spice and appreciation, daily

Years ago, someone described my cooking as subtle. Aside from the jokes that that meant bland, I heard the compliment acknowledging the use of nuance and a soft touch. Like my father’s light-handed ra-ta-ta-tat of the salt or pepper shaker on his steak.

In tonight’s dinner of grilled cheese, ketchup to go on the side and onions to grill in the skillet were givens. Rosemary sprinkled within was a last second addition before putting the two slices of bread over the heat. And that bit of spice, makes all the difference.

Like the rosemary in a grilled cheese, there is nutmeg in pancakes, asofetida (hing!) in curried lentils, ashes of cinnamon and red pepper in hot cocoa that change everything else about a mouthful of flavor. and allspice in anything with pumpkin.

Food each day can have such lovely additions when I think of them. It is a practice a lot like an appreciation. By practicing at least once a day, and sometimes more than once, cultivates the greater chances of having more spice and appreciation in the next day. When I have had long lapses of bland days, they tend to be devoid of being able to appreciate the itsy bitsy things in life. With time, I have found little games and sensory gimmicks that increase my abilities to appreciate.

It is becoming the same in the kitchen, where I open the cupboard door that is too the left of the stove more often. Most spices sit on the second shelf, within easy reach of the gas burners on the stove top. As I have come to make pancakes more and more, not a pancake recipe goes by without nutmeg. Nutmeg is only denied on the odd occasion that it detracts from the rest of the batter.

When I concocted the four ingredient version of hot chocolate — soy milk, cocoa powder, coconut oil and agave — into a pot on the stove, I thought of the dashes of cinnamon and red pepper. It was as little work as the Swiss Miss packets (with those awful, artificial marshmallows) that I had plenty of as a child. Yet, considerably better suited to my grown up palette. Just as my adult self has less practice with schoolyard humor and teasing, which I have replaced with appreciations and mirroring.