Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Spice Report

I am feeling…dare I say it?…happy in Texas these days.

This discovery is rather remarkable because I am feeling happy despite the rain, the unpacked boxes, the lack of sidewalks, and moving away from all my friends.  I think I’m doing really well, having arrived here just over two weeks ago: I’ve got my commute figured out, I now bring an umbrella with me every day, and I’ve decided that I love Texas A & M’s campus, even though it is massive and imposing.  It has rained a lot, but sometimes the sun comes out and makes me feel like there is no other place I’d rather be.  Texas, I may have a crush on you.

My apartment, I’m sure, would be in better shape if I weren’t going off to work every day and then coming home and pretending that there aren’t boxes in every room waiting for me to unpack them.  My living space is functional but not beautiful.  I can cook in the kitchen, but most of my teas are still in boxes.  I can sleep in my bed, but in the morning I hop over piles of things that are waiting for permanent new homes.  If I want to listen to a CD, I may have to locate the box in which that CD is still sitting.  It turns out that it’s taking me far longer to unpack in Texas than it took me to pack in Evanston.

But I don’t really mind any of the reasons why I’m not unpacked yet.  Matt’s visit made me wonderfully happy, and his presence felt like a bridge between my old life in the North and my new life in Texas.  Plus he did an excellent job explaining some of the oddities around here, like why there is so little sidewalk.  (Answers: 1) Until recently builders were not required to put in sidewalk.  2) Everyone drives everywhere.  But I already knew about that second reason and think it is very unfortunate.  I love walking!)

My new job is good, too.  Every day I go off to work and read read read about flies and food, which is fine with me.  There is so much to read!  It’s nice to be easing back into a routine.  It is also nice to know that along with my PhD comes a nice raise and the end of my student days.  I’ve been a student since I was four years old!  That means I’ve been in school for 23 years!  I just hope I have something to show for all that formal education, all those years of sacrifice in order to “better” myself.  Am I better?  Am I somehow different now that I’ve obtained this degree from an elite university?  I don’t know.  But I do know I wanted that PhD, and now I feel relief that it’s done.

With that level of relief still fresh in my memory, it’s hard for me to get too worked up about unpacking.  There are, however, certain issues about unpacking which I have yet to resolve.  My spices, for example, need a home.  But where?  I did a bottle count, and it turns out I own 37 spice jars, 11 spice bags, and 4 bottles of flavor extracts.  My spice collection makes me happy, but it would make me even happier if most of it were not in boxes.  A select few have made it out of the box, including:

* sea salt and black pepper, which I packed in my carry-on and almost had confiscated at the airport(!)

* cinnamon (my favorite everyday spice)

* cumin seed, ground cumin, tumeric, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, cinnamon sticks, and curry powder for a stew and Matt’s okra dish.  We love seriously spicy food.

* vanilla extract for oatmeal and oatmeal cookies

* smoked paprika and chili powder for Smokehouse Almonds

These spices are living next to the stove right now, on a narrow strip of counter.  I suppose that makes them elite spices!  But what am I going to do with my collection?  I have run out of cabinet and drawer space in the kitchen.  Should I buy a spice rack?  A spice cabinet?  I’m thinking about buying some piece of freestanding furniture that would let me store my spices and my tea in the same place.  There’s a corner just off of the kitchen, in the “dining room,” if you will, which I think would be perfect as a little pantry spot.  It’s big enough to put a piece of furniture there and close enough to the kitchen that I could do a spice grab right before I start cooking—even as the oil is heating in the skillet.  What do you think?  Dear readers, how do you store your spice collections?

* * *

Smokehouse Almonds

Adapted from Vegetarian Times

Makes about 1 cup

This recipe was one of the first I made in my new kitchen.  I even went out and bought new bottles of smoked paprika and chili powder for it because my old bottles were still on their way to Texas.  These almonds were totally worth the spice splurge.  They are easy to make and even easier to eat.  I find them especially tasty paired with raisins or cheese, both of which complement the rich, roasted spicy flavor.  They are also great coarsely chopped and sprinkled over a salad.

I tried this recipe using honey or dark brown sugar as the sweetener.  The spice mixture is clumpier with honey, but I think the flavor is better.  And the clumps are pretty tasty too!  Try these almonds both ways and see which one you like.

1/2 tsp. honey or 1 tsp. dark brown sugar (see headnote above)

1 tsp. smoked paprika

1/2 tsp. chili powder

2 tsp. olive oil

1 cup whole raw almonds

Salt (optional)

1)  Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

2)  In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the sweetener, paprika, and chili powder.  Add the olive oil and stir together.  Pour in the almonds and stir to coat the nuts in the spice mixture.  Pour the nuts onto the prepared baking sheet.

3)  Bake the nuts for 20 minutes until lightly toasted and fragrant.  Sprinkle them with a bit of salt if you like.  Allow them to cool and then store them in an airtight container at room temperature.


yasmin said...

It rains in Texas? Who knew? Good to hear you're starting to settle in. I recently moved too (just across town though), and yep, packing is much faster than the unpacking.

Those almonds sound really tasty!

Shannon said...

i just read your last post and am glad you were able to have a good weekend with matt and that you've met some kind souls down there!

those smokehouse almonds sound fantastic... my spices sit on a rack above my sink. it was some wasted space, but my dad made me a shelf and there they sit. In the light, which I know isn't the best, but i have to maximize space.

Rosiecat said...

Yasmin, I know! Rain in Texas? It's so bizarre! But it's true: it's pretty humid in eastern Texas, perhaps even more humid than Chicago, which is saying a lot.

I hope your move went well and that your unpacking is going faster than mine ;-)

Shannon, that's so sweet that your dad built your spice shelf! I'm sure that in Boston, space is extremely valuable, so that's cool you were able to find a way to use some wasted space. Since I moved down here, I've been thinking about how much I wish I knew a carpenter who would be willing to build stuff for my home. A spice rack and bookshelves would be my first requests!

Nicole said...

We bought a baker's rack from Economy Hardware when we moved to Boston. I'm sure you've seen it here. There is a top rack, where we keep our dozens of spice jars. At counter level, there is a wooden chopping block, which helps with our lack of counter space. And, there are two shelves below the block, where we keep our mixing bowls, measuring cups, etc. It has been AMAZING to have. I don't know if there is an Economy Hardware out there. If so, their system is flexible. You can design your own rack, which we did, using whatever width/length combos that fit your space. Good luck finding some good, functional furniture!

Lauren said...

If you decide not to buy the freestanding unit, consider storing your spices in the cabinet in a SpiceStack! The big one holds 27 spice bottles and its a good way to keep them organized an accessible. We make them in the Chicago area!

Sorry for the advertisement, just thought it might be a good fit for your new kitchen needs! Best of luck in TX!

Laurie said...

How about a nice lingerie cabinet/chest for all those sexy spices?

Glad to hear you are getting settled in your new home.

Brian said...

Hi Rose-Anne! I'm happy to see your usual cheer has returned and that all is well in fly-land (actually, there goes a stray bugger right now - I'll trap him and send him your way :)

Our spices are mostly in unlabeled, recycled jars of various sorts - honey jars, dried mushroom jars, etc. - all thrown together in our pantry. You would think I'd be better at labeling and organizing given the lab background, but alas. However, we have gotten very good at discriminating between them based on smell (ok, smell is a bit of stretch, but definitely sight).

I just started taking woodworking classes for fun at a place near our apartment, so if you can wait, oh, say 9 months I can make you one! In the meantime, your other readers have far better advice than me.

Take care!

ammie said...

I'm so glad to hear things are going well! Hurrah!
As for spices, I like the idea of a freestanding area for that and your teas, although I think I personally would get irritated having to go into another room for my spices. You, however, are much more organized than I am (despite your boxes! It always takes me forever to unpack), and probably you get your spices out before you begin cooking. Anyway, mine are in a cabinet--I have a whole shelf!--and now also in a plastic bin on my freestanding cart, since Anna and Ellie gave me all of their spices before they left.
Anyway, hurrah again!

Rosiecat said...

What awesome comments here! My readers are the best.

Nicole, I do remember your baker's rack! Being able to build your own rack sounds awesome. It would be nice to have another good area where someone could chop or do other kinds of food prep. Right now my new kitchen has one really good prep spot and a few tolerable ones. I shall look into a baker's rack more.

Lauren, a SpiceStack might be perfect for me, even if I did buy another piece of furniture. What a clever design for storing spices! I don't mind the advertising plug :-)

Laurie, you crack me up! My spices already get more action than I do!

Brian, what a pleasant surprise to see a comment from you here! Yes, I am a little stunned at the chaos of your unlabeled spice collection. But then again, for most spices you can probably get away with that. In the lab? Not so much. Does this tube contain DNA or a deadly toxin? Shit, I can't remember...

And I would love a homemade spice rack. That would be amazing. Have fun in your classes!

Ammie, you make a good point about not having the spices RIGHT THERE, but I feel like there are only so many things I can have RIGHT THERE before I have no room to work. It's a trade-off, but if I put the tea and spices in the dining room, it's only a few steps away from the kitchen. And as for all those kitchen goodies you inherited, you'd better be putting them to good use, lady!

PS Have you all entered Shannon's ice cream maker giveaway? Go now, before it's too late!