My kitchen just received the second half of a subtle, but seriously major upgrade.
First it was my pantry, whose deep shelves were so full that to access anything at the back required either a delicate dance of bottles or a deep excavation. Andy Rigg of Brooklyn Bilt installed some hefty, load-bearing pull-out shelves and suddently, everything is different. All my ingredients, from all-purpose flour to that obscure bottle of pekmez I lugged home from Istanbul now regularly see the light of day.
Equally revelatory, but a bit more complicated, was solving the problem of my spice cabinet. Like my pantry, it was a scary, unchartered place, stuffed to over-brimming. The kind of place that was perilous to stand under, lest the jar of Sicilian chili flakes fall on your head. There were things in the far reaches and the dark corners that were totally inaccessible, and they langished so for years (this is no joke). And to top it all off, the cabinet was dreadfully close to my stove, far too close to the heat. (Any self-respecting kitchen packrat like myself should know better than to endanger their precious hoard with unnecessary exposure to high temperatures.) All I wanted for my spices was ease, visibility, and safety. Not too much to ask, right?
(Frightening image, isn't it?)
And boy did I get it…in abundance. I hadn’t really imagined how my lofty dreams might materialize, but Andy had the brilliant idea of crafting a series of shallow drawers in a space that was occupied by one large, deep drawer. I immediately loved the idea, and so did Daniel, though we were temporarily scuttled when we discovered our cheapy line of Ikea cabinetry had been discontinued. But a quick ebay search turned up exactly the components we needed, and a few clicks later we were back on track.
With the drawers installed (seamlessly, I might add) the next step was clear—choosing uniform and handy containers. My original spice cabinet had a hodgepodge of jars, boxes, tins, bottles, bags, matchboxes, handkerchiefs, you name it.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, after much diddling around on the internet -- I mean studious research -- I found these. Square tins, with little clear lids, were an ideal solution. They don’t roll! They don’t turn! They don’t fall on their sides! In short, square tins make use of the real estate deeded to them with elegance and economy.
Tins chosen and drawers in place, next came The Great Spice Reckoning.
It was time to look my spice cabinet squarely in the eye, and come face to face with the sweet or spicy or savory ghosts lingering within. I piled everything into boxes and gradually went through them, one by one, jettisoning the bare minimum (hey, I said it already…I’m a kitchen packrat) with the gentle but firm encouragement of those around me. Daniel, Sunny, Sarah and Dahlia were my own personal SHA support group (that would be Spice Hoarders Anonymous).
Naturally, I found some sentimental gems that I couldn’t bear to part with. Mahleb, the tiny little stones from an ancient fertile crescent cherry known as St Lucie have been imparting their subtle almondy-fruitiness to baked goods for centuries—though my stash has only been around for a couple of years. Black cardamom pods are so smoky and earthy they almost smell like bacon. And those Thai long pepper corns never fail to intrigue me with their floral and piney heat.
Dahlia came home from school to find me on the floor, surrounded by the mess, and declared in all her three year-old wisdom that “something smelled funny”. And indeed, after sniffing many a mystery packet, I was a sneezy mess. (A tin actually got labeled “Mystery Chili Powder”—I’m open to ideas of what to do with it!)
Slowly but surely, order started to dominate the chaos. And then the moment finally came—cue the Rocky theme song. I put all my newly labeled tins into their new home, arranging them in my own whimsical way (chilis and sweet spices in the top drawer, herbs, seeds and everything else below). The satisfaction was extreme.
At last count I had over 28 different types of chili products, not including the 5 different paprikas. (Believe me, even I am amazed.) Everything is readily available, handy, and oh-so organized. I pull a handle to reveal the ground-up goodness of many a nation, lined up in friendly phalanxes. The drawers almost feel like little libraries, and as I pull them out to browse, I’m looking over the recipes, trials and errors, and old familiar friends of my home-cooking life. Really fun stuff.