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Food and Music are the Keys to Memory

Do I need help? I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking and talking about food.

As I ponder the benefits of using Meyer lemons over your basic supermarket brand, I wonder at times what matters of consequence I could be contemplating instead - the pros and cons of health care, the meaning of life or perhaps why the sky is blue. But no, I would prefer to think about food. It is part of my genetic make-up - when planning family get-togethers, the first question any of my sisters asks is, "What can I bring?" (meaning food, of courseā€¦).

I think I have been obsessed with meal planning since I made my first dinner from the Betty Crocker Boys and Girls Cookbook - homemade "Shake and Bake-style chicken, a bunny salad (pears with cottage cheese tails) and molasses crinkles for dessert.

Food stimulates my sense memories - it is how I navigate my history. I even recollect visits from friends by what I served them for dinner - "Ah yes, I remember it well, that was the night of the roasted tomato and goat cheese appetizer." "No, I think you are wrong - I distinctly recall we had the porcini mushroom risotto."

Food is my memory trigger. It starts with the recollection of the meal, leads to remembered conversations - a shared laugh and a visual journey down memory lane. Food memories are how I orient myself. I even give directions in the Boston area using restaurants as my compass points - they are just around the corner from Redbones; they live half a block from Dali; you won't miss their place, they are right next to Rosie's Bakery.

Music is the other trigger for me - a familiar provocation for most. Rickie Lee Jones' "Chuck E.'s in Love" sends me to a spring day, hanging out on a dorm roof in my first shorts of the season. "Truckin" by the Grateful Dead brings me to Harvard square on a summer evening, listening to the street musicians. Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of your life)" has me back in an auditorium seat watching the Senior class video as my daughter graduated from high school. And it is not always your favorite songs that elicit the memories - "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas was my senior high class song. I am sure that is what made it pour that day.

There is nothing I like better than to invite friends over, try out a few new recipes and put on some of my favorite music. Here are two cookbooks I have recently admired and a few CD's that are worth checking out.

Cookbooks:

The Conscious Cook -Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change Your Life by Tal Ronnen - A vegan cookbook that puts protein at the center of the plate and creates satisfying meals for both meat-lover and vegetarian palates. 75 creative and diverse recipes accompanied by beautiful full-color photographs (and they taste good too!).

Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition by Barbara Lynch - A local girl, self-taught chef Barbara Lynch was raised in the projects of South Boston, where she ate mostly processed foods. She was introduced to cooking by her high school home economics teacher and fell in love with the craft. Since then, she's opened a cooking school, a cookbook store, a deli, a butcher shop and several award-winning restaurants including No. 9 Park. She has also given us this gorgeous cookbook filled with mouth-watering recipes including a few of her restaurants' signature dishes.

Music:

Theresa Andersson, Hummingbird, Go! - Raised in Sweden and based in New Orleans, Andersson got her start recording quirky harmonies in her kitchen. Influenced by both folk music and Motown, her voice is reminiscent of a contemporary Dusty Springfield.

Big Star, #1 Record and Radio City - With the untimely passing of Alex Chilton, it is time to look back at the pop band, Big Star - a cult-level band that followed Chilton's stint as the lead singer of the Box Tops. Big Star was said to combine elements of the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks and the Byrds. Bands like R.E.M., the Replacements and Wilco have helped Big Star to gain its mythic stature, citing the band as influential on their music (watch for these two CDs, soon to be in our collection).

XX, The XX - This young Indie quartet from London sings candidly about relationships and makes music that's simple and raw, but very captivating. I suspect that this is a band to watch.

Neil Young, Sugar Mountain Live at Canterbury House, 1968 - Neil Young was just 22 when he took the stage at the Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was nervous and had to be coaxed from his hotel room. The concert was an intimate performance combining new material and familiar Buffalo Springfield tunes. Forty years had to pass before we could hear this concert in its entirety - but it was worth the wait.

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Friday, April 16th, 2010 at 1:24 pm and is filed under Books, Column, Reading Room.


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