Some time back we hosted at our Old Town store a book signing with New York Times Food Columnist, Melissa Clark, who had been making rounds to promote her then-new cookbook, “Cook This Now: 120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can’t Wait to Make.” We entertained a small crowd as attendees had the opportunity to meet the author, get her autograph, and pick her brain as she fielded questions about cooking and beyond. The book’s release, and subsequently the event, landed in mid-Fall, so it was no surprise that many of the questions and much of the advice she doled out, centered on, among other seasonal topics, brining, stuffing, or otherwise preparing turkey. Melissa Clark, I realized then, is uniquely talented. Besides being a good cook, she has a way of making some perennially nightmarish kitchen projects sound and look surprisingly manageable. Case in point: I’d been trying for a good while with limited success to concoct my own flavor-infused mayonnaise when I stumbled upon some classic Melissa Clark wisdom in the form of a recent column, “Mayonnaise: Oil, Egg, and a Drop of Magic.”
There might be a reason you love a good curry and can’t stomach spinach. A group of European scientists have begun work on a project that could eventually explain everything from your insatiable sweet tooth to your superhuman tolerance for spicy foods. New research on the “genetics of food preferences” suggests our tastes and distastes for certain foods may have their origins in our evolutionary histories, and that our genetic makeup may actually dictate which foods we find attractive, and which ones we abhor. The project – officially called Marco Polo (after the explorer who famously travelled the trade route centuries ago) – examines DNA from a number of cultures and communities along Eurasia’s historic Silk Road in an effort to determine how genetic variation translates to palatal differences within and across cultures. And while Marco Polo’s orchestrators still have significant work to do before the project sees its conclusion, early research has already turned up some interesting results which could, given time, lead to advancements in food science and changes in the direction of food industry research.
One of the benefits of working at The Spice House is the opportunity to have new and unique sensory experiences on a regular basis. Just how our senses are stimulated depends on the nature of the task we are handling at any given moment, but the truth is there is very little work to be done at our store that won’t open the eyes, clear the sinuses, or intrigue the taste buds. Indeed, there is a lot to take in at our little shop, from exotic sights and scents to vibrant flavors and even sounds (our founder, the late Bill Penzey Sr., often proclaimed there was music in the spices themselves, although it might go undetected by the untrained or inattentive ear). Of all the work at The Spice House, however, there may not be a job that so deeply buries the hand in sensory stimuli as blending spices.
We at the Spice House would like to extend our sincerest congratulations to newlyweds Dimitri and Naomi Moore. Dimi and Naomi tied the knot on August 25th at Pilsen’s Living Room Lounge, following a seven-month engagement. It is always special to play a part in a story with a happy ending, and we were honored to learn that the Moores remember our store fondly as the place they began their romantic journey together.
There is a tasty tradition at the Spice House (at least in our Old Town store), which we typically celebrate with the return of a manager or another from vacation or travel. Many of us spend a good amount of time taking food very seriously, and our connections as spice retailers often bring about opportunities to sample a lot of seriously high quality food and treats from kitchens around the city. So, from time to time it is refreshing, as a change of pace, to lower our standards a bit and indulge in something that is not overtly culinary, but still very delicious: snack chips.
Last week, a kind gentleman representing the fine spiced liqueur, Bénédictine, stopped by the shop. He was looking to procure a wide variety of herbs and spices, each representing prime flavor notes in Bénédictine’s closely guarded secret recipe. Using these, he would create an aroma kit, like those used by wine tasters, to demonstrate his liqueur’s depth to costumers. With the aid of Bridget, Old Town’s manager, the gentleman was so pleased with the Spice House that he offered a bottle for us to enjoy. So the question was posed, “how best to honor such a fine gift?” With a custom cocktail, that’s how! This is how the “Spice House Sling” was born. Continue reading
For as long as I can remember, which isn’t long, the focus of American cuisine has trended in two decipherable and opposite directions: (1) cooking and eating more healthily, and (2) extreme flavor indulgence at, sometimes, the expense of good health. It could be the lack of necessity (I haven’t yet eclipsed the quarter-century mark), or maybe it is the way I was raised (my dad served many a bacon-wrapped bratwurst for brunch), but I’ve found over the years that food trends rooted wholly in maximizing flavor and deliciousness have held my attention far better than the ones that purport to keep my cholesterol down.
Food has been the subject of many films, easily becoming a genre onto itself. From grand documentaries to humble narratives, the subject of food has been explored with infinite detail at the cinema. I know from personal experience that a film can make me laugh, cry, or even leave a theatre feeling the desperate craving for a piece of egg sushi. Food films can do more than just awaken our appetites though, as food is as complex a subject as humanity itself. Filmakers take to food as a subject so often because the craft and intricacy of food is something people take to as a defining passion. This past Memorial day, which also happened to be my birthday, I was treated to the screening of a documentary about a tenacious perfectionist and the food he toils over. David Gelb’s new documentary film, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi“, adresses the maxim that the food that we eat and the care we put into making it, makes us who we are. Continue reading
Please allow me to introduce Tom Erd, Spice Boss. My husband and I have owned The Spice House for 20 years. For many years prior to that we both worked there, for my parents, who founded our business in 1957. It is a long, long time to be doing the same thing, but hopefully we have gotten pretty good at it over all the years. We sometimes find we need to challenge ourselves with things a little outside of our everyday spice box, in order to keep our creativity flowing. Interesting propositions come our way all the time, mostly because we are a very approachable small Mom and Pop business. We have not figured out the rhyme or reason behind why on some days these just get shot down, and other days the ideas take on a life of their own. My scientific guess would be it just depends on which side of the bed we got up. When Tom started mulling over the idea of doing You Tube videos as Spice Man, I thought it was a passing fancy. Continue reading
I recently attended a culinary conference in New York which was titled The Fashion of Food. There were some extremely interesting feature sessions, many about food and fashion being subjects of trends, fads or cycles. It is sometimes hard to discern what is the real deal and what is a flash in the pan trend that will not stand the duration of time. It occurred to me, as I listened to a wide variety of speakers discuss a diverse selection of food topics, that words fall into the same category. They go through trends, sometimes going mainstream, as when a word once newly created had enough use to get added to the Webster Dictionary. Sometimes they are overused and abused to the point that they become outed, or even banned by editors. The website , Serious Eats recently put out its secret list of banned words. Continue reading