April A-Z: T is for Taste

When I first tested positive for Covid three and a half months ago, I still had my sense of taste. It had definitely altered a bit as the initial infection took hold, because I found for the first few days everything tasted metallic and yuk, but then slowly my sense of taste disappeared entirely, taking my sense of smell with it. It’s so weird eating and drinking stuff and not being able to smell it or taste it at all. Just when you most want a nice cup of tea to make yourself feel better, or to comfort yourself with some old familiar flavours, it’s so disheartening not to be able to taste anything.

I hadn’t ever realised before just how much my enjoyment of cooking depends on my sense of smell and taste – I found I was still able to make my usual food favourites by rote, seasoning things from years of habit, but frustratingly when it came to eating all I could discern were textures rather than tastes. I learned how strange some food feels in the mouth without your taste-buds zinging things up. Pancakes feel like rubber, chicken soup feels slimy, meat just feels chewy and heavy. If I closed my eyes, I’d probably be unable to name exactly what was in my mouth. If I knew what I was eating, I’d remember the expected taste and try to conjure it up.

As the weeks passed my sense of smell slowly returned first, along with a slight restoration in taste in that I could once more differentiate salty or sweet, spicy or sour, but little else. Suddenly food would smell good again, but still taste disappointingly bland and blah. Then things started to taste really weird for a while as I began to recognise a partial taste but nothing else – for example delicately smoked fish tasted so strongly of smoke I couldn’t even eat it. The sweetest green veg tasted really bitter, even good quality milk chocolate tasted mainly of cloying fatty solids, and wholemeal bread somehow tasted earthy – the balance of intensity was all wrong.

But more recently, thankfully there has been a marked improvement in the subtleties of taste I can decipher. We were eating crunchy home-made garlic bread the other day and I got really excited because I could actually properly taste the luscious herby garlic butter in my mouth – sadly it only lasted for a moment, for one meal, but at least it was there, and it’s a start! To be honest I really miss those delightful nuances of flavour dancing so delicately on my tongue, and I’m so tired of tasting all or nothing with my blundering blunt-instrument taste-buds. But I have hope that things will continue to improve day by day – watch this space! πŸ™‚

For this year’s April Blogging from A-Z Challenge I’m aiming for an alphabetical exploration of my personal thoughts and feelings on the continuing Covid 19 pandemic one year on, using a mix of poetry, pics and ponderings…

Boiled Eggs and Toasted Soldiers

OMG I love the taste of real butter – I remember so well the creamy yellow full-fat butter made by my grandmother on their arable farm. They always had a cow, though, kept for the milk. First the cow would be milked by hand, the warm, frothy milk splashing straight from the cow into the milk pail. Then the milk pail would be left to settle in the ‘milk-house’ which was a long, cool, stone-built out-building by the back door to the farmhouse. In due course the cream would be skimmed off the top of the milk and it was this cream that would be made into butter.

The old labour-intensive wooden butter churn still sat in the milk-house, next to the cool marble-topped work surface, but by the time I was old enough to remember the process the butter was being made in the kitchen using a standard electric mixer. From runny liquid whipped up to a thick cream to making little yellow globules of fat solids in white opaque liquid with minimal effort – perfect! Once the butter was fully separated from the buttermilk in the mixing bowl it was taken out and washed in cold water and salted to taste, before being carefully formed into a small rectangular block using ridged wooden butter pats.

In my memory the residual buttermilk was always given to the chickens to help keep them healthy… Oh, and thinking of the chickens reminds me of the fun of egg-collecting, too. I remember us grand-children being sent into the hen-house to collect the eggs, nestling so gently in the straw all brown and fragile. Carrying them in to the kitchen so carefully, then having them soft-boiled and sat in individual egg-cups with a steaming little cap sliced off the top, just enough to be able to dip in lavishly buttered toasted soldiers – long thin fingers of toasted bread, just perfect for dipping into the egg…

Such wonderful childhood memories… Actually I couldn’t tell you the last time I had a soft-boiled egg eaten with butter-laden toasted soldiers, but I’m almost tempted to give it a go tonight! πŸ™‚

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Butter

Lockdown Lentil Soup

Yeah I know, not exactly exciting to look at but hello, we’re in lockdown – nowhere much to go and nothing much to see! So here is a pictorial record of the making of yesterday’s lentil soup from the initial smoked ham hock boiling to make stock, chopped vegetables waiting to join the red lentils and seasoning already added to the stock, the basic soup before and after cooking, and a lovely hot bowlful ready to eat on a cold winter’s day.

And the best thing about it was – I really could taste it! After a month of Covid blandness it was such a relief to actually taste something properly again, and hopefully fingers crossed this is the start of my tastebuds functioning like real tastebuds once more. I’ve got used to the disappointment of being able to discern little more than salty or sweet or spicy, relying on texture rather than taste to bring any enjoyment to my eating.

I do appreciate that there seems to be no rhyme nor reason with Covid recovery, no standard straight-line progression from sick to well. It seems to be more of a two steps forward, one step back dance of discovery around some symptoms coming and going, ebbing and flowing, keeping you on your toes – it’s exhausting and perplexing and just so damned frustrating to not know from one day to the next how you’re going to be feeling.

But in the meantime, at least I enjoyed my soup! πŸ™‚

Ripening Plums

My Weekly Smile this week just has to be the sheer delight on my husband’s face to actually be picking fat juicy plums daily from his own plum tree! I grew up with a plum tree growing in my mum and dad’s garden so I guess I just don’t share the same novelty factor of having an over-abundance of fresh plums available on the doorstep. We’ve already had a yummy plum crumble made with the first batch, as well as just eating the plums au naturel of course! Plenty more where they came from… I’m sure we’ll both be sick of the sight of them before long, but luckily we have plenty of family who have offerred to help eat as many as we can spare πŸ™‚

Ripening Plums

The old plum tree is really heavy with fruit this year, to the extent that we’ve already lost a couple of its most heavily-laden branches – one even hit the greenhouse, falling from on high with a resounding crack and breaking a pane of glass on its way down so not a great start to our gardening relationship. Sadly we’ve reached the conclusion the tree is simply too old to be safe in the garden any more, so this year – our first – will probably have to be its last.

But for now the fat plums that remain huddled in place on the tree are ripening slowly, a few advance party early adopters have already fallen on the ground and the birds certainly seem to be enjoying eating them so we’ll see how things go over the next month or so. Hopefully we should still end up with a decent crop of sweet, juicy plums to share with the rest of the family – we’ve certainly had plenty offers from everyone to help use them up when the time comes! πŸ™‚

Flower of the Day

The Pros and Cons of Eating Ice Cream

OK so for this week’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday post we have to write about the pros and cons of something – cool, I choose to write about eating ice cream – proper yummy dairy ice cream, gazillion calories and all.

Pros – Loads of flavours to choose from…Yum yum yum yum yum yum yum… Mmmmmm… Delicious!

Cons – Too fattening… Hmmm… Stuff it, who cares, I’m eating it anyway πŸ™‚

Half-Baked Idea

With respect to purchasing ready-made food items that turn out to be disappointingly unpleasant to the palette, exactly what kind of half-baked idea is a ‘soft-bake’ cookie?

Supermarkets here in the UK regularly bake different flavoured cookies in-store and bag them up in fours or whatever to sell fresh, but whereas they used to be properly cooked through, crisp and crunchy on the outside and only just slightly chewy in the middle, nowadays what they call ‘soft-bake’ always seems to be the preferred option.

And I truly don’t understand where that idea came from because soft-baked, in my book, simply means half-baked, and the resulting pale, insipid, limp sad excuse for cookies taste decidedly underdone. All too often these pallorific cookie weaklings can’t even support their own weight when held up, sagging most unbecomingly through lack of structural support.

And while I’m in rant-mode since when did cookie dough become a flavour to crave, semi-raw and solid indigestible chunks – yuk! Selling cookie dough flavoured anything as a finished product is about as appetising as selling raw cake batter as a tasty snack. Nice enough when licked off a spoon in small quantities at home, but not when swallowed in bulk as a staple food source.

So anyway, on the rare occasions I buy any supermarket in-store bakery cookies these days, I always find I basically have to finish baking them off in a nice hot oven for at least five minutes or so until they become a structurally sound golden brown and able to hold their own, and only after cooling again on a wire rack do they become in the least bit edible… Grrr… πŸ™‚

Monday Peeve

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Apropos

Mango and Ginger Cake Dessert

After a week of warm sunny weather, it’s much cooler today and we’ve had nothing but rain all day today. Bummer. Good for the garden though.

I was sitting on the sofa tonight watching TV and I fancied something sweet to eat. I checked the fridge, but found nothing tempting there. I looked in the larder cupboard, and found nothing there to fit the bill either. So I decided to make something using store-cupboard ingredients.

I took a tin of mango in juice and chopped the fruit into bite-size chunks, laying them in the bottom of a Pyrex dish. I quickly mixed up some basic cake mixture and flavoured it with ginger powder, vanilla essence and a little of the mango juice from the tin. I poured the batter over the fruit and stuck it into the oven.

While the cake was baking, I boiled up the remaining juice from the mango tin with a slug of apple juice, a dash of sugar and some more ginger powder and reduced it until it made a thickish syrup. Once the cake came out of the oven I pricked it all over with a skewer, and poured the syrup over the top and left it to cool a little.

I didn’t leave it for too long though, and was soon tucking in to a substantial portion warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream… and it was yum! Guess who has a big contented smile on her face now, as well as something sweet in her belly.

Nice yummy surprise for my husband when he gets home from work at 10pm too! πŸ™‚

Weekly Smile