Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Speecy, Spicey Meatballs

I walked into The Spice House in Evanston, IL not knowing what to expect. Besides parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Ha. I kid. The first thing that happened was a friendly young man who had a college-educated look -- eyes alert, not bloodshot, hair combed, not gnarly, shirt pressed, not flannel, nails clipped, not dirty. He stopped what he was doing and offered to help me, instead of pushing by me like I was in the way. 
          I saw some taco seasoning and wondered about that. He first let me smell it and I was surprised at how fragrant it was. And hoped I wouldn't sneeze. Before I knew it, he was hand-scooping a bunch into a jar for me, while keeping up his snappy patter, answering my endless questions about where and why and how The Spice House gets its spices, as well as the difference between the spice we call cinnamon and real cinnamon, both of which he let me smell. If you're ever out of ammonia, fresh squeezed cinnamon can bring down the thunder. [Okay, it's not squeezed, but you get the idea.] I also checked out the paprika, which didn't smell like any paprika I recall. At least any paprika I bought in the spice aisle at my local grocery. 
          Then he gave me a tour of the place, which, for a spice store, is as big as some restaurants I've been to. Since I also needed some vanilla, he gave me the vanilla tour like a docent at a museum. During his monologue, I learned that there are three types of vanilla bean -- Madagascar, Tahitian, and Mexican. The Madagascar is the most expensive, since it's grown on an island located in a to-hell-and-back-part of the Indian Ocean. And the locals have to row it to the mainland. Or something.
          I got some of the Tahitian because it's twice as strong as regular, so if you're a vanillaphile, you can add one teaspoon and get twice the kick. Not that I get my kicks from vanilla, but I do like what it does to food. The Mexican version of vanilla is the one most people buy, since it's the one most grocery stores supply. Each vanilla smells much differently from the others -- for instance, the one from Madagascar has "chocolate notes."
          On my way out I saw some candied ginger next to the 100-year-old cash register, which was there for decoration -- the cash register, not the ginger -- and I bought a bag of that, too. The ginger, not the cash register. All in all, it was a great day for good smells and anticipation of what I'll be cooking and baking soon. UPDATE: I actually mixed some of the taco seasoning in a sauce and ate it on pasta. Hey I didn't have any ground beef.

That's the young man who helped me out.

This is just one part of one wall in one section of the store.
The pictures above and below feature spices to accompany 
the ethnic foods of Chicago's neighborhoods.
A shot of the window on one side of the store below.

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