With a limited food budget to raise four sprouts when dad's naval epaulettes hadn't yet earned their eventual four stripes, mom got creative in the kitchen. Pig treats she called boiled potatoes with butter and salt; Schweine bonbons. Those happy occasions coincided with constipation in her weekly food allowance because one of us needed new shoes or had to see Doktor Lauterbach the kind local GP. Our usual bread spread was margarine. Butter was reserved for special days; like serving just boiled potatoes carefully tossed to achieve flakiness. We thought nothing of it. Her subterfuge worked its porcine treat. Can I have one more?
Cooking flavors I remember fondly from adolescence are her Kartoffeln in Senfsoße (potatoes in mustard cream) which she always served with a whole boiled egg for each of us; and Marjoram Kartoffeln. Having never identified the herb under said name since, I gave up on recreating the bygone flavor. Only today did I learn that the English refer to marjoram as (cough!) oregano. Needless to say, I rushed into the kitchen to sniff-test our lone bottle of dried oregano. Kinda; but certainly no pipe. In fact not even a cigarillo or hateful cigarette. That wasn't the smell this non-smoker recalled so vividly.
What rekindled it on the nose was to be found in a bottle of chimichurri from Spanish supplier Carmencita. Looking up its ingredients—the general rule is to list them from highest to lowest percentage—I saw paprika, parsley, oregano, garlic, onions, cayenne pepper and pepper. Finally I made the long-lost connection. Duh! Obviously mom hadn't used just marjoram in her fêted potatoes. She'd carefully seasoned them with other herbs. I simply doubt that she ever owned a bottle of chimichurri mix or even knows of it today. Hey, chimichangas weren't part of our domestic vocabulary either.
If you worried how I'd get from chimichurri to hifi – easy. As we refine our aural palate, the final flavor we fancy can get hyper specific. Unlike my mistake of pursuing marjoram by itself, it's invariably a complex mix of ingredients just like chimichurri. Exact percentages or proper sequencing are key to achieving the desired balance. Just saying tubes, silver cables or ribbon tweeters is far too myopic. We need to broaden our vision. Include a lot more. That needn't be exotic at all. In my childhood kitchen, garlic, onions, black pepper, cayenne, parsley and paprika certainly weren't.
In just the right blend built around our key trigger ingredient, good ol' basics can hit it squarely on the noise. Needless to say, with my original bottle of Carmencita chimichurri running on empty, I just ordered replacements from Spain. St. Patrick bless the Internet and DPD. I'm back in the Marjoram Kartoffeln business. This being Ireland, potatoes are in long supply as is. Hurray!
PS: In case you missed the subtext, my fondest childhood kitchen memories are of very simple dishes. Conflating bliss with exotica wasn't the point. Marjoram only seemed exotic until I realized how it translates properly; and what to surround it with!