Friday, March 22, 2019


When I began cooking and eating foods I enjoy (instead of eating everything), I found that the common thread (or line) that tied everything together was the Tropic of Cancer and/or Equator. While I initially followed the methods of French cooking as most Americans do, I quickly found
such strategies to be as outdated as the view of Europe at the center of the universe. Whereas the "traditional" form of cooking may have jived with more "traditional" lifestyles (read: women who have time to make Coq au Vin), the new guard of cuisine seems to be changing as quickly as our geo-politics, meaning that with new trends in populations and/or women in the workplace, our flavors and methods of cooking are changing to become increasingly sustainable to our evolving culture and needs.

I was a Social Science major in college (as opposed to a "hard science" major.) And, as a pretty unsocial person, I ironically enjoyed the social aspect of such a topic, what with it's emphasis on human behavior. Additionally, I enjoyed the fact it wasn't very difficult (like a "hard" science). But I learned a lot through my classes. While referred to as a "soft-science" through its lack of hard evidence, I found that human behavior often follows just as many rules as the physical universe, particularly that of Newton's First Law of Motion which basically states that an object in motion (or at rest) will follow its given path until acted upon by an alternate force. Similarly, within the Social Sciences, we learned that the status quo will often roll on unquestioned unless worked with by opposing forces. And through structural discrimination, it was apparent that such a "quo" often worked to benefit men of European ancestry. And while this often seemed to incite a sense of sensitivity, to me it was always about making modifications to old traditions so that more people could feel at home. In a small way, this might mean requesting a greater variety of food options to meet a more diverse breadth of cultural needs or, as we've seen in recent years, it may be working to disassemble a culture of sexual discrimination in some (or all) industries. However, just like the universe, opposing forces are always acting on eachother and there are some who seek to counter this new found knowledge and change. And so, as it stands, this soft science has seemed to create a soft war between those who seek change and a merging of cultures and those who oppose it (called republicans). And the one thing cooking seems to synthesize at the moment is this dynamic between attachment to old ways vs. openness to the new. Conveniently, while my tastes have run south towards warmer climates, we've seen an influx in our population of folks from this region who have brought with them a rich culinary repertoire of food which is ironically less "rich (a.k.a. more healthy) than the old foods of Europe and a little easier or quicker to make which works well for women with that busy schedule. In short, opening up and blending our cultures is mo' better.

So, what this post was originally about is spice blends! We're better when we work together just as food tastes better when flavors fuse. And so embracing unique flavors and allowing ourselves exposure to the cuisines which feature them is a good thing! And as we look perhaps both actually and symbolically away from Northern Europe and its accompanying traditions and diets, we find ourselves viewing cultures where spice blends abound. Below are some blends that move in popularity from East to West. Enjoy!

Change gonna come.

Chinese Five Spice Blend: Whereas the flavor of European foods seemed to be based off fat (butter in France, oil in Italy and/or lard in Germany), flavor in the East seems to be more spice-centric. In this regard, Sichuan cuisine has its center of gravity squarely around the peppercorn. The Chinese Five Spice blend takes it one (or four) step/s further by adding star anise, cinnamon, cloves and fennel seeds in a combination that is not only tasty but healthy as well.

Curry Spice: Part of my cultural exposure began when I was young as my parents liked to take us to restaurants which ran the diaspora of world cultures (and my mom didn't like to cook). But while we went to Malaysian and Korean and Vietnamese restaurants (which was much less hip in the 90's), we mostly ate Indian food. Ironically, when my mom stayed home, and cooked, we ate more in the European tradition with a (bland) vegetable, a (bland) starch and a (bland) meat. But after my father became a vegetarian and my mother went back to work, two meals were (literally) not on the table. So, as opposed to meat and potatoes, we essentially go to eat meat and potatoes in a thick sauce or curry. So, as the mere mention of curry recalls my culinary awakening, I like to use it a lot.

Advieh: Earlier this year, I bought Persia off Amazon. It was a great and beautiful book which exposed me to a type of cuisine with which I was not too familiar. And I was happy to find that Persian food contained its own spice blend... if only for the consistency of such an element among cuisines on the Silk Road. Advieh, much like Chinese five spice and curry, contains cinnamon and cumin, respectively, however, adds the unique element of rose petals which makes it as interesting as it does inconvenient (but worth it ;)).

Taco Seasoning: Tacos are easy and this blend is delicious (on anything). From cauliflower to hummus, taco seasoning is a great, easy and healthy way to add (literal) spice to a dish, thus making it an exemplar of the reason we use spice blends in the first place.

So there you have it, a few blends that add flavor to dishes and perhaps symbolize the new dynamic of the new world order in which we will hopefully blend and complement eachother's uniqueness in one big, happy pot of stew. Whatever, it's (taco) Tuesday.

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