First week of baseball season. You hear all about the familiar sights and sounds, seeing the field cut just so for the first game, hearing the crack of the bat, but even more provocative than the excitement of the sight of the ballpark are the senses of touch and smell.

If you play baseball, you know how a bat feels in your hands. You can feel it reverberate up your arms when you smack a line drive. In the outfield, you stand, pounding your mitt that you so lovingly took care of all winter long, waiting for the opportunity when you could put it back on. You inhale the smell of old leather. At the end of the day, after a great game, you celebrate with the grass stains from your knees wafting their aroma to your nose.

Welcome to Baseball Season

The ballpark franks, the old mustard, the stickiness of cotton candy and kettle corn on your fingertips. You can hear the sizzle of a steak or sausage on the grill, and smell the char floating across the yard. So many things affect how we perceive our food in addition to the simple answer to the question, “Does it taste good”?

There’s a restaurant in Switzerland called the Blind Cow, where diners are seated in a room that is completely dark, and served by a waitstaff devoid of sight. The result? A dining experience where you can be uninhibited by the appetizing idea of sight. Take away one sense, and your others become heightened. You listen anxiously for the clink of plates in anticipation of your meal arriving at the table. You inhale the deep aroma of what dish sits in front of you. It’s all explained by the waitstaff, but what you do with your senses is your own prerogative. It’s a great place for a “blind date”, (pun intended from a related article, I gather), where one can feel uninhibited by having to make a choice based on physical attractiveness. With so much of our interaction these days being created by artificial means through the internet or text messaging, it is refreshing to read that there’s a flirty, passive way to get to know somebody’s personality without sole judgment centered around appearance. Moreover, it gives us the opportunity to become more intimate with one another, and more intimate with our understanding and enjoyment of our food.

A picture of the inside of the Blind Cow Restaurant, Zurich

Perhaps that’s why candlelit dinners seem so intimate. You have to get close to the person you’re dining with to see them, and it seems awkward to shout over the table when the flicker of one or two candles is all the light that you have to hold every connection between the two of you.

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When I was down at the market in Seattle, there were a number of people who would come and reach out to finger the slime off of a fish, shudder or squeal in disgust, and then go about their day, checking this incredibly mundane item of interest off their list.

Touch a fish-check. Verdict? It’s slimy.

Wow. Great. You’ve grown immensely as a person.

I bring up this little anecdote because there were those who went about it the right way. A mother came by with her twin sons who were about ten years old. They were tow-headed, and each one of the children had their own cane. Both of them were blind.

The mother came up to the stand, and asked politely if they could learn a little bit about the fish. With that, one of the boys offered me his hand. I told him about the salmon, and how every winter they’d head out to sea, and every spring and early summer, they’d come back to the rivers around Washington and lay their eggs.

“It’s going to be a bit cold, and a bit slimy, but the slime is what happens when the fish go from salt water to fresh water. This coat builds up, their color changes, and they go into Power mode.”

“It’s okay that it’s slimy. That’s how I learn. It sounds cool,” one of the brothers said. With an outstretched index finger, we dragged a line along the length of the fish, tracing the curve of the dorsal fin, and stopping at the back swimmer to show him how we would know if the fish had been birthed in a hatchery. As I was teaching him about fish, I never realized how all of these tiny bits of information were literally at our fingertips. Most of those screeching hordes of teenage tourists, in their full faculties, would not be able to grasp such a thing, yet here was a ten year old who got it.

His brother wanted to learn about the dungeness crab. We went over and picked one up.  Gently feeling the different texture of the crab, from the beard to the barnacles and the small serrations on the claws, this kid was fabricating a much clearer picture than any one person could hope to get from merely looking at the display and voicing their ignorant cries of, “That looks so gross.”

We smelled an oyster from one specific bay, and we smelled one from another, about fifteen miles away. They pointed out the subtle differences in aroma, and I got to tell the reasons that made the smells so unique.

When it comes down to knowing your food, we all know that we eat with our eyes, but more than that, our other senses guide us. For me, texture is a huge deciding factor as to whether I give a food high marks, but smell is equally as important. A standard episode of any reality chef competition revolves around the blind taste test. The next time you have made one of your favorite comfort foods, give a blind taste test a try. Chances are that you already know how it will look when it comes out, but  close your eyes and savor your food like you would a fine wine. If you can tune your palate to pick up a hint of rosemary or nutmeg, you’ve just added to the experience and hopefully to the overall enjoyment of many favorite meals to come.

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