Music is the soundtrack of our lives and cooking is the love

Music is the soundtrack of our lives and cooking is the love

Here’s something I’m sure you’ve experienced in your lifetime: You catch a whiff of something, taste something or hear a few notes of music and are transported to another place and moment and catch all the associated feelings and have to stop and rewatch it all in your mind’s eye.

Music, food and smells occupy a very special place in our development and in the footprint of our experience.

A few years ago, I wrote about the improved lunchtime offerings at Dover High School and went there for the first time during a meal service since graduation. I didn’t need to get close to the cafeteria before the feeling of being a student came back because the building carried the smell of books, over-stimulated teens and the minute memory dust of tens of thousands of students passing through the halls for over 80 years.

The cafeteria, it turned out, smelled different than I remembered. Then it was round pizzas, crinkle frozen fries, cheeseburgers, chili and hamburger gravy. Now it has changed to a lot of salads and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Crisp meringue cookies remind me of my friend’s English-born mother and her vast teakettle. Macaroni salad is forever linked in my mind to illness after I got sick on a batch at 15. Hot dogs take me to childhood Christmas Eves and fireplaces. I’ll never eat Thanksgiving dressing again without thinking of my late sister.

I can still pass by someone wearing the perfume favored by my very first girlfriend decades ago and recognize it and the memories it carries immediately. We have happily remained close friends over the years, and I generally send her a note about it when it happens because I think our brains are remarkable in their permanent memory associations.

And then there is music, the other great associator. Just as there are smells that capture moments in time and bring lovely memories, there are songs I absolutely cannot hear even a few notes of because of their association with heartbreak and grief, while others send me straight back to the small bedroom at my parents’ house with its sculptured blood-red carpet, long cheap dresser with crooked drawers, tired-out record player and fish aquarium. There were black light monster posters on the wall next to the Farrah Fawcett one we all had. Billy Joel and “Just the Way You Are” makes it all vivid again.

Music and cooking are close forms of artistic expression, and the two go together like heartbeats and breath. It began when I was a child and spent time with my grandfather, who was a great cook, even if most of his skill was at the gas grill just off the back patio and under the aluminum awning.

Whenever he was cooking, he had music going in the background, usually whatever was on the AM band at the moment, and it piped scratchy and whistling from the tiny radio perched atop the fridge.

Like wine, music has its food pairings. When you’re cooking something interesting, the music should match. A heavy, dry cabernet doesn’t go so well with a light steamed fish dish, and in the same vein, Led Zeppelin isn’t what is called for if you’re making something delicate.

For many dishes I like to have classical music going in the background, but nothing too serious or attention robbing. I enjoy opera, but I find it sets my nerves on edge after a while, and I might just overdo the garlic or something as a result.

Because my wife is a big Cher fan, that’s usually first in the cooking mixtape lineup. Then it might move to Motown or James Brown, perhaps a little Madonna. The music changes in direct proportion to the amount of wine not going into the cooking pot but into us instead.

Eventually, it’s going to veer to Heart before moving to flat-out Lady Gaga. If there’s time in the last few minutes before serving, the whole show winds down with Gaga joining Tony Bennett in a slinky duet.

At times the whole meal is prepared start to finish with jazz — the assessable pre-’50s stuff, not the ‘60s and later jazz, which always causes my wife to say, “Just find the note for Petesake.”

Music is the soundtrack of our lives, and cooking is the love. Both nourish the soul, and combined, they’ll help to keep you healthy and happy.