Everything is better with a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Kendall (friends since 5th grade!!) is visiting Boston this week, and yesterday, I dragged her on a bus ride out to Arlington to visit Penzey’s Spices.  Look at my haul!

I think it’s slightly ridiculous that I cook enough to 1. understand the difference good spices make and 2. completely comfortably opt for the bulk-sized options, since this cooking/baking/good food passion emerged relatively recently in all 24.5 years of my life, but so it goes.  For my friends who read this in hopes of getting more into cooking, I know, spices are a tough one.  It was difficult at first, because you don’t really want all those little bottles, and how often do you use them, and they ARE expensive, but to have interesting and tasty and “omg that was worth it” food, the right spices can make all the difference.  I’ve thought about trying to make some “basic spices you need” list, but in all honesty, it becomes more of “basic spices Sheila thinks you need;” it’s mostly personal preference.  But to start, here’s that:

  • Sea salt.  Of course.  Somewhat related: I’m (still) reading Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History, and despite how long it’s taking me to get through it, I do find the importance of salt fascinating.
  • Black pepper.  There’s a reason pepper is right next to salt on the dinner table.  Also why it was Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper on Blue’s Clues, and not Mr. Salt and Mrs., I don’t know, Tarragon?  (I do like tarragon, but don’t consider it “essential.”  At least not yet.)
  • Cumin.  This is my personal favorite.  My ex-housemate said she could always tell if it was me that cooked upon returning home, because the house just smelled like cumin.  I do tend to use it almost excessively, but it’s so good!
  • Coriander seed.  Fantastic complement to cumin.  I make a quinoa dish with both (and tomato paste) == SWOON.
  • Thyme.  This just reminds me of a gift card I saw at Whole Foods in the fall–“thyme to celebrate!”  It made me smile for the rest of the evening.  Mmm good thyme (I particularly recommend Penzey’s for dried) is unbeatable.
  • Oregano.  Thyme + oregano = awesomeness in your mouth.
  • Cayenne pepper.  Everything is better with a pinch of cayenne pepper.  Especially hot chocolate.  (warning: I LOVE spicy food, almost to an unhealthy degree).
  • Paprika.  Linking back to earlier, there’s a reason Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper’s kid was Paprika!

I could go on, and on, and on…and then, if you also bake, this adds a whole new dimension to the list, which is what I found this past autumn, to start: cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg.

So, if for some reason you had been looking for some spice recommendations, there you go.  If not, I apologize for the rambling.  Mmm spices.  Happy cooking!

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