The three wise men and their ornate pedestal containers wandered through my dreams last night. I smelled the incense first.
I woke thinking of the spices that must have filled the small room, wafting under the noses of the toddler baby and his parents. The exotic otherworldly mingling with the smells of their ordinary.
And it is this way now. The evergreen joining with the scent of take n’ bake pizza as we decorate our tree.
Several years ago, we learned how finely attuned our J’s nose is to smell. As a three-year-old, she learned about the woman who poured her perfume on Jesus’ feet, and then gave her keen sniffer a try. Wearing a bandana to cover her eyes, J identified scent after scent — lavender, orange, vanilla, cinnamon — as if it were second nature to her.
Haven’t I heard that stations of smell live in the brain right next to memory? So the scent of perfume, of laundry detergent, of chocolate chip cookies can take you right back there.
So when J smells cinnamon as an adult, what will she recall? The German Apple Pancakes of Christmas morning or the shaker sitting on the wooden cutting board, ready for sprinkling into the oatmeal she’s made as it simmers on the stovetop?
Cherished celebrations of the year or rhythms of the everyday? Or both.
The home-keeping experts say if you want your house to say welcome, throw some cinnamon sticks in a pot with water, and simmer away. You’ve got yourself some thrifty girl potpourri.
Scents can wrap us in memory or belonging — say, yes, this is a safe place — or strike us with sudden recognition.
When we unwrap our ornaments one by one at the dining room table, it’s the cinnamon that summons the first exclamations of smell. The applesauce stars given their rich color by the spice smell more strongly twelve months later, wrapped as they’ve been all year in thin sheets of tissue.
When I really stop and think, how unbelievable that this staple of seasonal celebrations comes from bark.
For the serviceable cook like me, cinnamon is a baking ingredient, associated largely with the darker months of the year, and an occasional fancy-shmancy addition to meals. For the other half of my marriage, in other places in the world, in this city and in the kitchens of the highly creative, cinnamon is a key ingredient in meals with cauliflower and rice and in coconut soup and fish stew.
I read that before cinnamon dries into its holy scrolls, before it is ground into its shakeable powder, it is the bark of the evergreen cinnamon tree, part of the laurel family. And when I see the pictures, the leaves of the plant look startlingly like the glossy laurel hedge framed by two of our home’s main floor windows.
The very most ordinary everyday-green house wrappings mingling with the scents inside worth remembering.
Were it not for Amber Haines’ prompt of THE CINNAMON at her blog, The Runamuck, I think it’s safe to say it would have been many a year before I’d have written a full post about a spice. Thanks for the inspiration, dear Amber. I’m so loving the opportunity to see the deeper meaning of concrete things through this series.