my quote of the moment: "if you can attain repose and calm, believe that you have seized happiness." ~julie-jeanne-eleonore de lespinasse

January 6, 2011

kitchen happiness

whenever anything goes wrong in my life, i always end up taking solace in my kitchen. usually it involves baking something and then drowning my worries and angst in a sugary buzz. today though, i didn't feel like baking. shocking, i know, but i think it's because i finally got through all of the christmas cookies and candy i made, and i'm just a little sugared out. instead, i went through my cupboards and spice rack, just looking at all the little boxes and jars and cans. baking is something that calms me because it is something that i can control, something that is a dependable routine, something with a welcome and predictable outcome, baking is something that won't ever let me down. my well stocked pantry induces the same sort of feelings, i know if i ever need to make something warm and comforting or bake something sweet, i am prepared. if all else fails in this world, i know my kitchen has my back.

and so, because i am trying to avoid dwelling on less savory topics, i've decided that today i'm going to focus on the things on my kitchen shelves that i find myself reaching to more often than anything else when i really need something comforting.

i shall start with cinnamon, something that's been a favorite of mine for years. i love the smokey sweet flavor that it adds to both savory and sweet dishes. using it with chocolate is a favorite of mine. i also like to add it to certain chicken dishes and chili, because it provides a unique backdrop to the more predominate flavors. i believe that cinnamon is something that plays well with lots of other spices, it works in the background and enhances their flavor. of course, adding it to sweet dishes is only natural. apples, pears, pumpkins, cinnamon brings out the best in anything that's thought of as fall and winter fair.

another spice i really like is cumin. i fell in love with it a few years ago, and now i add it to almost any chicken dish i make. the smokiness is perfect with chicken, whether it's fried, roasted, or baked. i know it's usually used in southern mediterranean cooking, but i use cumin liberally in many many dishes.

one of my new favorite herbs is thyme. i was turned onto thyme last year. the reason i love thyme so much is because i think it goes so well with onions, and i have to admit that onions are one of my absolute favorite foods. of course, i've also started using thyme when i'm cooking with other vegetables, like potatoes or tomatoes. i'm already thinking about new and wonderful things i want to try to do with this herb.

i guess i should mention the spice i use more than anything else: garlic. i've always been a garlic fan, though my love of it has waned in recent years. still, because my family loves the flavor, i find myself putting it in everything. and yes, i know it's not technically a spice, but i keep dried garlic powder on my spice rack, so i think it counts.

the other thing that brings me comfort in the kitchen isn't really an herb or spice, it's honey. it's sticky and sweet with a flavor all it's own, so it's much deeper than plain white sugar. and even more than sugar, it melts in your mouth and coats your tongue with pure bliss. just warmed on it's own it works as a simple dessert sauce that pairs well with fruits and butter cakes. it can also be combined with other, more complex flavors, like wine, cloves, or cinnamon. small amounts in savory dishes with help glaze and brown meats without adding a cloying sweetness. it can be whipped with butter or even by itself to spread on all manner of baked goods, even plain toast. it's simple and subtle, a taste that is ages old and perfected by nature. one of my favorite gifts this christmas was a jar of honey with a piece of comb inside. eating the comb reminds me of eating those old wax bottle candies i used to get as a kid, only infinitely better.

i suppose i could go on and on about the simple staples i always have on hand in my kitchen that never fail to bring a smile to my face. i mean, i didn't even mention molasses or sea salt or ginger or old bay. but i'm sure there will be other days that i'll need those comforts, so i'll leave talking about those until then.

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