New spices for a new year


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Uh-oh, it’s that time of year again. Time to throw out the old spices and bring in the new. C’mon, admit it, I bet some of the nutmeg or turmeric in your pantry or drawer has been there for years. Open the jar and take a sniff: If it smells like nothing much, toss it out.

Ground spices have a short shelf life. That’s why I mostly buy whole spices and grind them in the mortar and pestle just before I’m going to use them. I love sitting at the kitchen table, opening up cardamom pods and spilling the seeds out onto a plate. Or taking a whole nutmeg and grating it into a potato gratin. It’s such a sensual rush.


I don’t label anything, because I like to open the jar and sniff if I can’t tell what’s inside. This drives my husband crazy. But this Christmas he got the perfect gift: a labeling machine. He’d hardly unwrapped it before he was pounding out spice labels: white cardamom, aleppo pepper, ras al hanout, smoked paprika. Now the jars of basmati and jasmine rice have their own proper labels, the polenta and the palm sugar too. The words themselves are beautiful, so I don’t really mind. With two cooks in one kitchen, it calls for compromise.

And where to buy those spices? Penzey’s Spices in Torrance or Le Sanctuaire (formerly in Santa Monica but now in San Francisco) by phone.

Penzey’s Spices, 21301 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance, (310) 406-3877; Le Sanctuaire, 315 Sutter St., San Francisco, (415) 986-4216.

-- S. Irene Virbila

Fred Seidman