They say that as you get older you are more likely to be a hoarder of at least one thing, and now that I’m (ahem) older, I can definitely see that happening. Not that I’m wading through mountains of on-sale collectible dolls and dirty Kleenex to get to the bucket next to the broken toilet every morning, but I’m entering a phase of life in which I can’t see the sense in throwing away something that is perfectly good. Combine that with compulsive buying of a specific thing and you’ve got me: Almost 60-years-old and the owner of more spices than hairs on my legs in winter.
I seriously don’t know what to do about my spices. They’re out of control. This is not surprising, since I love to cook and I get an almost orgasmic satisfaction out of reading a recipe, seeing some unpronounceable spice that would cause a lesser woman to turn the page and just make a tuna casserole, and realizing that I not only have it in the house, I might have three of them, one of them the Cajun version.
This spice hoarding goes unchecked because it’s only egged on by the other quirks taking hold as I age. Like being more and more okay with eating things that might be expired. Anyone who has ever opened the refrigerator in his grandmother’s house knows that the older you get the less you care about eating spoiled food. You never see a 25-year-old, no matter how near death from starvation, open up a Tupperware container, sniff it, wince, and then say, “I think it’s still good” and then serve it to loved ones. That trait definitely comes from reaching a certain age. When my mom was doing it, I thought it had something to do with her growing up in an orphanage and living through the Great Depression. But now I know that even Richie Rich grew up to cut the blue spots off the brie.
But spices never expire. They’re like diamonds or plutonium, although even conductive alloys get cloudy after a couple thousand years, I’m told. Long after the last human has left the earth, my All Natural Organic Turmeric will still be here, covered in meteor ash, but still able to add a nice Indian flavor to any dish, as well as support a healthy colon. I have a tin of allspice that was my mother’s in which the pre-stainless-steel-era metal container is starting to break down but the spice itself is ready as rain for plum pudding or Johnny cakes, if I should ever choose to make something from days of yore.
The fact that I actually have allspice and have never, ever used it — and I’ve done a lot of cooking, let me assure you — tells you something about my unwillingness to part with a spice, any spice, even the stupid ones.
How did I get here? Well, I ended up with 45 chili powders and 37 cinnamons because I couldn’t find any in the overpopulated cabinets, so every time I made chili or any recipe with apples, I ran into the store to get a spice. Every time I moved, the movers gladly packed the spices, even though they were an opened container of food because they weren’t liquid or flammable. And if there was some kind of spill, it would just make the whole move more aromatic.
Then I moved here and the former owners of our house left us a bunch of spices. Some were mysterious, like the intriguing apothecary jar with a homemade label that says CORN EGGS, and others were high-end, all organic, gourmet herbs from some yuppie market up in Napa. I immediately added them to my collection.
Next, my son and his husband moved to Seattle. There’s a spice shop in Pike Place Market that is oh-my-god so wonderful and cheap as all get-out. Every time I visit, I end up coming home with big bags of bay leaves, herbs de Provence, and whatever else will fit in my suitcase.
The final straw was Penzeys. If you haven’t discovered Penzeys yet, you might be a conservative or maybe you just like bland food. This spice company, out of Wisconsin, is a cook’s dream. The business owner is very political, so he’s always giving away entire boxes of spice collections for free, along with tie-dyed pins and bumper stickers with lovely messages and peace signs. Buying spices from Penzeys makes me feel like I’m signing a petition with drizzled herbed butter.
The end result is a large spice drawer that doesn’t close properly, an overflow spice section of my pantry, everything in the pepper and salt family in its own area, all spice blends in another area, and a plastic bin in a high cupboard with things I’m unlikely to use. The “corn eggs” are in here and if they ever hatch, can feed off the tarragon, the allspice and onion powder.
At this point my only hope is to summon another of my old lady traits: My obsession with the Container Store. That place has more spice storage solutions than the McCormick warehouse. If that works, I could end up guest starring in a Martha Stewart video.
If not, I can still be famous. If I can get on Hoarders: Eat This I’m Sure It’s Fine I think I could benefit from an extra large dump truck and a psychologist.
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When not digging for spices, Diane writes this Just Humor Me column, something that has filled her days since 2007. for fun. If you’d like to get an occasional email reminder of Diane’s writing, subscribe to her newsletter here.