The sense of smell is cited as a most effective trigger for memories. A whiff of fragrance can send us reeling into romantic thoughts, or perhaps elicit a shimmering glimpse of the sheltered, cozy world of childhood.
One of the hallmarks of holiday festivities is the heart-melting scents wafting from the kitchen. It almost doesn’t matter what’s in the oven: cookies, cakes, scalloped potatoes or roasts — we’re crazy about them all! The precise combination of spices and butter along with time and talent wield the power to seduce and enchant.
To help launch this season of gathering and feasting we’ve connected with some of our favorite cooks (sisters and brothers, all) to share their memories and the recipes that evoke them.
Whatever your religion or traditions, may this season of sharing and celebration bring you hope and joy.
Download the recipes described by these four chefs as a PDF here and read their stories below.
Blue Collar Baking’s Mt. Hood Bundt Cake
KITCHEN INSPIRATION? My Mom definitely was the one who inspired me. For better or for not, Mom always equated baked goods with love. If things were a little rough around the house I’d find an extra baked treat in my school lunch box.
FAVORITE INGREDIENT? Vanilla. Real vanilla is the only kind I use. It’s almost like a booster; it brings out the other ingredients. When I get stressed out at the bakery, it’s not uncommon for me to open a bottle of vanilla and take a big whiff.
FAVORITE HOLIDAY? Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it doesn’t involve the pressure of gift giving. There isn’t all that expectation about did I get the right gift, will I get a gift, do I have to put on a fake smile. It truly is about people gathering, breaking bread, relaxing and just being appreciative of what and who is in front of them. The whole country can get around it; it’s not a religious holiday. You don’t have to worry about being Muslim, Jewish or Christian.
FAVORITE HOLIDAY MEMORY? One of my favorite memories with Art (Kranz, his late partner) is that every year we would take my truck and go get a Christmas tree. We looked together to find the perfect tree on a crisp winter night. We’d bring it in to the house.
On the first night we’d cuddle on the couch while the tree adapted. It would have no ornaments on it. The house would fill up with that evergreen smell. It was just beautiful. I haven’t had a real tree since he passed. I haven’t forsaken Christmas at all, but it’s still a work in progress for me to reclaim Christmas.
319 SW Pine Street, Portland
Cranberry Caramel Tart
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED? My Mom worked in the cafeteria at my grade school. I remember going in early in the morning with her and playing with dough and making rolls. It was something that I always did, and I assumed that every other child did it as well. The baking was in me. It was something that was there.
KITCHEN INSPIRATION? My Grandmother was a nice German lady. She babysat me so I was around her a great deal. I remember some of her yummy treats. She was on a fixed income so at Christmas she’d make her Kringle cookie for everyone. Her apartment was crowded with the preparations. She’s since passed away, and that’s a tradition that I continue.
FAVORITE HOLIDAY? Michael (Mendelson, his partner) and I have two different faiths. It’s a little funny, Michael is Jewish but he’s generally a little antsy about putting up the Christmas tree and I’m excited about pulling out the Menorah.
CHRISTMAS TRADITION? Our biological families are in the Midwest, so we’ve had to create our own family, our own memories. On Christmas Eve, Michael and I go out to whichever expensive, extravagant restaurant we can find open and are defiantly decadent. Then (we go) home to watch the twenty-four hour marathon of Christmas Story and open a gift or two. The following morning, Christmas Day, we have our Christmas brunch for 8 – 10 friends. And, of course, we have lots of Grandma Linda’s Kringle. And Mimosas.
FAVORITE INGREDIENT? I loved chocolate until I moved to Oregon and discovered the fresh fruit. Now I can’t wait to make something with the first rhubarb, the first apples or cranberries.
WHEN DID YOU START COOKING? I was in second grade when I made my first cake. I think it was a box cake. [In my childhood home] most of our baking was done during the holidays. Occasionally during the summers there might be a pie. I took on the pie baking mantle when I was in high school. I perfected my apple pie before I graduated high school.
WHO INSPIRED YOU? My family kind of inspired me. I was really encouraged by how much they loved and enjoyed my cooking and baking. It brought me a lot of joy to have them respond so positively to it.
FAVORITE INGREDIENT? I love chocolate. I love the things you can do with chocolate. It can be something so simple as chocolate chip cookies or as elaborate as a chocolate soufflé. I love everything from the 40% milk chocolate to the 85% bittersweet chocolate and all of the different things you can do with them.
FAVORITE HOLIDAY? Halloween is our favorite holiday. I love it! I love all the treats, the decorations and the mystery that comes with it. It’s exciting to offer people home baked goods during this season, because they don’t expect it.
HOLIDAY TRADITIONS? The holidays for Stephanie and I are very special and our traditions are things we’ve built together. Christmas eve is fantastic; we have crab, a green salad and champagne. We’ve done it with just the two of us and with other family if they are in town. Everyone loves it.
FAMILY TRADITIONS? I didn’t know my Grandmother very well, but I do have a connection. The Fattingman were her recipe, but my Mother carried on the tradition by making them for the holidays. And now I make them, too.
7919 SE Stark Street, Portland, 503-254-5433
Overnight Lamb Shoulder
KITCHEN INSPIRATION? When I think about childhood, and developing a love for food, my grandfather, Chevy (Chase, but not the actor) stands out. He always cooked, and he often had everyone over for really big meals. It was the only time we sat down to eat in large groups. He loved to have theme nights, like “Chevy Chongas,” the chimichangas that were the feature of his Mexican feast.
HOW DO YOU ENTERTAIN? We spend the holidays with friends and family. A few times I’ve had friends to a restaurant that I worked at, while we were closed down, for a big Thanksgiving feast. I love to cook for friends, especially around the holidays. My partner (Rachel Palmer) and I have just started cooking together a lot.
HOLIDAY TRADITIONS? At Christmas we tend to try and relax through the holidays … so we do the opposite of stressful. Last year we rented a hotel room downtown and ate at the buffet (laughs). Then we just lounged in the hot tub.
This recipe has become a new tradition. It’s a pretty traditional Italian style of cooking lamb, with a slow braise. A restaurant that I worked at featured it every Sunday and I cooked it regularly and it became easy. It may seem complicated, but it’s an easy thing to put together. Also, it feeds a lot of people and it’s not an expensive cut of lamb.
1134 NW Everett Street, Portland, 503-241-1600