Monkey Bread… ’nuff said.*

“You had me at hello.”

Renee Zellweger told Tom Cruise to shut up then uttered those 5 simple words, and women all over America swooned, becoming adoring fans of a sports movie called Jerry Maguire.

Similarly, men thumped their chests over Cuba Gooding Jr.’s flamboyant instruction to “Show me the money!” and were thus charmed into becoming adoring fans of a love story, also called Jerry Maguire.

Somehow, it was both.

Although I have never had a “show me the money” moment, I have had a “you had me at hello” moment.

Well, it wasn’t exactly “hello.”

It was more, “You had me at the monkey bread.”

Together, my then girlfriend/now wife and I have survived two presidential elections (barely), multiple stomach viruses, carpal tunnel surgery, numerous vehicular dents (primarily on her rear bumper), two insanely teenage daughters with one more to go, a quirkily unpredictable kid with autism, multiple career changes, and Ebola, each of which is worthy of its own future column.  Through it all, we have shown our ability to remain steadfast through adversity.

But I harken back to the days when we first met.

On our first date, we met in Knoxville to see Batman, the Dark Knight in Imax 3D, only about two weeks of salary for me at the time.  In our seats, we did not touch, nor hold hands, nor bump shoulders, nor nothin’.   We ate popcorn and watched the movie and that was that.  I was a perfect gentleman.

She, of course, undressed me with her eyes, but I think she regretted it immediately and hastily reclothed me.

After the movie, a car nearly ran us down in the parking lot and she hurled a host of profanities at them as they sped by, and I thought to myself, “I’m going to marry this woman someday.”

It was a beautiful moment.

Ok, she actually only squeaked out one very small four-letter word, which to this day she insists never happened.  It did.  The rest was somewhat embellished.

My embellishment is just part of the beauty of writing of remembrances.  Taking the facts as they were and capturing them in words with a little added flair just makes for good reading.

What I have no difficulty remembering vividly is my first treat to monkey bread a few short weeks later.

Oh, the monkey bread, that warm delight, cinnamon encrusted, crispy with pecans on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside.  I actually had to replace my keyboard mid-column due to complications related to a drooling issue I’d rather not go into detail on.

Our dating relationship had grown, and we had exchanged keys and even begun to include the kids.  This momentous day was a pre-planned lazy Saturday.  She and her daughter would get up early and drive from their house in Knoxville to my apartment in Sevierville, and we would hang out together all day long and play family.  By this point in our relationship, I had deduced that she was a late sleeper, so I expected her “early” arrival to be somewhere around noon.

In a flagrant but successful attempt to woo me, she had other plans – her specialty, the monkey bread.

Ah, the monkey bread.  Quartered biscuits are formed into balls, rolled in cinnamon-sugar, and piled in a Bundt cake pan, interspersed with chopped pecans.  Then a hot, gooey conglomeration of brown sugar and enough melted butter to make Paula Deen question the excessive indulgence is poured over the top and allowed to drool through all the crevices until no single orifice is left uncoated.  Finally, it is topped off with more crushed pecans and baked lovingly.

As yet ignorant of such concoction’s existence, I slumbered peacefully, awakening to my first indication of her presence in my home by way of the scent of cinnamon wafting through the air, sweeter than pure honeysuckle outside an open window.

I had no idea what this heavenly scent was attached to, but immediately deemed it worthy of investigation.  I got up and made my way to the kitchen just in time to see her mitted hands carefully turning the pan over to form a perfectly shaped Bundt cake stack of doughy balls covered in a crispy, gooey glaze, holding the parts together perfectly and just waiting to be torn asunder in satisfaction of my watering mouth and now joyfully tear-swollen eyes.

My first taste sealed the deal.  She was a keeper, and verily, she had me at the monkey bread.

A crucial part of the process is simply allowing the heavenly topping to run its course to the bottom of the pan.  That particular step, nearly equivalent in agony to pulling up a lawn chair to watch sap drip from a maple tree, has frustrated me at times.  My desire to begin baking almost immediately has all too  frequently punished my lack of patience with a batch not completely coated.

This day, however, the magical combination of it being prepared at her house, then rattled and shaken in the back seat of her car for 45 minutes, resulted in absolute perfection.  So much so that we have considered modifying the recipe to include “place in back seat of car and drive around for 45 minutes” just before the “bake at 350…” line.

Today, after dozens of iterations of monkey bread and the aforementioned trials, our relationship has matured but my desire, bordering on demand, for the monkey bread never wanes. It is an addiction I can’t help but feed.

Baby, you actually had me at your cinnamon-scented hello, but please don’t ever forget to “Show me the monkey bread!”

If you enjoyed this column and would like to see more, click here.

© Michael L. Collins

  • This column originally appeared in the June 3, 2015 edition of The Mountain Press under the name “The way to this man’s heart is through his stomach.”

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