Mixed spices and herbs

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Tastes of the Season

February 26, 2016

A past musing had the title “Tis the Season”… which is probably more apt… but I don’t like duplication… so Season’s greeting is it.

And the “season” in question is not Spring (although, as far as I’m concerned, if 1 March is good enough for the Met. Office then it’s definitely good enough for me).

Nor is the season “Summer” (although as we hit British Summer Time on 27th March – that really isn’t too far away either).

The “season” that I am referring to is the joy that comes from my (now much-used) herb and spice rack. I confess this had been given house space for a good many years… but was purely for decorative purposes and to create the illusion that I might actually do some “proper cooking” in the kitchen (and took great care to ensure that dust did not gather on it in any great quantity).

I have to confess that my own parents liked their food “unfussy” and my only real recollection of encountering anything with “added herbs” in my childhood would be when we went to visit my Nanna – who would cook what I called “funny potatoes”. These were in fact baby new potatoes cooked with rosemary or thyme. Very delicious now… but, as a six year old, I wasn’t overly keen.

I was discussing “matters weight loss” with a friend (who has just embarked on her own mission to whittle her waistline) and she was bemoaning the fact that “eating healthy” is so expensive. She is determined to wean herself off convenience pre-packaged meals and turn instead to “home cooked” recipes. Unfortunately she, like me, is having to start from scratch with a non-existent store cupboard.

When I say “non-existent” it is not entirely true – I did have black pepper, sea salt, malt vinegar, tomato sauce, “brown sauce”, and a curry sauce – but that was it.

The spice rack jars were full but (and I am hanging my head in shame as I type) the best before dates on the lids declared “November 2012”

… and this was only a year or so ago. The result was I did have to spend quite a lot of time (and money) gathering together what have now become the “staples for seasoning”.

It did seem very expensive to begin with – but I have long since learned that a little goes a long way in terms of seasoning. It only takes a couple of mint leaves (or a small teaspoon of the ready-made mix) added to a pan of peas to give my greens a real zing. I have discovered that I don’t have to buy the “branded” vegetables. The cheap and cheerful “daily varieties” are often much cheaper – and once I have added my herbs and spices – they taste wonderful.

I have also discovered that a good many convenience stores are conveniently open when I am heading for my evening stroll. I now make it a habit to take an after dinner constitutional at least three times a week – and I usually end up inside one of the still-open shops.

In the past my quest would have been for sweet treats but now I find myself drawn to the “reduced” section of the fruit and vegetable section.

It is amazing just how much the price reductions can add up to… and although the “best before” date may be there and then, I know that a bag of mange tout or a packet of baby corns are not going to be inedible if they spend an extra eight hours in my fridge.

It is a great way of picking up bargains in my shopping basket – and it also adds to the air of mystery surrounding meals – as I never know quite what is going to be on offer – but if I know I’m having steamed fish or a Shepherd’s pie the next day… then “magical mystery veg” usually works out quite well. Particularly with a pinch or two of herbs thrown in for good measure

The same with fruit. A battered apple may not be overly attractive but if I cut it up, remove the “brown bits” and leave it soaking in a bowl of water overnight – it is more than good enough to add to my breakfast yoghurt the next morning (as are bruised pears, overripe bananas, and “slightly mushy” raspberries). Again, it is “pot luck” when I get there… but I always manage to find a bargain or two to “put into the pot” and a little touch of cinnamon or nutmeg really can turn something ordinary into something very, very tasty indeed.

The availability of dried herbs and a wide variety of spices means that “pepping up” what would ordinarily be “plain fare” is not too difficult. My “horticultural skills” are improving now that I have basil, mint and sage stood in plant pots on the window sill – they add a touch of nature to my kitchen (and the mint is particularly fragrant as well); they add a splash of colour to my meals; and they add another level of taste for not very much time or expense.

I have to admit that I get a strange sense of pride every time one of the spice jars is empty – there is something satisfying about having to restock because I’m using them so regularly. I also get a similar feeling when people come to dinner and remark on just how tasty “Cottage pie, carrots and cabbage” can be (all thanks to a few “mystery ingredients courtesy aof my now, well-spun, spice carousel).

Have a fabulous weight loss weekend.

With a Hug

H14

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