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I could not sleep last night, so I followed the rule ‘Get out of bed if you can’t sleep’. I went to the den, settled into a chair, and began to read, hoping to fall asleep.  The book I picked at random was on the history of the spice trade.  The book often used the German word Genussmittel.  It translates into English as “articles of pleasure”.  They are the substances we consume for pleasure. They are separated from the foods and beverages consumed as necessities.  Genussmittel includes all the spices, and condiments, as well tea, coffee, alcohol, and street drugs.  These foodstuffs are often seen as luxuries, or means for creating epicurean delight.

I am very fond of Genussmittel.  I grew up in the Midwest, where ‘fine herbs and spices’ meant salt and pepper. I saw our diet as such a wasted opportunity: the spice rack offered many wonderful things to use. These herbs and spices seemed like the magic powders I read in fairy tales. I wanted to use them.  Despite my encouragement, Mother had no interest in ‘spicing things up’. Her trump card was  ‘your father wouldn’t like that’.

As soon as I got to college I started my lifelong love affair with spice. I experimented with herbs, rather than drugs. No surprise – my favorite cuisines are Indian, Thai, Italian, and Cajun, all known for their heat and/or exotic flavors.

Adult beverages are no different. I like cocktails, made with a variety of ingredients.

I continue to use spices and herbs whenever possible. Few meals escape a liberal dash of hot sauce or pepper flake (oh! The joy of living in the Southwest!) Someone points out I put black pepper on everything, often before I taste it.  It is a fair assumption nothing is peppered enough for my taste. “If you are tired of pepper, you’re tired of life!” I say, as I do another turn of the pepper grinder.

By now, my taste buds are so used to heat and spice most things taste bland without them.

If you want my gravy –

Pepper my ragu –

Spice it up for Urpso –

He’ll get hot for you! 

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October 2011

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