If you are a This Is Us fan, you know that last week’s episode was all about memories. I’m not giving anything away; I think we can safely expect that the focus of this entire season will have something to do with the things we remember. The concept of losing our memory in any way is a terrifying one. The life inside our heads is such an incredibly rich combination of all that we’ve learned, all that we’ve experienced, and all of the emotional reactions subsequently intertwined with both. This last component is a critical part of the equation. Almost every one of us can remember what the weather was like on the emotionally charged days when each of our children was born, but we might struggle to recall those same details from just last week. Scientists have learned that memories that have strong ties to feelings such as joy, shame, love, or grief are stored in a different part of the brain and tend to have the longest staying power. This emotional connection led me to wonder about how memories are tied to sensory experience, especially after writing last week’s post about how important the stimulation is that comes in through our five senses. A quick bit of research revealed that each sensory memory has its own name: visual is iconic, auditory is echoic, touch is haptic, smell is olfactory, and taste is gustatory. Because so much sensory input rains down upon us every day, these types of memories are not really built to be retained on their own. Most of them, in fact, will only last a few seconds. They are only moved into long term storage when they evoke a deep emotional response.
Allow me to give you an example. My mom had lots of different coats, but the only one that I remember is a red one that we’d given her as a gift a few years before she died. In my mind, it seems as though she wore it to every doctor’s appointment we went to together, even though that’s definitely not true. I can imagine her riding the train with me into the city, and having lunch afterwards on the days when she still felt well enough to so. I remember holding that coat for her while we talked to the doctor in the examining room. Since then, whenever I see an older woman in a red coat, especially if she has white hair, I am flooded with memories of those days we spent together, and of my mom in general. Sometimes it takes only a glimpse of the color red to elicit the same response. Because of the deep emotional connection I have to that time with my mom, my recollection of that coat, and particularly its color, moved from a simple moment of visual input into a permanent memory of great significance. As you are reading this, I can only imagine that many of you are drawing your own similar connections. Some memories, like the red coat, are very personal. Others are things we can relate to in a more universal way, like opening a bottle of Coppertone and being transported to the beach of our childhood vacations. Or hearing “My Eyes Adored You” by Frankie Valli and being catapulted back to a Saturday in 1975, where we’re making plans for the night on the rotary phone and smelling like Loves Baby Soft or Herbal Essence shampoo.
There is a scientific definition of memory that involve processes inside the brain that index and store information and experiences so that we can retrieve them efficiently. I’m certain that’s correct, but these words have very little to do with how we feel when we remember things. When any sensory experience calls forth a memory that comforts us, it can feel like we’ve just been wrapped up in the softest blanket ever. Suddenly we are incredibly safe and warm. Similarly, if a happy memory is unveiled, we want to dig our heels in and stay a while, basking in the sunshine and joy. We might even smile a little if no one is looking. There are countless instances like these where we are reminded of feeling proud, or loved, or incredibly fulfilled, but that’s only one side of the coin. There are also moments that we have no desire to ever remember again, and when a sensory trigger occurs that takes us back to one of these times, it can be quite painful and, in extreme cases, can be linked to PTSD. These are the places we navigate around as if they are landmines and, in doing so, we learn the value of memory as a protective and guiding force. More than anything else, each time we are transported back, and we return, we witness the circular nature of time. We are also reminded that we are the sum of all we’ve learned, and felt, and experienced, which can be a very grounding realization. We live in the present, but the past is always available to us, with our memories being the mechanism through which we access it. This process grants us those happy moments of reverie, while providing us a with means of circumventing the more difficult places, thus informing our current decisions. Without it, we would feel untethered and without bounds or direction.
For today’s cocktail, I wanted the flavor profile to center around rosemary because it signifies remembrance, and grapefruit because it symbolizes the connection between the mind and the body. I began by infusing twelve ounces of bourbon with one good-sized rosemary sprig for three days and then chose Giffard Pamplemousse liqueur as my secondary spirit. I made a 1:1 maple and water syrup, to which I added five drops of vanilla extract both because it works so well with the main flavors, and because I learned that vanilla actually has strong connections to sensory experience. For the citrus component, I went with grapefruit juice and a small amount of lemon. I used DRAM Palo Santo bitters for their grounding properties, and I finished everything with a pinch of black pepper to help open our mind to seeing all possibilities, past and present. Cheers everyone! Happy Friday!
Return to Me
Pour into your prettiest glass over one large cube.
Garnish with a grapefruit half round.
*Available at Traino’s in Mt. Laurel
**1 part maple syrup/1 part water/5 drops good quality vanilla extract