OPINION: Spring house cleaning and the spice of life

Off my Rocker is a monthly column by retired Vidette reporter Tommi Halvorsen Gatlin.

Regardless of the cold weather, I remain unconvinced that spring is not in the air — or at least in my house.

My calendar says it’s March, which draws my memory back to the annual tradition of spring housecleaning — drummed into my sisters and me by our meticulous mother, who led the way.

(Interestingly, I just realized it must have taken place each year during “Easter vacation.” I’d have thought I would have especially noted that fact as a kid when my schoolmates had a week-long break to play or engage in other non-work activities. But maybe I didn’t think of that until now, since spring housecleaning at our house was always an unconditional “given.”)

But I digress.

While contemplating the admittedly much-needed convention this year, it was clear I’d need to pace myself since I’m now 71 and deal with some vexing health issues. No way can I tackle a whole room in just a day or two (or maybe even a week or two). And my treasonous daughters are grown and managing their own homes, and jobs.

The spice of life

So when I started last week, one of my first projects was to empty my kitchen spice cabinet and wash it, including the inside and outside of the door, which seemed to have collected fingerprints I can’t claim nowadays are those belonging to my children.

I then checked each container, discarding the unwanted ones and wiping the others clean.

If it’s true that “variety is the spice of life,” my spice/seasoning collection, small though it is, is a case in point.

Just the pepper, one of my favorites and a touted anti- inflammatory, can attest to that. I have whole black peppercorns; coarse ground and organic black pepper; white pepper (which I debated discarding since I’ve never used it but kept); crushed red pepper and Penzeys’ Florida seasoned pepper from an intriguing little spice shop in the Pearl District of Portland, Ore.

Besides lemon and orange peel, the seasoned pepper includes garlic and tellicherry, bark of any of several East Indian or African trees of the family of Apocynaceae. For more information, Google it.

Of course, I have the usual baking spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice and ginger. Allspice, of course, isn’t actually a combination of spices. It’s the dried fruit (berries) of a West Indian tree. The name is said to be the result of the spice’s similarity to the flavor of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

I also have an unopened bottle of ground cardamom, from the fruit of an Indian herb, Elettaria cardamomum, that I’d intended to use in some Norwegian Christmas baked goodies but never “got around to.” Being unopened, though, I’m keeping it to try yet. The label says its “exotic flavor” also complements savory meat stews and curries.

Paprika is another of my favorites; I use it often combined with pepper, garlic powder and, at times, onion powder, on roasting meat. I also have a bottle of smoked paprika and some Hungary sweet paprika, which I’m anxious to try. (I really need more time and, especially energy, to do some experimenting!)

A newer purchase, which I also haven’t used yet, is turmeric, which contains curcumin and is said to have a number of health benefits, including as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. But it also can thin the blood, so persons taking blood-thinning medications are advised to avoid it. (It’s always a good idea to check out possible side effects of all spices and seasonings just as we should do with medications.)

I also have a good supply of one of my standbys, parsley flakes, which is included in nearly every pot of soup I make, as well as spaghetti sauces. I also wouldn’t be without ground cumin seed, especially good in Mexican, Latin American, Middle Eastern, Indian dishes and my black bean soup, which has a so-so name but is beyond yummy.

I don’t have the largest stock of spices and seasonings, but I have a bit more space now for some new ones I haven’t yet tried. And with the cupboard all shipshape, I can get to what I want more easily, so those I have now that haven’t been used will be more easily accessible.

And maybe if I pretend to be a mad scientist, it will encourage me to find the time to try some new fun and fascinating concoctions. Spring seems to me to be the perfect season for miracles.

Tommi Halvorsen Gatlin is a retired reporter, who still contributes to The Vidette. Contact her by emailing the editor at editor@thevidette.com