Season to Taste

Hello, friends, and happy Monday to you!

Hey, what are you doing tomorrow night at 7pm? I’ll be at the Harvard Book Store listening to my friend, Molly Birnbaum, read from her first book, Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way. If you live in the Boston area, I hope you’ll join me.

Some of you might know Molly from her blog, My Madeleine. If you do, then you already know that she’s a beautiful writer. Molly once compared writing to grasping at sentences that burrow into your brain like worms, which must mean that she, like the rest of us, occasionally struggles to get the words down on the page. To read her prose, you’d never know it. Sometimes, when I’m all jammed up and feeling the urge to hurl my stupid, stupid computer and its stupid, blinky cursor out the window, I click over to her site and read a couple of posts, instead. I always feel much better. Molly’s writing reminds me of what words can do when you just chill the heck out and let them do it. That may not sound like much in the way of epiphanies, but some days, it feels like everything.

I can’t remember exactly when or how I found Molly. I’m pretty sure that it was sometime during those first few months of my recovery back in 2008, when things were still touch and go. I’ve never mentioned it here before, but when the surgeons went in to scrape out the infection that had set in around my brain (memories!), my olfactory nerves were damaged. For a while, I could smell nothing. Someone must have mentioned an article that Molly had written in The New York Times about the loss of her own sense of smell following a terrible accident, and her gradual recovery. I don’t think I read it then, but months later, I somehow discovered her blog, remembered her story, and dug into her archives to learn more: how she had graduated from college planning to enroll at the Culinary Institute of America; how she sweated it out in one of the finest kitchens around, up to her elbows in pork fat, washing dishes, deveining shrimp; and how, just a few months before starting culinary school, she was hit by a car, lost her sense of smell, and with it, her ability to taste. Suddenly, she had to rethink everything.

Season to Taste is the story of all this and more. It came out just last week, and it’s been so much fun watching the world grab hold of it. Today, Molly can smell just about everything, and in her book she tells us how she got here. It’s a memoir, but it’s also a brilliant and moving piece of science writing about the sense of smell, the psychology of it, and what’s actually going on up there in that tangle of nerves that allows us to breathe in and register something about the world that would otherwise remain invisible. Best of all, whether she’s writing about love and loss, or the discovery of elephant sex pheromones, Molly sounds like Molly. I know, because last summer, Molly moved to Cambridge, and quickly became one of my truest friends. I get to hear her voice all the time, and I love the thought that all of you get to hear it now, too.

In honor of the release, I want to share a recipe for lemon curd squares with rosemary. Rosemary was the first thing that Molly smelled when her nerves began to recover, so it feels only natural to include it here, today. I found the recipe in Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, a book I can’t wait to tell you more about, and I didn’t change a thing. I noticed last night that, in a strange coincidence, Molly also just posted about lemon bars on her blog! Oh well. We’re celebrating, right? Bring on the dessert. Lemon bars for everyone!

Congratulations, M. I’m so thrilled for you.

Lemon Curd Squares with Rosemary
Adapted from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark

For the shortbread:
3 c. all-purpose flour
1½ c. (3 sticks) unsalted butter
½ c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. confectioners’ sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary (just to be clear, measure after you’ve chopped)
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest

For the lemon curd:
6 large eggs
1½ c. granulated sugar
2/3 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
¼ c. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
A pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 325 and lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

Make the shortbread:
Combine the 3 c. flour, butter, ½ c. granulated sugar, confectioners’ sugar, rosemary, and 1 tsp. lemon zest in a food processor, and pulse until a crumbly dough forms. Don’t be alarmed if the dough is very, very crumbly, indeed. That’s just how it is. It will come together beautifully as it bakes.

Press the dough into the prepared pan and bake until the shortbread is golden around the edges, about 40 minutes.

While the shortbread is baking, make the lemon curd:
In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then add the 1½ c. granulated sugar, lemon juice, flour, ¼ c. flour, 1 Tbsp. lemon zest, and salt, and whisk until smooth.

When the shortbread is ready, take it out of the oven and increase the temperature to 350. Pour the lemon curd onto the shortbread and return the pan to the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes more, until the topping is just set. Allow to cool to room temperature before cutting into squares. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar right before serving.

The bars will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days.

Yield: 24 squares.


Molly said...

You are so incredibly sweet, Jess. And quite an inspiration yourself! I don't know what I'd do without you, your lovely writing, and your delicious cooking here in Cambridge. Lemon bars for everyone, indeed! xoxo

Sally said...

Lovely post, as always. I read about the book, and it sounds amazing - wish that I could go tonight...

And the lemon/rosemary combination sounds irresistable - I'll have to think of a good reason to make it...

Tracy said...

I just stumbled upon Molly's blog for the first time today. And I've thought about lemons at least four times today already. Talk about synchronicity.

linda said...

you always touch an emotional chord… jess, you are an incredible person; a brave & creative soul. how very lucky we all are to be able to virtually chat with you.
we have been connected through SA for 3 years & it is a wonderful journey for me to be here…truly!
molly sounds just as amazing as you & how fortunate for the both of you to have each other.
in honor of you & molly i am going to bake these squares.

&…i hope this finds you feeling great…virtual baby shower anyone? !!

momMe said...

I've just started reading Molly's book and I am drinking in her beautiful words. My very wet Ohio garden is teeming with rosemary. I love picking it because the smell lingers on my hands. Each time I go hunting in the garden to see what's sprouting I have to pick at least a few sprigs to leave on the kitchen counter to enjoy the scent. Recommendations for rosemary recipes are much appreciated. Congratulations to Molly. Happy celebrating.

Jess said...

Molly - Thanks, friend, and see you tomorrow! I can't wait.

Thanks, Sally. I actually wasn't sure at first how I was going to feel about rosemary in my lemon squares. Now I know that how I feel about it is GOOD. Melissa Clark knows what she's talking about.

That's so funny, Tracy! I think the universe must be telling you to buy Molly's book and make these lemon squares. (Obviously, right?)

You are too kind, Linda. Thank you so much. The pleasure is all mine! I am indeed very, very lucky to have Molly in my life. (And yes, I'm feeling great!)

Hey, Mom! Your garden! I can't believe I'm going to miss seeing it this year. I'm so happy that Molly's book arrived and that you're enjoying it. Wish you could be with us here tomorrow night.

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

It looks like a really interesting book. I've requested it from my library. Enjoy Molly's reading.

Jen said...

What a beautiful post! I must say that Molly and YOU both have blogs that I go to for more than just the food but also for the words.

geraldine said...

I'm reading this fascinating and engaging book at the moment. I found Molly's blog through yours - so many thanks for that, Jess! It was lovely to hear your wonderful news, you have so much joy ahead of you. Stay happy & healthy!

martha said...

So glad to hear your wonderful news. I will be trying to read Molly's book somehow, probably hard here in Italy. Do you think she would like to visit and bring a copy? For those of us who don't know what is your progress on your degree and what is it in? Are you working in that field? Like many others I look forward to your posts.

Jess said...

I wish I had seen this last week. I have never heard of Molly, her blog, or book. I look forward to reading it soon!

A Day That is Dessert said...

Thank you for this great introduction to Molly and her book. I bought it last week after I read your post and was completely drawn in. I'll be thinking about this book for a long time.

On a separate note, I will also make these lemon bars! One of my favorite desserts.

Hope you and baby are well. xoxo (Eli too, of course.)

Jess said...

Hi, Denise! I hope you'll enjoy it.

Thank you so much, Jen. That means a lot.

You're very welcome, Geraldine. Molly's wonderful. It makes me happy to know that you found her through Sweet Amandine. (And thank you for the kind wishes!)

Thank you, Martha. I bet Molly would love nothing more than to hand deliver a copy of her book to your doorstep in Italy! (Of course, there is that teensy weensy detail of airfare...) To answer your questions about what I'm up to beyond the blog: I'm working on a PhD in Yiddish and Hebrew literature, and I'm currently in the dissertation writing stage. I also teach undergraduate literature courses at my university.

Hello, Jess. Always nice to meet another Massachusetts blogger! I think Molly has some other readings in the New England area over the next week or two. You can check out her blog for more information.

Lecia, oh! I wish we could sit down and discuss it together. Preferably over a couple of your cinnamon buns. (Talk about something that I've been thinking about for a long time...) xo!

Maria @ Scandi Foodie said...

These sound just incredibly delicious! I've had sensational Meyer lemons this year and rosemary is still blooming despite the cool winter weather we've had in Sydney. I can't wait to try this! Thanks for the inspiration!

Jess said...

Hi, Maria. A batch of these lemon squares with your very own lemons and rosemary?! That sounds just wonderful. And I think the Meyer lemons will pair beautifully with the rosemary. Enjoy!