Mark Bittman’s Minimalist column last week was about getting rid of unused and unneccesary items in the fridge and pantry. Many of his suggestions (e.g. “OUT – imitation vanilla, OUT – canned vegetables, OUT – grated imitation ‘Parmesan'”) were easy to implement because those things have never been in my kitchen.
Some I have quibbles with: it’s easier to measure out lager quantities of good tomato paste from a can; frozen pure lemon juice is useful to have around when lemons are going for 50 cents each; a few cans of low-sodium chicken stock are a good backup when you run out of the homemade stuff.
But I realized it was time to dump the old spices and replace them with new. In the past I would order from Penzey’s online, but they opened a store in Arlington, just a short drive away. So, yesterday I loaded up: szechuan peppercorns, saffron, granulated garlic (for barbecue and spice rubs), oregano, chili powder, herbs de provence (too much of a bother too mix on my own), dill, cream of tartar, celery seed, and more. I have a better idea of my spice usage now, so I think I figured out how much of each to buy. I’ll know in a year how well that worked.
The store has an unusual organization, sort of a Dewey decimal system of ingredients. Baking needs in one alcove, herbs alphabetically along one wall, spices alphabetically along the opposite wall, and separate islands for salts, peppers, cinnamon, and a bewildering array of custom mixes (I may never figure out what Galena Street Rub is.)
Since Miles was with me, I turned the trip into a “teachable moment,” asking him if each item on my list was an herb, a spice, or other. He did pretty well, but I had to reward his patience with a jar of mint hot cocoa mix that he had been eyeing. Bittman would disagree with the purchase – it’s better made at home with good cocoa and a peppermint stick – but one food lesson a day is Miles’ limit.