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  • Writer's pictureAnne Heffron

Blending Spices and Living Large



I want to be the kind of person who can make dinner for friends or even just one friend and not feel like I'm going to have an aneurism when faced with the question, “What will I make?”

 

I want to think fish, vegetables, pasta, bread, desserts, whatever. Anything that does not begin with Door Dash. I want to be my own version of Chef’s Table. I want to cook with curiousity and love and fearless hunger.

 

You are living the dream, a new friend said to me the other night over dinner at Byblos, a wonderful restaurant in Norwood, Massachusetts, where what they do with eggplant has brought me to tears twice now, good tears, tears of Oh my god, can I please have a shovel?

 

I wondered what the dream was. Generalized anxiety with bouts of joy? If that’s the dream, I’m living it. In my mind, living the dream is walking home from the Santa Cruz farmer’s market with a basket of produce for which I’d have a plan so the veggies would not rot in the frig drawer as they had a habit of doing when I lived there a few years ago.

 

I am living the dream, I think. I pretty much do what I want, which, since I value freedom above almost everything else, makes life A-OK. For me, however, to be truly living the dream, having my dream and eating it, too, I think I need to learn how to feed myself and others. I need, I believe, to slow down enough to be able to taste my food and really enjoy it.

 

For breakfast I often have a scoop of almond butter because it is easy. For lunch, I’ll eat half a container of lentil soup from Whole Foods because this is fast. Fast means I do not bother with heating the soup up because that would require both a pan and time.

 

I want to go to Camp Slow the Fuck Down and Smell the Coriander, so I enrolled in a spice blending class at Curio Spice Co. (See the first blog post I made on this site if you missed my introduction to this treasure of a shop.)

 

It was amazing and frustrating and brain-changing, and I got WAY more than I paid for. First of all, I don’t know how many spices Susan and Sage put out for us to play with—50? 75? A thousand? There were a LOT of carefully labeled large jars in five different sections: base, middle, top, unify, and flair. There was even saffron. Do you know how much that stuff costs? And there it was, unguarded, for us to use as we desired. Second of all, I forget how much I paid to attend, but it wasn’t a lot. (If it were, I would not have forgotten the amount, and I would have gone in there with the attitude of you owe me.) (For the record, I left with the attitude of I owe you.)

 

Anyway. I’m avoiding talking about the hard thing, which is spice blending. In order to blend spices you have to (according to me) 1. Be in your body. 2. Be curious. 3. Be fearless.


I am often none of those things.

 

Susan demonstrated how to create a blend they sell at the store called vadouvan. It was made of turmeric, cumin, fennel, mustard, and fenugreek seeds; freeze-dried shallots, garlic powder, mace, and dried curry leaves.

 

She toasted and ground and the room filled with the scent of something amazing is happening. She was the boss of those spices. They were like people at a dinner party she knew by name and with whom she felt free to mingle and introduce.

 

At Curio, when I was offered pinch of cumin to smell, for example, part of me fisted into a panic. What am I supposed to think about this? What am I supposed to do with this information? What is the right thing to say? This is also sometimes true when I meet a new person. So we are back to the idea that learning to blend spices could very well teach me to be a better person on many levels if I slowed down and smelled the cinnamon.

 

I think blending spices is a little like going on a first date. There’s a lot of information to take in, and one filter could be, Do I like this? Does this please me, and, if so, how? Why?

 

Maybe one reason I got so verklempt over deciding what spices I wanted to blend is because it has now been years since I really kissed someone. (If you think this is a cry for help, it is. Help!) My brain doesn’t think in terms of blending tastes much beyond almonds going with chocolate or espresso going with a muffin--or at least it doesn’t yet.

 

Dear Reader, I dove into the deep end with my spice blend. I started with sage because I miss California and Spirit Hill Farm, and then I went with what sounded interesting: sweet paprika, cumin (I was told cumin does a good job of bridging tastes together, or something along those lines, so I threw it in sort of a health insurance policy), thyme, lemon grass, makrut lime leaf. I knew I shouldn’t have—I could just tell the cocoa nibs did not somehow compliment or play nice with what I had in my jar, but I had to throw some of those dark beauties into the mix, and that is why, I believe, at the end of the day, after I poured the mix out of the grinder and back into my bottle, I called my blend Car Crash on the Farm.

 

I have yet to cook with it.

 

I’m letting it take a prolonged siesta while I figure out what meat or vegetable would be best complimented by such a seasoning.

 

I love blending spices the same way I love landing in Paris and trying to figure out how to get to my hotel. It’s thrilling, sophisticated, and way over my head. It makes me feel alive. It makes me want to learn and change and eat more butter.


If you have any ideas for what I could do with Car Crash, I'm open to suggestions. I'm sure going to try something, and I will call in a culinary adventure and feel puffed up with pride and all the bolder for having done it.



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