Cajun Spice Mix…great for black bean soup

Handy Cajun Seasoning MixI enjoy spices. In another life, which would involve a certainty of more taxes, red tape, leases and the not entirely remote possibility of bankruptcy…as these brick and mortar things often do, I will own a spice shop. So it is a short lived fantasy that ends in despair but the shelves will be filled with spice bins and my favorite olive oils and a precious smattering of only the kitchen talismans and tools that one truly needs. There will be rolling pins and my favorite cookbooks. There will be a shelf of heirloom dried beans and a freezer containing pig lard and duck fat for pie crusts and such. I will have a bit of coffee just so you can come in and get comfortable and chat with me about your favorite ingredients and dishes.

And we will play in the spice bins and create mixes. And it will be fun.

By the by, don’t tell me I’m a pessimist. We are all horrible about shopping at Amazon and the little cute shops do fail…and I’m too happily busy at just this moment to pencil in a belly flop.

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Of Mountains and Marmalade

Marmalade jarsIf there is a stove, and if there is a washing machine, I am not truly on vacation. I’m merely doing my thing somewhere else. Yet, getting out of your day-to-day environment gives you perspective. And it keeps you from doing all, or enough, of the mundane tasks of a typical day, so that you do a few different things, and see things differently.

A new background makes you truly see things. It alerts the brain to the need to gather information because you are not in your den, in the animal sense, I suppose.

We go to the desert. That is our place to go. Pitts and I were married there. We have a little place surrounded by just the right amount of dirt so that the children can go at least a little bit native. They dig large holes in the ground. They throw dirt. They help me gather stones for my labyrinth. They wander. They pick oranges and lemons. They follow rabbits and Gambel’s quail about. They pick cactus spines out of their hands and feet.

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Easy Homemade Ketchup Recipe

ketchup openKetchup. This is one of the recipes that I needed to make because I think it is something handy for my kitchen. It is a self-sufficiency recipe.

Ketchup is funny. It packs a lot of baggage for a condiment. For one thing, it is just about the simplest condiment to be found, and also the most beloved. It is an afterthought, though. It is something we rarely, if ever, make ourselves because it is so cheap and convenient to purchase, and because…as a result of these two factors…no one really knows how to make it. It also has a low brow reputation. It is the stuff of fast food. It is a cover. Ketchup can hide a multitude of sins. Ketchup is how we get our kids to begin eating.

Pitts and I have few disagreements in life. We are a rather agreeable pair. But the few things we disagree on are bone deep and not bound to change. One of those things involves ketchup. Namely, he thinks ketchup should never ever go in the refrigerator. I was raised in a home where everything went in the refrigerator. Here is the hell hole of contention. Facts. Yes, cold ketchup is a little gross. No, we are never going to remember to take it out of the fridge an hour early. And, yes, opened ketchup that does not go in the fridge turns maroon and tastes tinny. These things are all true. I’d rather have cool red ketchup. He’d rather roll the dice on it turning maroon and not have to eat cold ketchup. I bet your family also has strongly held beliefs about this issue. I feel very fortunate that this is a problem for us.

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Buttermilk Ranch Dressing Mix

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing MixYou have to have a few tricks up your sleeve. You have to have some magic shortcuts in the pantry. Because you, one day, will come running around the dining room table in a mad search for someone’s swimming goggles and kick a chair with your pinkie toe and look down to find it pointing in the wrong direction. On that day you will have to call in the reinforcements to watch your children (my stalwart neighbor Linda) and help you to the ER (her fire-fighter husband Robert) to get your poor foot put back into the right configuration. These things happen.

When these things happen you will become aware of several things…

First, you will thank the heavens for good neighbors. I cannot remember a time when I have asked Linda for a favor and she hasn’t dropped everything to help me. And, Robert…well…he sat in the ER and listened to my drug induced philosophic ramblings about how cool it is that my daughter slid into home plate in her softball game last week. He is a good man. My very own man was on his way back from Tennessee where he was coaching three of his crew kids in the Nationals rowing events. That is a pretty good excuse for not pulling ER duty, I think. But, I’m so glad he is home. I’m a hobbling goofball around here. All hands are on deck.

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Curry Chickpeas & Polenta

Curry & Polenta LeadCurry is a mystery to me. It is not one of my native foods, so to speak. I don’t think I ordered a meal containing curry until I was in my 30′s, and I surely never cooked with it. It was simply not in my view. My mother-in-law used to mix bottled curry powder with mayonnaise to make a dip for chilled artichokes. It is a great little trick for an appetizer. But even that positive experience didn’t nudge me out of my comfortable culinary inertia. Truth be told, I have long believed that curry was an actual “thing” or a spice. It comes in a jar marked curry, after all.

But, I’ve been keeping my eyes open lately. Since I met you all, I’ve paid more attention and read more labels. I’ve read hundreds of cookbooks and magazines and I’ve been blinded by the wonder of it all. And while the exposure to cultures and practices and habits and tastes can make the world seem so big, at the same time it shows you that you likely have many of the ingredients for international recipes right at your finger tips.

Curry is not “a” spice. It is a mix of spices. And it is different, wildly different, depending on where you travel. Many regions in Asia have their own mixes called curry that have differing predominant spices and flavors. Indian curry is perhaps the most well known, but there are countless types of “Indian curry.” And, there are styles of curry from Bangladesh, Kashmir, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, China, Japan, and other countries and regions. It seems that at some point British interests labelled all of these spicy, punchy, foods as curry. It is a shortcut for a million different dishes. Curry spice mixes, as found in the grocery store aisle, seem to be a Western notion, also. Which is too bad, really. Because this whole time, had I awakened to this fact, I could have been playing with curries instead of assuming that it was one thing that would always taste the same no matter what. Here is a great article on the British love of curry. Don’t skip the comments, as some of the personal stories are charming.

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