The three items announced in the title of this post are actually listed as “Breakfast” on the menu of the Play School where we recently enrolled our son. Needless to say, I am horrified that this institution considers “milk, biscuit, and applesauce” a meal. You could read this menu and think that we sent our son to a scene from The Little Princess (1939) or better yet, Great Expectations. The austerity of this “meal” makes no sense. Why wouldn’t they try to enliven this choice with color? We live in Georgia and they make no effort to include the peach?! In fact, the fruit listed as an accompaniment to all of the meals on the menu is either processed or suspended in syrup of some kind, which is completely unnecessary. When I want to sweeten my fruit, I usually add honey. I recently watched a beautiful film about honey through a link on Simply Breakfast, one of my favorite food blogs to visit. In watching that video, you get the sense that those people know how to eat.
Breakfast is a deeply aromatic experience; it should smell rustic, earthy, and savory. There should be the scent of sweet or slightly tart berries mixing with the thick, heavy scent of percolating coffee, and complimented by a background of milk pooled in a mug, waiting in a creamer, and curdled in a dish.
The proposed breakfast menu at my son’s Play School fails to engage his sense of smell and this can cut him off from an intense set of experiences. In an article from The New York Times several years back on a conference on olfaction, the description of the power of the sense of smell was as poetic as my own memories stirred by the oatmeal my grandmother made with a touch of maple syrup and a pat of butter:
“Olfaction is an ancient sense, the key by which our earliest forebears learned to approach or slink off. Yet the right aroma can evoke such vivid, whole body sensations that we feel life’s permanent newness, the grounding of now.”
Our sense of smell can awaken us to the urgency of our existence and our uniqueness in the world. I love time’s presence in our sense of smell and recognize its potency. According to Jay A. Gottfried, as quoted in the Times,
“Olfaction is our slow sense, for it depends on messages carried not at the speed of light or of sound, but at the far statelier pace of a bypassing breeze, a pocket of air enriched with the sort of small, volatile molecules that our nasal-based odor receptors can read. Yet olfaction is our quickest sense. Whereas new signals detected by our eyes and our ears must first be assimilated by a structural way station called the thalamus before reaching the brain’s interpretive regions, odiferous messages barrel along dedicated pathways straight from the nose and right into the brain’s olfactory cortex, for instant processing.”
My perception of the coffee that I do not drink but whose scent I strongly remember percolating on Ma Mildred’s stove has the sense of pace that Gottfried describes. I experience it both as a whiff that creeps up out of my past and that is as available as it is gone. I can hear Ma Mildred’s husband Robert slurping his coffee from the saucer he took it from and I can see myself forming an impression. I seemed to be aware of myself creating memories at breakfast time; that’s what it seemed to be for.
My son and I make pancakes together in the mornings. He’s gotten pretty good at following instructions. He can dump and stir all of the ingredients “without making a mess.” This practice has become
something that we do together on the weekends. I’ve been trying out different biscuit recipes on Sunday mornings and he helps with that too.
My mother tried to make me feel better about the “meals” he would be served at Play School by telling me that he would get used to them. I explained to her that that is precisely what I don’t want to happen! I don’t want him to get used to that menu. So I’ve decided not to routinize that meal for him. When our schedule requires that we have to surrender him to that spartan, Play School fare, then he will encounter such austerity as an irregularity; otherwise, the evocative, aesthetic experience of an aromatic breakfast will be his measure. We take him to Play School after he’s had breakfast at home. We decided that his sense of smell was far too important to neglect.