Now is the time to reorganize your kitchen for the new year. First order of business: going through all your spices and throwing out any that have lost their pungent whiff.
That means mostly ground spices. Hey, that ground cinnamon that smells like dust? Toss it. Those dried up vanilla beans? Stick them in a jar of sugar, but don't count on them giving their all to your baking.
Regroup, reorganize those spices that are left. Do you need more containers? Do you need to think about a new place to store them? Next to the oven is not ideal. They want cool and dark to keep their potency.
Make a list of spices needed and then shop locally for them, such as at Spice Station in Silver Lake or Penzey's in Santa Monica and Torrance. You can count on spices being fresh at both shops because the turnover is so high. (Both also have online shops.) Another good source is Le Sanctuaire in San Francisco, which sells high-quality spices by mail order, including a library of spices, in jars.
That jar of dried sage languishing on a shelf at the supermarket is probably not as fresh as anything you'll find at a dedicated spice merchant.
Where to find little jars or other containers? Those spice shops, kitchenware stores and Cost Plus World Market.
Every year I have the same argument/discussion with my husband. I prefer not to label my spices. Most can be identified visually. Or if not, by smell. My husband wants labels. And so we have labels. He also knows where he stashed the extra spices, somewhere in the wine cellar.
With the spice collection freshened up, all the jars neatly labeled, we're ready to start cooking for the new year. The one thing I know I'm missing? Moroccan cumin, which I haven't been able to find anywhere.
I'm making a list, too, of herbs I want to plant in early spring -- red shiso, chrysanthemum leaves, dill, Thai basil, some Vietnamese herbs, etc. Let the cooking year begin.