wherefore art thou, oregano?

Despite what every gift registry will tell you, you probably don’t need a $50 spice rack.

That said, neither do you need a cupboard that unleashes a spice avalanche every time you decide dinner needs more salt. This is actually worse, since you will inevitably end up with 5 bottles of dried oregano because you don’t want to risk cleaning the stupid spice cupboard. Last time you tried to do that, you got a nice whack on the head from paprika bottle #3.

Right before Taylor and I got married and moved into our own place, I started collecting baby food jars. This led to some fun questions…but nevermind that. I was still mad at paprika bottle #3 and had decided to take matters into my own hands. I’ve since developed the following maxims toward spices:

1. Keep a low supply. Spices, especially once ground, go stale. That 5-year-old bulk container of Italian seasoning is adding fiber, not flavor, to your dishes. It’s okay, I’ve used it too. I suppose it was my way of paying tribute to those poor herbs that would never reach their true culinary potential.

I try to buy what I need for the next six months, by buying in bulk bins at our normal old chain grocery store (no Whole Foods necessary). You will usually find bulk spices hidden in the natural foods section, lest the rest of the world discover they are being ripped off.

If you’re not sure how much to get, try 1 Tbsp. per person you live and eat with. You can always get more next time. Don’t buy spices you don’t use several times per month already. You’ll need to get other ingredients for a special meal, so get your saffron and cardamom pods then.

2. When possible, choose whole spices. Whole spices keep their flavor longer and smell WONDERFUL when freshly ground for a recipe–you can even lightly toast them in a frying pan for extra fragrance, before grinding. Use a mortar and pestle or an inexpensive coffee grinder. If you’re too lazy to do this, be honest with yourself and just buy ground unless you need to impress a date.

3. Use small containers that match. Matching spice bottles are a girl’s dream come true. You can label them with a chalk/paint pen in about 2 seconds. Or spend an hour on this brilliant craft. For easy grabbing, I use a small lazy susan, though you can find a variety of spice shelves at thrift stores. Bring a jar when shopping to make sure you get the depth right.

Following these rules has saved me money, counter space, and many a bland recipe. Now go show that spice cupboard who’s boss!

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