I didn’t always love white rice. Raised on my Southern grandmother’s cooking, I grew up thinking of rice as an “instant” food — something Grandmother Maye dumped on the plate next to my pork chop on those nights when she didn’t have time to make mashed potatoes. White rice constituted a cheap, bland filler, made interesting only once or twice a year, when Maye indulged her Cajun roots and dished it up with chicken gumbo.
The history of the spice trade is a tale overflowing with adventure, violence, and greed. Once the world’s largest industry, the hunger for spices spurred global exploration, and the urge to control those valuable commodities sparked wars. Today, with salt and pepper ubiquitous on every table, and bottles of affordable seasonings stocked 10 deep on the shelves of every grocery, you might think that the spice business has been drained of intrigue — but you’d be wrong.
According to conventional wisdom, white rice is a tasty, versatile starch that’s bad for you, while brown rice is a good-for-you grain that tastes bad. But is the difference between the two really so straightforward? Let’s start with the basics: There are more than 40,000 cultivated varieties of rice — each with a brown form.
When you’re cruising through the mall or racing to your airport gate, a sudden whiff of cinnamon smells like temptation. While nobody would ever mistake a sugary Cinnabon roll for health food, you might have heard that the spice in that decadent pastry is good for you — so good that some health experts recommend swapping cinnamon for sugar in your coffee, including the folks at the Cleveland Clinic.
Using fresh, quality spices is one of the easiest ways to transform a good-enough dish into something exquisite. But how can you be sure that the spices you add will deliver the ultimate flavor punch? “Keep everything whole for as along as possible,” advises Amanda Bevill, owner of World Spice Merchants in Seattle. “Then grind your own.” Grinding your own demands tools, of course. So, what’s the right tool?
If you’re an even slightly adventurous cook, chances are you’ve amassed an impressive collection of spices. And that’s great; spices are great — yay, spices! But figuring out how to organize all those little jars and tins is a perpetual challenge. Maybe, like me, you’ve tried a few different approaches over the years. Perhaps you’ve invested in a special rack for organizing your tins of thyme and bay leaf only to find that it didn’t quite fit (almost!
Throughout human history, spices have been revered not just for their taste, but also for their perceived alchemical powers. Ancient Egyptians believed that spices offered a spiritual connection to the gods, while in the 1500s, Europeans’ lust for nutmeg and its purported medicinal properties helped incite The Spice Wars.
Growing up, I had not one, not two, but three different holiday traditions. As a result, I dreamed of a life that looked a lot like Norman Rockwell’s famous painting, Freedom from Want: Family gathered, a fat brown turkey on the table, and ideally, fewer emotional complications for my kids than my own divorced childhood had delivered. But dreams don’t always come true, and sometimes they fail to encompass all the available — and wonderful — possibilities.
Although I grew up in the Arizona desert, in many ways mine was a Southern childhood. After my parents’ divorce, a few plot twists worthy of a Carson McCullers novel delivered me at the age of 4 into my grandparents’ care. My Grandmother Maye, originally from Arkansas, still spoke with the thick drawl of her youth, and cooked as if she still lived in the Gulf Coastal Plain.
During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims around the world abstain from food and drink during daylight hours and spend their evenings in prayer, reflection, and shared meals. In the Arab world, Ramadan brings shortened work hours for most employees, but in the U.S. and Europe, where Muslims are in the minority, it’s business as usual.