Dishes and Wishes

Recipes and Culinary Commentary

December’s Kitchen Wins and Losses

Besides being the best month of the year, December was a boom month for my spice collection. My sister surprised me with a spice I’ve coveted for years after reading that Amanda Hesser (now of Food52) had put it in her pepper grinder (not like she has only one, I’m sure she’s got loads): grains of paradise. From Le Sanctuaire. Ooh-la-la. You will not find these at Penzey’s. Not at the one in Madison, Wisconsin, in December 2010, where I threw a tantrum when I realized they didn’t have grains of paradise, sumac, dried lime, asafoetida (hing), and other obscure things that I think a spice store should carry. Especially in Madison, a real foodie town with impressive grocery stores. [N.B. I did just check Penzey’s online and they do have sumac to order. They do not have the GOP, hing, nor dried lime. Weirdly, though, they carry and carried Ajwain Seed, which is a used in Indian cuisines, and contains thymol, allowing us to substitute thyme for it.]

At first, these were the poor man’s subsitute for black pepper, but as the availability of black pepper grew, it was clear that  grains of paradise were harder to source, and they’re now one of the most expensive spices, up there with vanilla seeds and saffron. I’d have to say, unlike black pepper, most of the pepperiness comes at the end of the taste, maybe similar to the way you’d taste the spicy hull on a large piece of ground pepper, almost like a surprise. It has a coriander citrus-y note, but it’s milder than I expected.

This past Christmas my sisters and I had a blast cooking. There were a few hiccups. Worst was when the oven rack was jammed at an ungodly angle. My father had to strong-arm it out with the back of a hammer. It was a high-tension moment in the Schiebler household. The following is the second worst kitchen disaster that happened.

I was having a complete mental lapse at the supermarket and accidently bought sardines. I know, right!  I made sure they were packed in olive oil, but I couldn’t manage getting the right fish. Something is deeply wrong with me. I know at my parents’ old house in Florida, they had anchovy paste, and at my other parents’ they have anchovy paste –because it’s sort of a staple– but no dice. What my parents do have is a handful of Italian neighbors, but my dad refused let me entertain the idea of asking them. It was Christmas Day, to be fair. He allowed me one post Tintin stop at the one open convenience store, which in addition to a long line also had sardines and tuna and Vienna sausages but no anchovies. So, I tried. After pondering the idea of using sardines, I opted for the next best option: Worcestershire. And it worked brilliantly! Really. All that fuss…


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