Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

Today, I had a glimpse of my own mortality: I will not live long enough to use all the coriander I own. Off the top of my head, I can think of two recipes I have which involve coriander, both no more than a quarter of a teaspoon. Because, you know, you wouldn’t want to give coriander its head or anything; it would just take over. So every year or so, I go through up to a teaspoon. At some point very long ago when I bought the coriander, I decided I would make these recipes all the time and I bought the jumbo bottle of coriander. Or that was the only size they had. Or someone had overestimated their own need for coriander and I inherited it; the coriander’s appearance is lost to the mists of time. What I do know is that I have coriander and plenty of it.

Except, of course, one day within the last year when I needed coriander and I couldn’t find it and so I went and bought yet another fifty-five gallon drum of the stuff, from which I removed a quarter of a teaspoon. Two days later, the original tub o’coriander showed up, possibly having been used as an improvisational end-table in the living room. Today, I asked a friend who actually cooks if she had coriander. She said, “I have this huge container for this one recipe I use. Why,” she added eagerly, “do you want some?”

I also have the same eight bay leaves I’ve had for a decade because I don’t make beef stew. I wish to have them woven into my hair upon my death, so that I can take them into the next world with me, where I will also not make beef stew.

This whole spice cabinet is like a graveyard of my hopes and dreams. Two years ago I made spice cookies at Christmas. I have this delicious recipe which is deeply spicy and heavily based on molasses. You roll the dough out thinly, which is insanely aggravating with a cookie heavily based on molasses. Ideally they are so thin that they bake in about eighty-one seconds and burn in eighty-seven seconds. The entire afternoon is spent hovering obessively over the oven waiting to see when they turn just the right shade of light brown and shouting at any living thing which walks into the kitchen and distracts you from color-monitoring. The making of these cookies is so emotional and exhausting that it takes me up to five years to forget and try them again. But, lucky me, I still have the cloves in two forms, the ginger, the allspice, the cardamom (Oh, so very much cardamom) and the nutmeg.

And look, it’s the cream of tartar! And another! And another still! I know I haven’t bought cream of tartar ever and yet there are three of them. I gave one to a friend and within a week I was back up to three again. I’ve stopped trying to give them away, because if they can breed and they don’t want to be moved, they could rise up against me and conspire to create some aggressive meringue which could smother me in my bed. Between the three of them, they could generate an army of angel-food cakes bent on mayhem. Best to just let them lie there.

Trader Joe’s 21-Seasoning Salute which, I took care to note, only has twenty seasonings in it, all of them spices we already have. However, in the interest of fairness, it should be noted that the 21-Seasoning Salute also looks like cheap potpourri, so I guess the twenty-first seasoning is visual.

AUGH! Chili powder! So…much…chili…powder. Ability…to…question…reason…fading…as…multiple….bottles…cloud…vision.

Really, four containers of chili powder? That seems excessive, even in a family living in the Southwest. And none are used enough so that I could blend them and create room. They just sit there, mocking me in their gritty and slightly bitter way.

The juniper berries are just aggravating. I remember I had a great recipe for something that involved juniper berries, but no longer remember what the recipe was. I do, however, remember that they were expensive. So in the meanwhile, I might entertain myself by making everything bland that I eat taste like gin.

The spices were all expensive, and aging in my cabinet doesn’t exactly improve their flavor. By the time I gather the strength to use them again, flavorwise they will be lightly-tinted eraser leavings. So beginning tonight, our meals might be as poorly planned as ever but by gum, they’ll be seasoned. Macaroni and cheese with fennel and coriander. Tofu steaks with a cream of tartar and juniper berry reduction. Salmon baked in a sleeve of cinnamon and onion powder. And dessert? Well, I don’t want to spoil the surprise for the family, but I do have those five tubes of toothpaste I’m supposed to be using on the dog…

34 Comments:

Blogger Not The Rockefellers said...

I received a spicerack as a gift during the Reagan Adminstration.

Old.

There was a spice in it called Fenugreek. I was always a little afraid of it because I had never heard of it. I let it hang out with the other spices lest my ignorance of it make it cry.

Years later a saavy, world traveling, spice informed friend told me that Fenugreek was commonly used for for milk production, a hair conditioner and in curries.

One little bottle for all of that!

To this day I still haven't used it, though.

Peace - Rene

4:35 PM  
Blogger Kathryn in NZ said...

my bay leaves are at least 20 years old.....with you on the fenugreek.
We do go through cinnamon and oregano though :)

4:48 PM  
Blogger perlchyk said...

I use bay leaves in stocks and soups, so I do go through some. I also go through a lot of chili powder and cumin as I love the stuff.

coriander though? same problem you have. I also no longer remember buying cream of tartar either, but yet it's there.

7:38 PM  
Anonymous bethany actually said...

I always add a bay leaf to spaghetti sauce! Also, believe it or not, if you make homemade mac & cheese it's good with a bay leaf cooked in the sauce.

I have a friend who sometimes uses her bay leaves as garnish for dip bowls, standing them up around the edge of the bowl, overlapping slightly. Hey, it uses them up.

8:54 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

My kids put curry powder in their Ramen noodles. Tell me how wrong that is.

Your whole post makes me laugh. I have finally started to throw out spices if I notice that the expiration date is long passed. Or if I remember buying it in Michigan, where I lived eleven years ago.

11:11 PM  
Blogger Heksje said...

I still have cream of tartar that I inherited from my father's kitchen cabinet.

My father passed away in 1981.

I understand completely.

2:50 AM  
Anonymous Dawn in NL said...

This post struck a chord! Recently I was helping my mother rearrange her stuff into the new kitchen cupboards. We found a lot of old spices and herbs, ones with no label even. A lot went in the bin, it's easier when it isn't yours ;-)

3:19 AM  
Blogger OHN said...

Most of my spices are so old I don't remember buying them so when a recipe calls for one of them, I have to buy a new one that is "fresh" so it can hang out in my cabinet for years until I need another "fresh" one and the cycle starts again.

4:47 AM  
Blogger Leta said...

I was going through a spice shelf once and found 4 different containers of dill, which my roommate and I used never.

My boyfriend - who I have been dating forever - has a bottle of fenugreek that pre-dates me.

Spices are the best single argument for spontaneous generation.

After moving unused spices multiple times, I've taken to putting a month/year on spices as I buy them. And I ditch anything that been around longer than a presidential administration.

7:29 AM  
Blogger cndymkr / jean said...

I finally threw my spice rack away. It sat on my counter for over 15 years, mocking me. However, I knew the moment I threw out those spices I would need them. I now have them hidden in the back of the hall closet and I can still hear them as I walk past.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Michaéle said...

My spice rack, which is really just a drawer where all those little bottles get thrown into, contains spices received at one of my bridal showers...in 1991. I asked for recipes and such since my mother never taught me to cook and I knew for sure that one day, I would be twirling around my kitchen, sprinkling a dash of this and a pinch of that. Now, I buy frozen lasagna because really, I can't buy all the ingredients in the recipe for the price of the frozen variety.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Michaéle said...

I neglected to mention that when my mother in law passed away 8 years ago, we rescued 77 boxes of Jello from her cupboard.

10:02 AM  
Blogger JR said...

I’m a single, straight, somewhat redneck hillbilly in Tennessee and I want you to know that I find your journal the most amusing reading on the www. Most of the content, like today’s post ( I never cook and don’t even own salt) has little obvious bearing on my own life but your delivery and funny insights makes these stories seem so very relevant. Thanks for sharing.

11:27 AM  
Blogger margalit said...

I turn over all my spices once a year. I literally throw all the spices out right before passover, replace them with brand new spices, and then use those for the upcoming year. I no longer buy my spices at the store because they might have been sitting on the shelf for years. I discovered Penzey's Spices (online and brick and morter stores) and get all my spices there. You can get teeny amounts of things like juniper berries and huge amounts of stuff like basil and oregano. I like that you can get what you want in the quantity you want. I love that they sell spice mixes without salt, too.

Toss all your spices. Only replace what you use. That's my spice mantra, anyhow.

However, just to prove that we all have our little shopping bizarro behavior, we must have 20 freaking jars of peanut butter in this house. I HATE the stuff, my son doesn't eat it either, which leaves only my daughter. I keep buying jars because she likes it and also makes peanut butter cookies, but honestly, we could survive a nuclear holocaust with the amount of the peanut butter we have. That is, if anyone actually ate the stuff!

12:06 PM  
Anonymous KW said...

The first year I got married I forgot I bought bay leaves, so I purchased another jar. That was almost 14 years ago and I still have both jars that to anyone but me look untouched.

I have a homemade playdough recipe from pre-school that has taken care of my cream of tartar problem. You use a good bit of one of those small jars to make one batch.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Cream of Tartar = Snickerdoodles! Mmmmmmm. We go through a fair bit of it.

Also coriander (Indian & Mexican dishes).

Wouldn't know what to do with the juniper berries, though.

But I do have a really easy, not fussy, molasses cookie recipe. Sounds like you could use a new one. :-)

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Paula said...

If you go to an herb shop or Whole Foods and get Blessed Thistle you can make a tea of it with the juniper berries and it is great for stopping menstrual cramps. It tastes horrible, but it works marvelously.

I also keep my cat from de-dirting my potted plants by sprinkling the dirt with strong smelling spices. I think fenugreek and coriander would work just as well as any.

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My grandma told me once that if you put bay leaves in your kitchen cabinets and drawers you will never be bothered by nasty, horrible cockroaches. It's worked for me...Great blog, enjoy it so much. Pat

3:37 PM  
Blogger Jakarta Rocks said...

Reading your blog reminds me of my old life. Now our spices get a real workout. They all get used, but the secret is - get a cook. She makes all the curries from scratch. Plus, we now live in Asia, which is where my taste buds have always been. The kids hate spices, but their mashed potato alone has 7 cloves of garlic. Highly recommend it for kids - don't remember the last time they were sick (touch wood).

11:11 PM  
Anonymous Beth said...

A few posts ago I wondered if I was a bit odd. This last one has now convinced me I need serious help.

Not only do I use my spices, including coriander, cream of tartar, bay leaves and tons of others, I put them in glass jars with tight lids and I tape a small label on the jar with the date I opened the package and filled the jar. If it comes in a jar, I label the jar with the date is start using it. Replenishing the jar means a new date label.

Mind you, I also flip my mattress and know the correct sequence, as explained by someone I saw on TV from the Four Seasons Hotel chain, years ago when I was home sick from work. Once I knew there was a 'sequence' I couldn't help but follow it. I'll even share.

God, I'm glad this place is anonymous. Quinn, I don't know how you do it. I love how you 'own up' to all the things the rest of us are too shy to share. And you do it in a cohesive, erudite and very funny way. You even include your name! On the other hand, you're not dating your spice jars and flipping your mattress, are you?

Keep up the good work. Looking forward to the book.

By the way, our cat's vet says that cats hate or are frightened of either saran wrap or tin foil. They will hate the texture of, or walking on, one or the other. Perhaps a quick test might tell which Lulabelle dislikes. Odd to put either saran or tin foil on a bed pillow, but who knows, it might work...easier than all that laundry.
Beth

11:29 PM  
Blogger Dawn Maria said...

I confess to being one of those cooks who travels to three stores to find one jar of a spice I will only use 1/4 tsp. of for a new recipe. I can't help it- I love to eat, therefore I must cook.

I loved this post because my own spice cabinet has become the downtown Bombay of the kitchen and I must depopulate it. Since I work for the school district, I've decided the only possible time I will have the mental ability to tackle this task will be over the winter break. This means I will have to plow my way through the crowd to get to my seasoned salt at Thanksgiving.

So good to know I'm not the only dysfunctional Spice Girl out there!

8:45 AM  
Blogger CDP said...

I have a tin of Cream of Tartar that has accompanied me on every move I've made in the last 12 years or so. It's a firmly established part of my household.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Joy! said...

Hehe. This reminds me of last year when I went on a quest to sort and purge my spice & herb cabinet. I had stuff from my college days...um, 20 years ago, which I never used and hung on to... just in case I decided to make something with tarragon or lemon grass ever again. I can't even remember half of the antiques I found. It felt wonderful to let go of all that old crap and pare down to things I actually use!

The herb/spices I have to buy most often are bay leaves and vanilla extract because they go so well with most savory or sweet dishes, respectively. Oh, and garlic and green curry paste. Love that stuff. Every other year, I have to buy more cream of tarter because it's an essential element in certain Christmas cookies and baked goods. But mace? Who the heck uses that stuff?

10:47 AM  
Blogger Pamela said...

I actually use cream of tartar for my scones. I got the recipe from a lady from England (I cant remember where exactly) and I use it alot.

I have spices from when I first moved out of my parents house which was . . . never mind how long ago. I think I should throw them away but I hate to throw things away. Maybe I can combine them all and make some really weird chicken rub. I'm hopeless.
Thanks for sharing your dilemma's.

Pamela

11:25 AM  
Blogger K said...

Oh Quinn! This is one of my favorite posts ever!! I, too, have the breeding spice problem. Imagine my surprise last year when I went to clean out the spice cabinets and found FIVE Hershey's cocoa containers...FIVE!!! What in the world!?!

Just for the record, there is great play-doh you can make which uses all the Cream of Tartar up...plus you can apply it by the handful to burned pans to remove the burned parts.

11:36 AM  
Blogger Narya said...

I do use my spices--even the coriander and cardomom. I go through crystalized ginger by the truckload, and it's not uncommon for me to have ginger in three or four forms in my kitchen (only two right now).

But!!

Here's what to do with the juniper berries. and serve the berries with brie or something like that. OMG!eleventy! Seriously: my friend Brazen Tart the pastry chef at a fancy restaurant in my city (we went to pastry school together) made this as part of a birthday dinner for me, and it was spectacular; it's also easy to make ahead of time, and it's all fancy and impressive, so if you do any entertaining, it's good for that.

7:47 PM  
OpenID gazingin said...

I must be an oddity? I have a 20 bottle rack that I on a regular basis (couple times a week) use the herbs and spices. I then have the 'overflow' bowl full of other ones that don't have a spot on the rack.
I would hedge I have around 40 or so right now.
Living on a lower sodium diet for me means I NEED spices and herbs - it is what gives my meals their taste.
Don't be afraid to embrace the weird spices ;-)
Btw, I get my refills usually at a couple natural food stores that sell bulk. A high turn over is essential though for that so be careful when buying bulk. Stuff like dried garlic bits? I get the big tubs at Sams Club. I go through 1 every year.

9:27 PM  
Blogger Doc's Girl said...

Being Indian, we use a vast amount of spices for one dish. I finally finished a container of ground cardamom and ground clove this year and I felt so satisfied. :o)

P.S. I re-spice pretty much all of my food...friends tell me that I "Indian-ize" my food, even lasagna and such. :-P

1:37 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

Spices DO lose their freshness and can adversely affect your cooking. McCormick recommends keeping ground spices no longer than 1 year and whole spices no longer than 3 years.

To avoid the double-purchase-syndrome, be sure to keep your spices organized so you actually know what spices you own. My company invented the SPICESTACK to organize store-bought spice bottles in the kitchen cabinet (where spices stay dark, dry and fresh longest). Check it out at SpiceStack.com. Happy Cooking!

1:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I use my spices all the time...but I'm also italian and I just like them.

We ran out of baking powder once, and I found that cream of tartar is an appropriate substitute. I forget the combination (something like 1 t of baking powder = 1 t of baking soda and 1/4 t of cream of tartar).

And I have cardamom pods I bought for truffles. I used 5. I have 80 something left. =)

12:00 PM  
Blogger Swistle said...

I have a HUGE thing of parsley that is SO OLD the parsley is GREY. Why don't I throw it out? Why oh why?

5:00 PM  
Anonymous francine said...

My spices usually have a sort of mould growing on them when I go to use them. I throw it out, buy another for the recipe and then let it grow mould again. Is'nt that what we are supposed to do?

http://miserymemoir.blogspot.com/

6:15 AM  
Blogger class-factotum said...

Somehow, a sticker for half a pound of cardamom at $35/lb got onto my bag of walnuts at $8/lb. I also had a bag with garlic and green onions in it. Because you know. I am so Environmentally Responsible that way, even though I have figured out I can use the plastic bags for scooping the cat box if you know what I mean.

I told the cashier that hey! that bag has two tags on it so be sure to scan both of them.

It wasn't until I got home and noticed my bill was so large (I had thought it seemed high, but then thought, well, Diet Dr Pepper, walnuts, mustard greens, it all adds up) that I noticed the $16 charge for cardamom.

Cardamom that I certainly did not have.

Fortunately, they are reasonable at my store and believed me when I said that nobody, NOBODY buys half a pound of cardamom.

6:57 PM  
Anonymous La BellaDonna said...

Somewhere in the Land of the Lost, carefully packed away, are the spices that had been in my kitchen before I moved. Not the spicerack, though; I had carefully painted my spicerack and hung it on the wall in my bathroom, storing Bathroom Oddments in the retro glass spicebottles that were in the spicerack.

I'm actually sorry about the spices that got left behind in my divorce, because I meant to take them with me; two whopping large containers, one of frankincense, one of myrrh.

I used them at least once a year.

12:42 PM  

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