Molly Birnbaum: 'I didn't realise until I lost one how important the senses all are when you're cooking'

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

My earliest food memory... Eating lox [cured salmon], eggs and onions, which my father used to cook for me when my mother was working late. It filled the house with a very particular smell, and I'm not sure I actually liked it, but it was very special being able to have dinner just with my dad, and we always had exactly the same thing.

My store-cupboard essentials... A good bottle of olive oil, chickpeas for making hummus, really spicy mustard and a bottle of white wine in the fridge. My boyfriend is from New Orleans, so we also always have a special garlicky spice mix called Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning in the cupboard.

My favourite cookbook... The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. She is very into organic cooking using simple, whole ingredients – and in an interesting way, not a crunchy, healthy one. The recipes focus on getting the most flavour from a small number of ingredients; there's a particularly phenomenal- tasting one for spinach lasagna.

The kitchen gadget I can't live without...My immersion [hand] blender. I make a lot of soup, and it's great to be able just to blend it in the pot. Also, my KitchenAid mixer for baking: I made a wedding cake for a friend last weekend, and was using it for 15 hours straight. I started baking a lot after I lost my sense of smell [in 2005, following a head trauma she suffered when hit by a car], as it's much more scientific than other types of cooking, which means that I don't have to taste as I go along.

My culinary tip... Pay attention to all your senses. I didn't realise until I lost one how important they all are when you're cooking: now that I've recovered, I not only concentrate on the smell to my nose and the taste in my mouth, but also the sound. For example, if you listen to the chatter of butter as it melts in the pan, there's a moment when it fizzles up then it's suddenly quiet, and that's you're cue to throw in whatever you're frying.

My favourite food shop... I love cheese – the stinkier, the better – and in Boston where I live, there's a wonderful shop called Formaggio Kitchen, which has a bigger range of cheeses than I ever knew existed.

My guilty pleasure... I have an insane love of ice-cream – I would eat it for every meal if I could. But it can't be plain old smooth ice-cream; texture became very important to me after my accident. Ben & Jerry's is a company that does ice-cream with a lot of chunks and textural variety, in part because one of the owners cannot smell either.

My desert-island dish... I would probably have one of my favourite dishes that I make at home, which is braised chicken with honey and figs. It's from The Union Square Café Cookbook, but I've tweaked if over the years to make it my own.

The strangest thing I've eaten... After the accident, I ate a lot of cottage cheese with really spicy salsa on top because I liked the clash of hot and cold in my mouth. My family thought it was very strange; I haven't had that combination in a very long time!

My pet hates... I'm not a huge fan of the bacon craze that's going on [in the US]. It feels like bacon is everywhere: I like it on its own but with chocolate or in ice-cream? It's way overused.

My tipple of choice... The drink I've really come to love this summer is the Negroni, which is a cocktail made from vermouth, Campari and bitters. I first had it when I was in a bar in New Orleans with my boyfriend recently. One of his friends ordered one and I tried it: I love the bitter kick it gives at the back of your tongue.

Molly Birnbaum is a food writer. Her memoir, 'Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way', (£12.99, Portobello/Granta) is out now

Comments