Entropy is relentless, and this is Exhibit A: My spice drawer.
This, once, was quite organinzed. Alphabetically, even. As you can see, those days are long past. I’ve found the craziest things in here- when, where and why did I ever purchase Orange Flower Water? I have two (TWO!!) different types of cardamom- papery dried pods that smell pleasantly of old ladies and church perfume, and green pods that I’ve never opened. The bin on the right contains five different types of sugar as well as a variety of peppercorns and, for some reason, shredded coconut and about a half cup of dried black beans. It’s like an archeological dig: the summer I was into rubs, that winter I played with cinnamon sticks, last Easter I was in hot pursuit of the baking powder that would result in the perfect southern biscuit. Now I have three brands.
About the time Clinton was playing sax on MTV, I discovered my mother was keeping spices from the year Reagan was shot. Those red Schilling tins had moved through FOUR houses. She couldn’t justify throwing away something that was still almost full.
That’s a problem with spices. They’re really only truly ‘good’ for perhaps a year after purchase, and that’s assuming they’ve been stored in a dark, cool place. But unless you’re a pro, how often do you need a ¼ cup of any spice? Especially those that fall outside your normal repertoire. When will I ever use Turmeric again? Do you know how badly that stuff stains? But I can’t bring myself to throw it away- it seems a terrible waste of something so valuable- about $80/pound when I bought it.
World Spice, a great shop below Pike Place Market, is the closest thing to a souk that I’ve personally seen. It’s the best way to buy spices, too. They purchase a lot of their spices directly from the producer and there is enough turnover at the shop to guarantee the freshest product possible. Internet orders have a 1 ounce minimum, but you can buy any quantity you care when you’re in the shop. Which is one of the most fantastic-smelling places in the universe.
Spring cleaning will start soon, and my spice drawer will be the place to start. Who knows, maybe I’ll experiment with spice art, like the coolest ad campaign going right now.
Challenge of the week: If you were to blind taste your spices, how well do you think you’d do? This was one of my finals tests in culinary school- I did well after a month of practice. The first go round? Let’s just say it knocked me down a peg or twelve. But practice is good for taste memory.