Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Inside the Olfactory Mind of Temple Grandin

Dr. Temple Grandin is a visual thinker empowered by autism. It's why she's been able to devise solutions for the humane treatment of farm animals while evangelizing an important neuroscientific truth; there are many styles of thinking, all of which deserve consideration. Grandin's insight is particularly evident when she describes the sensory mind of a dog:

 “…An animal is a sensory-based thinker, not verbal -- thinks in pictures, thinks in sounds, thinks in smells. Think about how much information there is there on the local fire hydrant. He knows who's been there, when they were there. Are they friend or foe? Is there anybody he can go mate with? There's a ton of information on that fire hydrant. It's all very detailed information…” TempleGrandin, TED, 2010

So how does a visual thinker like Grandin "see" her sense of smell? Her answers to the Glass Petal Smoke "Sensory Questionnaire" make it very clear.

1.  What does your sense of smell mean to you?
I love my favorite food smells. Since vision is my dominant sense, I see a picture of the food in my mind before I smell it.

2.  What are some of your strongest scent memories?
I remember the pleasant Sunday smells from the fireplace in my grandfather’s living room. 

3.  What are some of your favorite smells (things in nature, cooking &/or your environment)?
New mown hay. Steak on the grill.

4.  Do you have any favorite smells that are considered strange?
New plastic.

5.  Describe one or more of your favorite cooking smells.
Baking cookies.

6.  What smells do you most dislike?

7.  What smell did you first dislike, but learned to love?
Aged cheese.

8.  What mundane smells inspire you?
None. Vision is my dominant sense.

9. What scent never fails to take you back in time and why?
Cooking marshmallows on a campfire.

10.  What scents do you associate with memories of loved ones?
Grilled cheese sandwiches; in elementary school they were my favorite lunch.

11.  What fragrance(s) remind you of growing up?
Aunt Bella’s perfume.

12.  What fragrance(s) remind you of the places you visited on vacation?
Ocean smell. Reminds me of looking for shells at the beach when I was a child.

13.  Describe a piece of sensory literature that is very magical for you.
[Left blank]

"Inside the Olfactory Mind" is a series on Glass Petal Smoke designed to make the sense of smell more tangible; to gourmands, perfume lovers and the curious. Smells may be invisible, but the images we associate with aroma immediately come to mind via memory. Feelings follow, and if we are not hindered by negative associations or fear of self expression, we can access words to describe what we sense. This process is specific to olfaction because the sense of smell is primarily a protective sense that becomes pleasurable when danger is not attached to what we are smelling (smoke, fire, rotten food, smell of death, etc.).

Inner vision as it relates to memory is an important part of olfactory perception, but it is often overshadowed by emotion. Vision without the prejudice of personal/social likes and dislikes allows one to sense an object outside preconceived notions. The first step in evaluating an aroma is getting yourself out of the way. "Neuronormals" (those not on the autistic spectrum) who relate strongly to olfaction can learn a lot from Temple Grandin when it comes to valuing their sense of smell and using it assess stimuli objectively; for problem solving or pleasure.

Image Credits:
Image of Dr. Temple Grandin from Colorado State University.

Image of "Steaks on a Grill" from PD Photo. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Photo of "Fireplace" by Ryan Mahle via Creative Commons. 

Image of "Making Hay"  by Bob Trevaskas. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Image of cookies on a cooling rack by Michelle Krell Kydd. All rights reserved.

Image of "Volatile Vinyl from the Center for Health Justice' article on the smell of new plastic.

Image of the Stinky Cheese man from The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Sciezcka and Lane Smith. Great book (and Caldecott Honor award winner).

If you like the eye chart image in this post you can make one by clicking here.

Image of a young girl toasting marshmallows at a campfire by photographer Jill Reger. Rights reserved by the photographer.

Image of Jo Stafford in her dressing room by Bill Gottlieb. Note all the classic perfume bottles. Part of a collection of images from The Library of Congress.

Image of beach in Wellfleet by Michelle Krell Kydd. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Frankincense Shortbread Cookies

Frankincense flavor is no stranger to pastry. Thailand is famous for Kanom Kleeb Lumdual, an ornate shortbread cookie flavored with a variety of aromatics traditionally associated with incense (including frankincense). The pastry is perfumed with fragrant smoke produced by a u-shaped culinary candle called a Tian Op. It's a poetic process, but it isn't the best way to add flavor if you want to taste what's perfuming the smoke. Incorporating a touch of food grade essential oil of frankincense will add a palatable nuance that is nothing short of divine.

Frankincense, like mastic, possesses minty, evergreen, and citrus notes; aspects are sublimated when frankincense is burned as incense. These fleeting qualities blossom in shortbread cookie formulas and are subtly detected in the finish. There is an art to dosing essential oils to create this effect, one that is counter intuitive. Less is more as there is a fine line between eliciting "this is so delicious" and "what the heck did you put in my food" when using food grade essential oils.

 If you've added the right amount of frankincense the effect will be delicately transcendent. Glass Petal Smoke's recipe for Frankincense Shortbread Cookies does not include vanilla and that is intentional. The only flavoring agents are food grade essential oil of frankincense and a Jordanian liquor flavored with mastic, anise and herbs.

Frankincense Shortbread Cookies
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
Yield: 70 cookies

2 ¼ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 cup powdered sugar
¼ tsp sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter (two sticks, room temperature)
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp Arak Haddad Mastic (a Middle Eastern liquor)
1-2 drops Aftelier Organic Frankincense Chef's Essence (a food grade essential oil)

·      Divide the oven rack into thirds and preheat to 325 degrees.
·      Prep two cookie trays by lining them with parchment paper. Set aside.
·      Sift flour, powdered sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl.
·      Soften butter in a small glass bowl in the microwave so it is creamy in consistency (not warm or transparent). Use a fork to smooth it out.
·      Add Arak Haddad Mastic and food grade essential oil of frankincense to the butter and mix thoroughly. If you would like to use more frankincense do it one drop at a time, tasting the butter with each additional drop. The essence should be slightly noticeable; not intense or overbearing.
·      Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and incorporate with a spatula. Once everything is roughly combined use your hands to mix the dough. Work the dough gently. When coarse crumbs begin to form work the dough thoroughly with your hands. Form a large bowl of dough when you are finished.
·      Roll teaspoon sized balls of dough by hand and place them on a cookie sheet in rows of five (there will be seven rows per sheet). Gently press each cookie with the end of a drinking glass so the oval formed by hand rolling at the center of the cookie is flat. Each ball of dough should be no bigger than one inch on the cookie sheet.
·      The baking time for these cookies is 20-25 minutes and includes turning the trays from top to bottom every 6 minutes as this shortbread formulas isn’t leavened and doesn’t include eggs. The cookies will be faintly tan around the edges when they are ready, and you will smell the butter just before it starts to brown.
·      Remove cookie trays from the oven and allow the cookies to cool down before placing them on wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

The dough used to make this shortbread can be flavored many ways and is especially suitable for baking with food grade essential oils as the fat content is high (great for even distribution of flavor, acts as a carrier) and the oven temperature is under 350 degrees (discourages evaporation of highly volatile molecules in essential oils that are responsible for flavor).

Aftelier's Frankincense Chef's Essence costs $12 for 5ml; a great price and just the right amount for a few rounds of baking.

Food grade essential oils that are "generally recognized as safe" by the FDA (section 582.20 of the FDA code) are not the essential oils sold in health food stores intended to be worn as perfume. If you are going to use food grade essential oils check the FDA GRAS list regularly and buy essential oils that are designated for baking and cooking. These materials are typically diluted between 1-3 % to make alcohol-based flavor extracts in the flavor industry, which is why one to three drops of food grade essential oil in a recipe will suffice.

FDA CFR Title 21, Part 172, Section 172.510: Food Additives Permitted for Direct Addition to Food for Human Consumption shows the genus and species of an ingredient which can be consumed and includes a limitations column for prohibitions based on particular constituents. Frankincense is also known as olibanum and can be found in this section of the FDA code with this nomenclature.

*Arak is an anise-based digestif common in the Middle East. Arak Haddad Mastic (distributed by Eagle Distillery) is made in Jordan and has a well rounded flavor as the anise is supported by mastic and herbs. If you cannot find this type of arak at your local liquor store a regular one will do, but you might want to use 2 tablespoons only and/or play with the balance of frankincense to tone the anisic quality that defines arak. If you like digestifs you can purchase Skinos MastihaSpirit (mastic liquor) and add a teaspoon of it to any basic arak and voila; you can duplicate the results had you been able to find a bottle of Arak Haddad Mastic. You can also tincture mastic resin in 190 proof alcohol and use a few drops of the mother tincture (at least 30 days old) in this recipe.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lebanese Cake Spice: The Secret to Falling in Love with Anise

For many years I simply could not wrap my taste buds around the flavor of anise. As a child I thought it was the Limburger of spices, evil twin of black licorice (a jelly bean buzzkill on Easter). Anise tastes sweet on its own so it would stand to reason that a child should be partial to the flavor. Add the slightly numbing and cooling effects of anise and everything becomes clear; to a kid (and some adults) anise tastes like medicine.

Anise, star anise, black licorice, and fennel have a single flavor molecule in common; anethole. Unlike the gentle warmth of cinnamaldehyde (found in cinnamon) anethole asserts itself like the embrace of an overly perfumed grand dame whose scent haunts your nostrils long after she's hugged the oxygen out of you. When anethole meets taste buds it has a tendency to linger which is why fennel and anise are great breath fresheners; chewed on their own or imbibed in a liqueur (the digestif powers of anise-flavored Arak are renown in the Middle East).

No matter how much you may dislike anise the spice is terrific if it is part of a blend used in conjunction with citrus zest and vanilla. The distinctive perfume of an Italian bakery includes anise along with a mélange of vanilla, lemon, orange and almonds. How did the Italians get sweet on anise? Food history points a delicious finger at the Moors who had an undisputed influence on the cuisine of Sicily.

Ka'ak is a classic Middle Eastern cake spice used to flavor a variety of pastry (most notable Ka'ak il Eid or Ka'ak El Abbas). Hashems Nuts and Coffee Gallery in Dearborn, Michigan sells a proprietary Ka'ak spice blend that was formulated by the owners' 90-year-old grandmother. When asked about the history of the spice blends co-owner Wassam Hashem says, "All the spice blends that we sell in the shop come from my grandmother's recipes. She got them from her mom and her mom got them from her mother which makes our spice recipes easily over 100 years old. We never change our recipes and prefer to keep them as authentic and traditional as we can."

Though Wassam won't disclose all the ingredients in Hashems Ka'ak Spice Blend (it's a family secret) the website shares the main constituents: anise, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, mahlab, sesame seeds and black caraway seed. Glass Petal Smoke's recipe for Lebanese Cake Spice Cookies is a riff on the American icebox cookie with a twist. Expect your house to smell like a bakery when these cookies are in the oven. Don't expect the cookies to last long; they have a tendency to disappear.

Lebanese Cake Spice Cookies
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
Yield: 60 cookies

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour (sifted)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 ½ teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
4 ounces (one stick) unsalted butter (softened at room temperature)
1 tablespoon Mexican vanilla extract
¾ cup organic granulated sugar
1 organic egg (room temperature)
2 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Hashems Ka’ak Spice Blend
Grated zest of one large organic lemon

·      Cut a 20 inch piece of wax paper and set aside. This will be used to chill the cookie dough.
·      Sift flour, salt, baking powder and Ka’ak spice in a large bowl. Set aside
·      In a small bowl grate lemon peel using a zester.
·      Add egg to the zest and incorporate.
·      Blend vanilla extract into the egg and zest mixture.
·      In another small glass bowl microwave the butter for 15 seconds (or enough time to liquefy without heating it).
·      Add sugar to butter and incorporate.
·      Mix butter mixture with the egg mixture.
·      Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients, stirring gently with a silicone spatula.
·      Mix the dough thoroughly with your hands. It will have a soft consistency.
·      Using a tablespoon, spoon out dough onto the middle third of a sheet of wax paper and form a 12 inch oblong roll. The dough should be one inch thick and 2 ½ inches wide.
·      Fold the bottom third of the wax paper over the dough, taking care to keep the shape of the dough to the specified measurements. Use your hands to smooth the paper over the dough.
·      Fold the top third of the wax paper over the dough and seal the dough at the ends.
·      Put the wax paper covered dough in the freezer for 1 ½ to 2 hours (or until it is firm). It should be chilled so you can slice through it (not rock hard).
·      Divide oven rack into thirds.
·      Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
·      Line two cookie trays with parchment paper.
·      Unwrap the dough on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife cut ¼ inch slices of dough and place cookies 1 inch apart on each cookie sheet.
·      Bake for 8-10 minutes, reversing trays from top to bottom and front and back to ensure even baking.
·      These cookies will be a light golden color when they are done. The edges will be a soft nutty brown.
·      Allow cookies to cool. Transfer to a wire cooling rack when they are no longer hot.
·      Store in an airtight container.

Hashems sells their spices online. Glass Petal Smoke highly recommends Hashems coffee. They will be happy to grind it with cardamom for you. Hashems also sells green coffee beans with which you can make Saudi-style coffee.

In Arabic the word ka'ak means cake, but can refer to other types of pastry. Cake spice blends vary by culture and tradition. Jordanian "Sweet Spice" contains a blend of fennel and anise to support warm spices like cinnamon (this blend is available at the Super Green Land Market in Dearborn, Michigan). Penzys Chinese Five Spice Powder, Apple Pie Spice, Pumpkin Pie Spice and Cake Spice are also terrific examples of cake spice blends.

To learn more about the cuisine of Lebanon read Saha: A Chef's Journey through Lebanon and Syria by Greg Malouf and Lucy Malouf.  It is one of the most beautiful and informative books of its kind.

Image Credits:
Hashems Nuts and Coffee Gallery, which opened in Lebanon in 1959, is still serving customers in the southern village of Bint Jbeil. The photo accompanying this story is of Wassam's father (holding the Oud) and his brother Ahmad (holding the tambourine). Ahmad and Wassam run the the family's store in Dearborn, Michigan. Copyright owned by Hashems. Used with permission.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Inside the Olfactory Mind of a Boy Named Julian

I met Julian when I was presenting the second in a series of Smell and Tell workshops at the Ann Arbor District Library in October. He was the only child in a classroom filled with adults, but a child with a mind on fire, especially when it came to olfaction.

Smell is the invisible sense, but Julian's mind is a prism through which the invisible becomes manifest, so olfactory curriculum suits him well (at 11 years of age he is a self proclaimed foodie). Julian has a unique form of color synesthesia and is comfortable with his enriched perspective, something many synesthetes his age are not.

The tween years (11-13) are quite interesting when it comes to the way children relate to their sense of smell. Children ages 8-10 are in the imprinting stage; developing an olfactory palette of memories they will carry with them for life. Tweens are at a stage in life when they begin to self-reflect. They weigh what they are told against what the world presents to their senses. This is evident in Julian's responses, which are highly evolved for a young man his age.

Olfactory curriculum empowers children, allowing them to authenticate and validate their feelings and assessments of an aroma, banishing the inner critic (something we socialize in curriculum focused on getting the best grade or being “right” or “wrong”). This nurtures confidence and imagination; two key ingredients that enrich self expression.

1.  What does your sense of smell mean to you?
Scent means life, death and all in-between.  And difference and color. And that’s it. Survival.  Eating. On a scale of 1 to 10: 11.

2.  What are some of your strongest scent memories?
  • My mom wore the same perfume for 22 years, especially when I was a baby.  She said it was called “Samsara”. You can’t really buy it any more.* 
  • Tomato sauce is home and happiness. 
  • I love the smell of oregano.

3.  What are some of your favorite smells (things in nature, cooking &/or your environment)?
  • Chlorine smell at a pool makes me excited and deep green.
  • Our upstairs carpet is safety.  Raking leaf smell makes me happy. Autumn.
  • Moss smell on a tree makes me peaceful.
  • I like the smell of a new pack of fresh trading cards.
  • I like the smell of my Papa’s skin. It is like fresh-baked bread.
  • I like the smell of my Mom’s lotion. She says it is Velvet Tuberose from Bath & Body Works. I like the one called Twilight Woods that she also puts on too.

4.  Do you have any favorite smells that are considered strange?
  • I like the smell of a clean diaper the first time it comes out of a package.
  • I like the smell of a fresh, unused, clean sponge. Also the smell of laundry detergent.
  • I love smelling wood. I love the scent of burnt marshmallows.
  • I like the smell of gasoline. I know it’s bad for me.

5.  Describe one or more of your favorite cooking smells.
  • Fresh, mozzarella cheese.

6.  What smells do you most dislike?
  • Flatulence (the polite word for this).
  • Rotting food.
  • Rubbing alcohol. Clorox wipes.
  • Wet bathing-suit smell.
  • I hate the smell of raw or cooked fish, but I like the smell of the ocean.
  • I hate the smell of Sharpie markers. They are dark purple.

7.  What smell did you first dislike, but learned to love?
  • Steamed vegetables like cauliflower.

8.  What mundane smells inspire you?
  • Musty basement smell.
  • Tree bark.

9.  What scent never fails to take you back in time and why?
  • Baby shampoo smell makes me have bath memory of when I was little.

10.  What scents do you associate with memories of loved ones?
  • Laundry soap or fabric softener with Grandma.
  • Campfire smoke reminds me of Papa.

11.  What fragrance(s) remind you of growing up?
  • Cardboard boxes.

12.  What fragrance(s) remind you of the places you visited on vacation?

13.  Describe a piece of sensory literature that is very magical for you.
  • Eragon because it was so descriptive.
Glass Petal Smoke would like to thank Julian's parents for allowing him to take the Sensory Questionnaire and sit in as a student in the Sacred Scents and Aphrodisiacs "Smell and Tell" workshop. 

Children and adults benefit marvelously from multimodal curriculum designed to accommodate different perceptual learning styles. There are seven types of modalities. The learning styles are characterized as: print, aural, haptic, interactive, kinesthetic, olfactory and visual

Julian's type of synesthesia is emotionally mediated which is different from grapheme color synesthesia (feeling numbers, letters, and physical things as colors versus seeing numbers/letters as colors). You can learn about it here: Ward, Jamie (2004). Emotionally Mediated Synesthesia, Cognitive Neuropsychology, 2004, 21 (7), 761–772.

A list of famous people with synesthesia can be found on Wikipedia.

I Have Synesthesia: I'm Not a Freak,  I'm a Synesthete is the gathering place for people with synesthesia on Facebook. The link provided works when you log into the site.

Some synesthetes have interesting jobs. Jaime Smith is a sommelier with synesthesia. P.S. He associates color with smell

Samsara by Guerlain has undergone several reformulations due to over-harvesting of Mysore Sandalwood as well as IFRA regulation. Bois de Jasmin elaborates on the vintage and current formulations here

If you want to understand the power of the sense of smell read A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman.  

Reslicitando by Remedios Varo; painter extraordinaire.

The Stargazy pie (the fish head graphic) featured in the photo collage of Julian's not so favorite smells comes from a hilarious book called Yuck: Disgusting Things People Eat. Copyright owner is Neil Setchfield. P.S. Setchfield ate the pie and all the other yucky things he photographed for the book.

Image of steamed cauliflower and potatoes from The Scrumptious Pumpkin. Jen's righteous cauliflower recipes defy cruciferous funk. Rights revert back to the author.

Amazon toy robot, inspired by the company's signature cardboard boxes, is available via their Japanese site.

Video of "Virtual Campfire" by Ace Anderson. Can you imagine what it would feel like if there was Smell-O-Vision?

Photo of a beach in Wellfleet by Michelle Krell Kydd. All rights reserved.