The making of a positive food experience involves many components working together to create that “Aha!” moment. Let me share with you a story from my own kitchen that illustrates how a positive food experience develops, and provides some key takeaways for you as you strive for positive food experiences for yourself and your family.
Bread Baking 101
The day started just like any other day. I did some meal planning over the weekend, and had an interesting Japanese meal planned for that night. I picked out some unique components of the meal, to include seafood risotto, caramelized eggplant, and even a recipe for Japanese milk bread. We had never cooked Japanese food, so this was an exciting time.
Bread making has always been a challenge for me. In the past, I have used bread machines, which worked just fine. Recently, however, we started making diverse types of bread by hand. The consistency has ranged from a hockey puck, to a brick, to a sponge. The texture has been less than stellar, and the taste has been mediocre at best. Needless to say, with this bread recipe, I was both hesitant and worried. Would the yeast activate? Would the bread rise? How would it taste and smell? What would the consistency be? Would it somewhat resemble bread?
My husband worked from home that morning, so he supervised the initial process. We cautiously mixed the ingredients. The yeast was fresh, as were the other ingredients. The dough was a little sticky, so we added more flour. I placed the dough into a greased bowl and covered it with a clean dishcloth. Then I waited…and waited…and waited.
The recipe stated the dough should rise for approximately 50 minutes. At the appointed time, I peeked under the cloth. Nothing happened.
I texted my husband to get his thoughts on the matter. He recommended we let it rise for another hour. When I checked it an hour later, it had risen a little bit. The bread seemed usable.
I proceeded to form the dough into rolls and let it rise again for an hour. The dough rose a little bit. I took my husband’s advice and waited an additional hour to see whether the dough would rise a little more. It did! They looked like rolls! So I placed them in the oven. After a short time, I detected the smell of fresh bread. Great! I carefully removed it from the oven when the timer sounded. It looked good, it smelled great, and it tasted fabulous!
Did I actually make a successful loaf of bread? Yes I did! I felt like the mad scientist who created Frankenstein when he said, “It’s alive!”
The Moment of Truth
My husband came home to a variety of smells from the bread, the risotto (which came out amazingly delicious, by the way), and the eggplant. Being a tactile person, he immediately grabbed a roll. He looked at it intricately – almost the way a jeweler would inspect a ring. As he smelled it, thoughts, ideas, and memories flooded his mind. He tasted it – mmmmm, this was definitely a keeper! He was overwhelmed with excitement! Not only that, it brought forward memories of his mother’s bread that she baked as she was raising the children. The recipe itself was for Japanese milk bread. Yet he stated that his mother used to make a type of milk bread for the family. Could it be the same or a similar recipe?
With every bite, my husband constantly smelled the bread before he popped it in his mouth, with a mixture of disbelief and excitement. He instantly recognized his mother’s bread. He immediately called one of his sisters (right there at the dinner table) to share the good news with her. They gleefully shared their experiences and memories of their mother’s bread together over the phone.
Will we make this bread recipe again? You bet!
Was this a positive food experience? Definitely!
Although the recipe was new, it (unknowingly) had the connection to a memory of past bread experiences. Of all things, a Japanese cuisine triggered the memory of fresh Wisconsin bread eaten long ago. We later pulled up a copy of his mother’s bread recipe to compare to the Japanese milk bread recipe. They were slightly similar, yet different.
We were both actively involved in making the bread, so we both had a stake in the success of this part of the meal. I felt motivated to keep making that Japanese milk bread recipe from time to time. I also felt motivated to make his mother’s bread recipe and compare it to the Japanese milk bread.
What are some things we can learn from this story?
Creating positive food experiences is a lot like waiting for dough to rise. You have to put the right ingredients together, and then WAIT. If you feel frustrated that your efforts aren’t coming to fruition, keep trying! Don’t give up!
Food is the medium for creating positive food experiences.
In the case of the bread, the bread was a medium to pull him into that memory. He relived those experiences through the bread we just made.
Positive food experiences emerge from memorable events associated with food.
Like the story of the Japanese milk bread, that event in itself was memorable primarily because it evoked memories of my husband’s experience with his mother’s bread. The event brought back different times in my husband’s life when his mother baked bread: the quantity she baked to feed a large family, the smell that permeated the house, the taste and texture, and how it looked.
All of these experiences in and of themselves also generate memories.
A memory forms each time a loaf of bread is baked. Each time we try a new cuisine, prepare the environment, or pay attention to any of The Six Principles of Positive Food Experiences, we form memories.
You can create triggers of happy memories.
You can make quality meals and snacks that trigger emotion, excitement, and flavor –food that people want to eat.
Even if it is your first time making a dish, you can use the six principles of positive food experiences (food, people, environment, knowledge base, interaction, motivation) to create a memory you can refer back to again and again.
I invite you to explore your family recipes and integrate them into your meal planning. I also invite you to get feedback consistently from those with whom you eat (friends, family, colleagues, etc.) to discover how they experience the meals you serve (regardless of whether it was a family recipe). If you are dining alone, think about what foods and recipes you enjoy.
What new things do you (or your family) want to try? What foods have you had previously (whether at a friend’s house, restaurant, etc.) that have made a significant impact on you?
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What memories have you experienced recently from a food or meal? Tell us about it!