Life without spice is an oxymoron…. Life just wouldn’t exist without spice, and lots of it. I’ve been remiss in writing for this blog the last few weeks. No excuses. I’ve just been caught up in other writing, especially for www.bruisedandbattered.com and a screenplay and a book, and well…. But the really big excuse is that I wanted to write about spices and kept thinking that I would just go to my spice cabinet and find inspiration.; that I would list the spices here and that somehow that would be a kind of auto-biography. But the drawers are such a mess! I wanted to organize them, take pictures of them and do a kind of show and tell. Their particular kind of chaos is a perfect representation of me. I guess I didn’t like what I saw there. So, struggling between changing what is there and accepting what is there, I opted for the latter. My spice drawers contain a part of my missing son; his spices are now mine. Both of our spices live in happy chaos in my cabinet.
I group my spices into savory and sweet. I used to sort them by color, grouping the green ones (oregano, thyme, marjoram, etc) and the red ones (paprika, smoked paprika, cayenne, schezuan flakes). You get the picture. But I am not alone in my castle and my sous-chef boyfriend doesn’t like to follow those rules. He doesn’t see the point. So, I had to give up on my one little obsession (or do all of the cleaning and putting away of shopping myself). Compromise for peace in the kitchen. I’m trying to visualize the 10 drawers and shelves as I write. Top left: savory spices. 2nd left: oils (truffle, virgin olive, black olive from France, soy sauce, plum sauce, hot pepper oil, mirin, rice vinegar, raspberry vinegar, figue balsamic vinegar, champagne vinegar, red wine vinegar (I never use that one; it belongs to the boyfriend), palm sugar, peanut butter (why here?) and more. 3rd left (a shelf, not a drawer): my favorite vegetarian bullion that works for any soup, cans of treacle and other weird miscellaneous. 4th left: large sacks of spices (curry leaves, cardamon, black cardamon, dried mushrooms, Mexican oregano, epazote and the odd rice noodle package) and tons of asian and Mexican spices. Bottom left: dried peppers like pasilla, ancho, chipotle, small red, large hot red (Chinese), birdseye; by far the fullest drawer. I love my peppers! Top right: flours (plain and self rising, corn, rice), sugars (caster, vanilla, brown, dark brown), sweet spices (clove, cinnamon, 5 spice, allspice, nutmeg) used for Christmas and asian meals. 2nd right: rices, more flour, pasta and some herbal teas. 3rd right: cans of corn, jalapeno peppers, corn, chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, tomato sauce; and doubtless some spillover from the other side. The light goes on! This is more than chaos! It is a mutiny. The savory cans are on the right side and should be on the left where the treacle and… I’ll save that for another day. 4th right: grains like red lentils, green lentils, urad dal, moong dal and others I’ve used once but left spilling out. Bottom right: seaweed, more grains, rice and pasta and 6 large jars of spices unlabelled. They were my son’s. He knew them simply by smelling. They are savory and sweet. His mom is not as gifted. I used to ask him for help, but he is not here anymore. They are a part of his legacy. In his absence, I need a more conventional system, like names on the jars. He cooked purely by inspiration. I need more structure. I use a lot of recipes and improvise a little less than he did.
My life as a spice cabinet. I’ve moved so many times in my life and even when I was young and didn’t move with furniture, I boxed and carried my spices on the plane. My little son. A few black garments for me, clothes and toys for him, toothbrushes, a few photos and my spices; whatever would fit in a car or on the plane. Then later when moving companies moved my things, I carried my spices with me separately, or in one rare case, I fedexed them ahead of my arrival.
When I went to California in January for a one-month trip I brought a few recipes, cookbooks being to heavy to carry, and just trusted that I could find the ingredients I needed for my comfort food. Never again. In the land of plenty, I never did find lime leaves, even in the large Asian grocer. It was a hard month for me. I was going home to empty out one of my storage units; the one I’d filled about 10 years before with my son, the one that housed my son’s childhood toys and all of the artifacts of our life together until he graduated from college. This trip was to sell or dump all of it. I only kept few small things that would fit in my suitcase. I’d saved it all for him: the furniture, the kitchen appliances (that wouldn’t work in Europe) in case he wanted to start a home in the US. Next time I leave home for more than a few days I am going to pack an emergency spice box, like those little plastic pill boxes. I never know when I will need the comfort that only spice can provide. Life without spice is not worth contemplating.