Spices are the variety of life

These are the spices in my cupboard:
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I’ve got spices on the brain because I got my groceries delivered today, and I decided it’s time to get new baking powder and ground cloves before I do my holiday baking. I love my old spices, because some of them have been around for a long time, and they were all bought at different times and places and remind me of where I’ve lived. Here’s a tour of my adult life, via my spices from left to right:

1. The aforementioned ground cloves and baking powder were delivered today by Peapod, the online division of Stop & Shop. They sit atop Davis Baking Powder, purchased sometime between July 1998 and December 1998, when I lived in London on a study abroad program. I bought it when I was trying to make cookies by converting to the metric system, and I don’t think it went well. Thankfully, I had enough room in my suitcase to take the baking powder back to New Jersey. Now that it’s as old as a 5th grader, I think it’s time to get rid of it, or at least put it on retirement.

2. Hannaford brand crushed red pepper. I must have bought this senior year of college, from the Hannaford in the Carytown section of Richmond, VA. A lot of people in college bought their groceries at the locally owned Ukrop’s, but I was having none of their closed-on-Sundays for religious reasons crap. It was secular Hannaford for me and all my groceries.

3. Tobasco. This was left in the cottage by the previous tenant, who was a student of the Culinary Institute of America. He left me some pretty weird stuff, including 5 boxes of cake mix. So that’s the big CIA secret I guess.

4. Green and blue sugar. I bought these at the bodega next the exit to the 181st St. A train exit in 2004 or 2005. I used them to decorate a cake I sent to the Grey Boy in Minneapolis, which was a misadventure in shipping if there ever was one.

5. Whole Foods Cayenne Pepper. I bought this in 2000 when I spent two months living at a casino/hotel in Black Hawk, Colorado stage managing “Island Holiday: A Mariah Carey Christmas.” (Don’t get too excited, we had an impersonator, and the show could have easily been “A Kenny Rodgers Christmas,” but the Kenny Rodgers got another job first.) My crazy ass friend Creature and I would try and make vegan food out of the casino’s buffet. I bought that particular spice during a day off in Boulder so I could make the mashed potatoes more palatable. It’s still spicy.

6. Various McCormic spices, mostly pumpkin related, bought in Wyckoff, NJ at various times. My mom doesn’t keep a stocked pantry, so every time I go down there for Christmas, I buy spices to make a pie. But for some reason, I keep buying whole cloves instead of ground. It’s a mistake I’ve made twice, and both times, I’ve taken the spices back home with me after the holiday. Now that I’ve written it down, maybe I’ll remember to leave them this year.

7. Red food coloring. I make a mean red velvet cake. This was probably bought at the Associated supermarket at 187th st., I think for the occasion where I made red velvet cupcakes for the final episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” (The feast also included steaks made out of carrots and celery, garlic bread, and Vampire brand wine.)

8. It turns out I do have ground cloves and ginger, Schwartz brand, purchased at the Tesco in London’s East End. Again, I got these when I was studying abroad, and trying, with my American flatmates, to re-create Thanksgiving dinner. You know what you couldn’t easily find in a London supermarket in 1998 that you could in America? Turkey, cranberry sauce, canned pumpkin, Stove Top, and basically anything you need to make a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Since a lot of the Americans were from California, we scrapped the traditional and made Mexican food instead. I bought these spices first and went on a quest for canned pumpkin, which I found a week later.

9. Badia brand corriander and cumin. Bought at the Dominican section of the 187th St. Associated, sometime between 2001 and 2006. My old neighborhood was pretty full of Dominicans, and therefore, I have spices in Spanish.

10. Salt and pepper in miniature Absoult bottles. I stole these from Sister Alyson sometime after she graduated college in 2003. I needed a salt shaker and these were too good to give up. Later I found out she had another pair, which I think she stole from someone. Clear that up in the comments, if you care to, Sis.

11. Spice Supreme Basil, Curry Powder, Chili Powder. I got these delivered from Fresh Direct when I was living in the city. In New York City, people don’t need to break their ankles to get stuff delivered. They simply get everything delivered.

12. Black sesame seeds from ??? in a Wild Huckleberry Jam jar from Estes Park, Colorado. I bought the jam the first time I went to live in Colorado right after graduation in the summer of 2000. I was working at a theater in Greeley, and it was the first time I lived all alone in my own house. After I finished the jam, I cleaned the jar and filled it with the sesame seeds. They come in handy for stir fry.

13. King Soopers Brand Onion salt, on top of Five Spice distribution thing. I got these while living in Greeley, but it was while I was in Wyoming, I think, that I actually bought these spices. I was visiting a friend I had met at the theater. We stopped at her home to do some cooking, and then we drove to Twin Falls, Idaho, to see her boyfriend off on his Mormon mission trip. I took the spices back with me. The five spice selector thing might be from that trip, but it could also be from a college beach week trip to Nags Head, NC anytime between 1997 and 2000.

14. Some ridiculously fancy brand of real vanilla. I must have bought this at the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle after a visit to Williams Sonoma inspired me to be a serious cook. Nothing I bake is good enough to deserve this vanilla.

15. McCormic Pepper and Cinnamon. These are actually not expired! I bought them at Adams Fairacre Farms, my new local grocery store, and perhaps my favorite of all the above mentioned stores.  I use a lot of cinnamon, because I put in in my daily oatmeal.  That’s the only reason it’s new(ish.)

16. McCormic brand Celery Seed. I bought this at the Price Chopper near Birmingham in Poughkeepsie. I think it predates my move up here. We were shopping for a camping trip, and I was determined to make this way to complicated recipe that involved cooking foil-wrapped packages over an open flame. Fun fact! We went camping on our third date, but we don’t go much anymore after The Trip We Don’t Talk About.

17. Master Choice Paprika. I wish I had a story for this spice. For the life of me, I can’t remember where I got it. But I’ll end my tale with it, since Paprika is the spice of choice for the Hungarian People, and 1/4 of me comes from the Hungarian People. Let’s just say I bought it during the two months I lived with The Man of Action in a Washington Heights sublet while I was working at Six Flags. It’s the one chapter of my adulthood I haven’t yet covered.

18. Bonus! Mr. Met (The Plush Keychain) was purchased at Shea Stadium when I went to see a Mets game with my dad and sister. He does nothing to improve the taste of food.

So that’s a brief history of my life, told through my spices. I average about one big cooking event a month, and that’s why I’ve got some old and weird stuff. I know most of it’s expired. But it all reminds me of my past, and it’s better than a photo album. Perhaps sometime in the future I’ll take you on a tour through my old cooking oil and sugar. And if you feel inspired, please consider this a meme for your own blog.

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18 responses to this post.

  1. Mr. Met may not improve the quality of your food, but I strongly suspect he improves the quality of your life.

    It’s been good now that he’s out of hiding.

  2. Posted by nancypearlwannabe on November 28, 2007 at 8:30 am

    I love that you kept all these spices from different time periods, and that you remember events by them. My mother lectures me at length about the shelf life of spices, so I never have anything older than a year.

    I lecture my mother about that. But I don’t listen.

  3. I love that you’re so attached to your spices and remember where so many of them came from!

    When we moved into our house, there was a lone bottle of parsley flakes in the spice cabinet. We left it in there. It’s from the 80’s and the brand is Miami Spice. The label is all pastels and flamingos.

    Miami Spice! Love it!

  4. wow…..this was great, sadly all our spices were bought at the Hostess outlet when they had a .50 spice sale.

    not nearly as interesting

    I have gotten spices from the dollar store. I think I replaced them quickly, however.

  5. My mom was dismayed this Thanksgiving because I only own about 5 spices. This would be a very short meme for me.

    I didn’t know you lived in CO for a while!

    I did the “move to Colorado to find yourself” thing right after college. Then I went again for the job. I loved it out there.

  6. That was nearly as exhausting as the tour of my fridge magnets!

    I love that you are counting cake decorating sprinkles as spices, though even without them, you have me beat. My kitchen is not nearly as well stocked.

    Also, I am very curious how on earth you shipped a cake. You are a good, good friend.

    The Grey Boy bought me cake pans from Williams Sonoma, and I thought the best way to return the favor would be to send him a cake. It was the height of summer, and I wrapped the thing in plastic wrap and ice packs and filled the box with Styrofoam. I’m not certain how it looked when it got there.

  7. Posted by SisterAlyson on November 28, 2007 at 9:51 am

    I think I accidentally stole those salt and pepper shakers from Danielle, and then you stole them from me. I don’t really remember, I just know someone got their mini-Absolut’s swiped.

    Let’s not tell Danielle then, okay?

  8. Posted by EvilKate on November 28, 2007 at 10:22 am

    Mr. MET!!!!! Aaron is right, he spices up any meal with his mere presence.

    I’m impressed that you can remember when and where you got all of these spices. I can’t remember when I bought the last container of milk in my fridge for crying out loud!

    It helped that a lot of them were store brand. It took a good long while and a Google search to place where in the world “King Soopers” was.

  9. I am super impressed you remember the stories behind all your spices! I’m like “um, stop and shop?”

    I’m WAY behind on my blog reading (moving and Nablopomo will do that to a girl) but here’s wishing you a belated Happy Thanksgiving!

    Thanks! Hope you had a good one as well!

  10. I am also way behind on blogs.

    I have about 6 containers of rosemary and 4 of meat tenderizer in my spice cabinet. It’s nice to see that I’m not the only one with more than one of something 🙂

    I love rosemary. I try and keep a fresh sprig around.

  11. I can’t wait to hear more about six flags.

    It was my favorite job ever.

  12. Well, I’d love to hear some Six Flags stories, too, though I have to warn you that none of them may top my friend Nora cheerfully imparting the information that she worked in an amusement park one summer as the “barf girl.” Job description pretty much exactly what you’d think. Eww.

    I throw toasted sesame seeds on top of salads all the time. They’re super-nutritious.

    And I just read that cinnamon is like the best anti-diarrheal around, so you must never need Imodium!

    I don’t think my six flags stories will be as good. As for the anti-diarrheal, I have no evidence on that one. Maybe now that I know, I can trick my brain into making it work.

  13. 5. Shame. Kenny Rogers would have been way cooler.
    12. I was in Estes Park briefly in the summer of 2000. I didn’t buy any jam, though. Only beer. Longs Peak Ale. It wasn’t very good.
    13. Is King Sooper’s not the most ridiculous name for a store? I can never not laugh when I see it or think of it.

    In Colorado, beer-wise, all I learned about was the harsh reality of 3.2 beer.

  14. Posted by gregorymeyer on November 28, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    Did you and Stiletto talk before blogging? I just came from over in Stiletto-land and she has a spicy subject herself.

    My spices are in a drawer, lying on their side. I like this config, but people make fun when they see it. Why?

    Mr. Met is a bonus all around.

    Most people ignore the strange and unusual. Or just make fun of it.

  15. yay holiday spices! bake some holiday cookies!

    the way we attach memories and feelings to objects is fascinating…we can turn scraps of paper into sentimental objects. aw humans!

  16. I have a ton of spices in my cabinets, but I am totally at a loss on how they got there. Cause I don’t cook. And the things I DO cook (in the microwave) generally are already spiced. So where did they come from? Did they spontaneously evolve from something lurking in the cabinet in my first apartment and then just continue their evolution in each subsiquent dwelling? I would like answers. Has there been any research done on the spontaneous generation of cabinet spices?

  17. I have not a clue
    1) what spices I have in my cupboard
    2) where they came from.

    I’m the type who ends up with six containers of cream of tartar.

  18. nice article

    nice article

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