpless in that arm lock of stupid humans.”

“Oh.” I stared at the floor for a second before catching sight of her book again. “Well, I’d have to say that I truly feel like I’ve been cursed with something these last few weeks. Just one thing after another.” I looked up at her with a crooked smile. “Any hex breaking spells in that library book of yours?”

“You’re hoping some magic wand will wave away your poison ivy?”

I shrugged. “And my rock-smashed finger, wasp sting, skin cancer—anything that can alleviate those scourges?” I pointed out the ailments around my person.

The old woman studied me for a second or two, opened her book, thumbed through a few pages, and then slammed it shut with a crisp snap. “The book suggests not so much any incantation or elixir, but it is very precise on one specific action.”

“Oh?” I felt my eyebrows raise with hope.

She rolled her eyes. “Stay inside.”

I felt like an idiot.

She looked at me like I was an idiot, so I suppose my feelings were justified. “Ah, well. I suppose most of those wonky spells are simply drivel and gibberish. Are you just reading the book for fun?”

She glanced down at the book again and then spread it wide open to a page with a black iron caldron holding a bounty of vegetables from the garden it sat within. “Nope. I wrote this little beauty—there’s only one copy, and I convinced the librarian to put it here on the shelves. The problem is, I lost the original recipe for my mother’s tomato soup, and every time I want to make it, I have to come back and check out the book. Now that,” she pointed at the page, “is a cure-all for just about everything.”

I gave her a wary look. “How about a urinary tract infection?”

She cracked a smile and spat out, “Ha! That, my friend, is just a curse on all womankind. And no amount of kitchen witchery can make much of a dent in its presence.”

I shrugged. “I guess sometimes we’re just unlucky.”

“As I see it, your dog is going to get a bit luckier with no more hugs. Although sadly for you, I’d say it’ll be some time before anyone is going to want to wrap their arms around your bandaged body.” She searched the ceiling and then said, “Maybe try a bottle of wine.”

“Hug a bottle of wine?”

“No. Drink it. It won’t cure anything, but it’ll sure keep you from being cranky while Mother Nature deals with all your ailments.”

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Why We Need to Acquire a Taste for Flavor

As a writer, there is nothing I love more than putting on my Alice in Wonderland frock and purposefully tumbling down the rabbit hole of research.

With the exception of getting published, of course.

And seeing my hound gaze sincerely into my eyes over breakfast to convey that I’ve never looked more well-rested and attractive, and would I mind passing him three strips of bacon?

But the research part of necessary investigative sleuth work is wholly engrossing and powerfully magnetic.

It also turns me into an insufferable enthusiast—a gasbag of chatter with the sole purpose of spreading knowledge that may be of no interest to any other human.

I tend to forget this bit in between my research projects where I launch headlong into overzealous lectures about poisonous plants that can make you puke, or the new studies supporting the worthiness of fecal transplants to support flailing microbiomes, or the debate as to whether cereal is actually soup.

Currently, I am reviewing countless books, scientific journals, and ongoing analysis all relating to the topic of flavor. And thus far, I have been tentatively directing all conversations I have with breathing humans toward this subject.

Good morning, this is Betty from Allstate insurance. How may I direct your call?

“Hiya, Betty! I’ve got a quick question about my homeowner’s policy, but first, can I ask you how it is that you’d define the vague and rudimentary term we call ‘flavor?’”

Or …

Ma’am? This fish in your grocery cart might not be as fresh as we’d want to sell you. How about I get a stock boy to switch it out for you?

“You betcha. And it appears your orthonasal olfaction skills are exceptional, whereas I probably wouldn’t have caught anything off until I was neck deep in the whole retronasal olfaction process—one occurring during sniffing and the other only when eating and drinking.”

Or …

“Hello, Chloe, this is your mom calling. I know you’re busy, but I was just wondering if you happen to know how many different odor compounds there are in the world?”

I don’t care.

Clearly, I could use an audience who chooses to be there with me, or maybe just a therapist who listens because I pay him.

Either way, it is impossible to simply let such riveting information go unshared. Who wouldn’t want to know that circumstances affect our flavor perceptions—such as the discovery that fans attending hockey games and involved in a study, determined that ice cream tasted sweeter after their team won and more sour after they lost?

Or why hold back that researchers are collecting impressive data that shows babies have an affinity for foods if their mothers eat it while they are pregnant with said baby. Hoping your tiny tyke will be asking for seconds on that bowlful of mustard greens? Start gestationally shoveling it in, Popeye.

And by no means could I refuse to relay the critical science utilized by the food and healthcare industries where phantom aromas are helping to control high blood pressure. Has your doctor diagnosed you with hypertension and mandated you to a low sodium diet? Food industry scientists are your new superheroes, having discovered that by adding phantom aromas of ham into certain foods, your brain will believe it’s still indulging in that five-pound salt lick your tongue so badly craves.

Super interesting info, right?

You’re welcome.

One of the reasons I’m so engaged in this particular research currently is that we, as human beings, have a frustratingly underdeveloped ability to articulate concepts related to flavor. As flavor is an umbrella term that houses both taste and aroma—taste having far more descriptive language than smell—it repeatedly highlights how we struggle with a narrative for our experiences.

How do you profile the unique difference between cheddar cheese and aged Gouda? One’s cheesier than the other? What words describe these cheeses?

What is the flavor of red snapper? It’s not fishy. And stating it is of firm texture does not illustrate flavor.

Flavor is more than a sensory experience as well, as it turns on the light in our brain’s limbic system and rummages around to immediately connect that taste and smell to an emotion and memory.

Why is that when a plate of beautifully sautéed halibut is placed beneath your nose, you’re immediately flooded with the desperate optimism of a marriage proposal?

I’ll tell you why. Because you, like me, used to come home after school and whip up a batch of Gorton’s Fish Sticks and watch an episode of Gilligan’s Island where your only wish was for the professor to finally ask Mary Ann to marry him so they could make perky, adorable, and intelligent babies to populate the island they’d be stuck on forever.

No? Was it just me? Well, still it proves my point. And as an aside, I learned more about GDP, the spectrum of human usefulness, and estate planning from this sitcom than I did from Econ 101.

The scents and tastes we experience are intricately interconnected to a vast array of our bodies’ systems, and we’re too intelligent a species to answer the question – how does it taste? – with an answer like: pretty good or it doesn’t suck.

So come on, people, let’s ban together and lend a helping hand to further science. Take a swig of some Drink Me potion and start fishing around for some helpful language.

Articulation is key.

I’ve told my dog that a thousand times and refuse to pass the bacon until he can “use his words.”

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.