Comfort Smells

In a recent conversation with my daughter we talked about what textures or sounds bring us comfort or sooth us on stormy days. For her it is this artistic or therapeutic slime, which I find totally gross and can’t stand the sight or sound of. But she finds it relaxing and can watch one slime video after another. The effect on me is quite the opposite and sends me out of the room. When asked why I react so violently to it, I explained that to me I will always associate the sound of kneading slime to squishy cow dung in a field from all my years in development work and growing up in Kenya and Mexico.

No, slime videos definitely offer no comfort. So what does? Well, texture is not my thing, but smells are. I find comfort and calm in things that offer me a brief trip down memory lane, such as baking bread, cake, roasted chicken, and even the smell of boiling rice. These are aromas that bring my mother back to life and reassure me that she is still with me in one way or another. She used to bake a lot while I was growing up, always volunteering to make the cakes for one occasion or another, even when she was in over her head. She was definitely no artist and never learned to make sugar flowers, but she did it all from the heart and the recipients of the baked goods always wore a smile thereafter.

brownies banana
Comfort on a plate ©MTHerzog

Part of learning to live alone for the first time in my life is to cook and bake for myself. Cooking for one is tricky but necessary, and I have that covered. I hate eating alone, but my cats and Netflix keep me company so it doesn’t feel too bad. Baking is a different story. For years I baked for my family, guests and bake sales, but for the first time in 50 years, I baked brownies for myself the other day.
I cried while mixing the dough,
I cried while the scent of baking brownies filled the apartment,
and I cried again when I took the first bite.
The brownies were a success, and considering they were the healthy gluten-free type, they were actually pretty good, but I had nobody to share the joy with.

Yesterday I stared at my fruit basket and realised that the bananas were overripe. I had, once again, forgotten to eat them, but it occurred to me that I had just enough to make banana bread loaf. After scouring the internet for a gluten-free recipe (Pinterest is good for this too), I combined two recipes and took out my frustration on the poor bananas by mashing them to their death. My twist, however, was to bake it in my mother’s old cast iron pan. Again, the heady aroma of the baking sweet bread even woke the cats up and they sniffed the air curiously.

Comfort smells don’t solve any problems, but they do provide just that, a drop of comfort in a bucket of despair.

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