My husband and I once were in the humble position of needing a place to stay. We had two small children, a dog, and two cats. We owed a lot of money and we had just spent a month or two living in the nursery portion of our local church. Church friends opened their home to us right after Thanksgiving, and we gratefully moved in. The hope was that we would soon be back on our feet and in our own home, even if we had to lie to the apartment manager that we didn’t have a dog (and consequently hide her in the garage, but that’s another story).
These generous church friend were very, very, sweet people, but… two blended families and two different world views can strain any good relationship, and they did not believe in celebrating Christmas with heathen decorations. Read: they were not going to bring a tree into their house.
Fortunately, we were out within two weeks, and living in the afore-mentioned apartment with our dog hiding in the garage. We bought a tree and decorated it and our friends didn’t hate us.
These friends were wonderful hosts and we tried to be wonderful guests. I remember thinking I would help with dinner. I don’t remember what I planned on making, but given my cooking skills, it had to be pretty simple. I could have been offering to bake something, which is more likely than offering to cook something. It doesn’t matter: when I opened her cupboard, I found only plain iodized salt and finely ground black pepper.
“Where are your spices?” I asked.
“Spices?” Blank look. “There. You’re looking at them.”
“No, I mean like cinnamon, or sage, or basil or…”
She had plain salt and black pepper.
This past weekend, I was preparing my grocery list. My husband (who is the cook in the house) wants to try out a new recipe. Last week, I emptied the bottle of bay leaves. I knew I needed at least two herbal/spice ingredients: bay leaves and ground coriander.
Something prompted me to check my unruly stash of herbs and spices first. Generally, if I can’t find something, I buy one.
You can see why I had a “bit” of a problem with the spice collection of my long ago Christian benefactor. My collection takes up an entire cupboard. You can also see why I can’t always find what I am looking for.
I have 36 different herbs and spices in there. I know. I counted them yesterday. 59 different bottles or tins (not counting the weird spice mixtures like “Creole Seasoning” that we picked up somewhere, and excluding all salts and black pepper – coarse and fine ground).
There are multiple jars of celery seed, basil leaves, paprika, smoked paprika, real vanilla, whole cloves, ground cloves, cumin, curry, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, and ginger. The winner is Cream of Tartar: I have four bottles of that (thankfully, it has multiple uses). I also have an unopened jar of bay leaves and a jar of ground coriander (scratched those off of my grocery list).
I did not also inventory, but I know I have: pickling salt, Kosher salt, plain iodized salt, sea salt, and an herbal sea salt mixture my husband loves.
I don’t know why I have a partial bottle of (yuck!) imitation vanilla flavoring.
I don’t keep herbs or spices forever – they lose their flavor. These are all purchased within the past five years or harvested from my garden in that time period. I use most of them, and if I don’t use them, my husband uses them.
I walked down stairs, took this photo and headed back up here. Don looked up from his chair and said, “You took a photo of that mess?”
“Hey, I confess my sins.”
“My wife: the obsessive compulsive herb shopper.”
Yeah, but I had the spice you need for your new recipe, Buddy. And I purchased a new bundle of garlic cloves. So there.
(This is also why I nearly died of shock when my then-ten-year old niece moved in with us and she flavored everything with plain catsup. I like to think we are part of the reason she is now an addicted ‘foodie’.)