There was a package from California awaiting me when I got home from work last night. Our friend Susan had sent us a box of spices from a shop called Oaktown Spice Shop in Oakland, CA.

Herbs and Spices! Some of my most favorite things on the planet! What a great way to start a new year!

At any given moment, there are about 60 different herbs, salts, and spices in the cabinet. Probably the majority of them have come from Atlantic Spice on Cape Cod. I started shopping at their sister company San Francisco Herb Co many moons ago – I used to love browsing the shop and talking spices with the staff –  and do a lot of mail order with Atlantic Spice since moving east.

While I know all about the admonition of tossing spices after a year because of freshness issues, I never do. I keep everything in sealed glass jars in a dark cabinet. I haven’t had any issues, yet.

And we now have eight more jars to play with! I immediately went to their website and can see a few more things that may need to find their way East…

The herbs and spices are all very unique with a bit of a twist on some otherwise familiar blends… The descriptions all come from their website:

  • Ras el Honout – A blend truly fit for a king, Ras el Hanout translates to “Head of the Shop,” which really equates to the best of everything! Use this intricate mix of over 20 ingredients to season chicken or lamb tagines or scent your rice or couscous with a pinch or two. The paprika-based blend features notes of cardamom, grains of paradise, mace, cumin and more.
  • Holy Basil (Organic) – Also known as Tulsi, this species of basil hails from India and is found in Malaysian, Thai and Indonesian cuisines. Its flavor is more peppery and hot than sweet basil.
  • Mulling Spices – A whiff of this blend is like a dose of holiday spirit, with cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger and cardamom.
  • Umami Sea Salt – Umami: the fifth taste! We use black garlic and shiitake mushrooms to achieve umami rich flavor. This salt will enhance the flavor of meats, soups and salads.
  • Urumqi Lamb and Goat Rub Urumqi combines the flavors of Northwestern China with strong cumin flavor, garlic and peppery heat. It’s delicious on lamb kabobs. Add 2-3 teaspoons per pound of meat and salt to taste. It’s also great on grilled chicken and eggplant.
  • Shichimi Togarashi – With this lovely blend of hot, citrus, sea, and nutty flavors, you can spice up udon or ramen soups, rice, sushi, and grilled meats like chicken yakitori. Medium-hot. Also try it as a marinade with soy, vinegar and scallions. Flakes of Nori seaweed accentuate the flavors of sesame seeds, chili flakes and other spices.
  • Grains of Paradise – Find this uncommon spice in traditional West African spice mixtures and exotic gins. These grains pack a pepper-like heat and flavor combined with elements of ginger and cardamom. Also known as Melegueta Pepper, Guinea Pepper, Alligator Pepper or Ginny Grains.
  • Erbe Italiane di Lusso – This blend is a twist on the classic Italian Herbs seasoning, with Mediterranean oregano, basil, marjoram, sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic, white pepper, parsley and green onion. Add to pasta sauces, soups, salad dressings, eggs or breading. Salt-free.

As you can see, it’s a wide-ranging assortment of flavors from around the world. I’ve always thought of food as being the great equalizer – that we can learn so much from different cultures by how and what they eat. And we now have eight more cultures to add to our mini-UN spice cabinet!

Right now I have a slow-cooker pork dish going using the Urumqi Lamb and Goat Rub. I’ve never used a slow-cooker before and I was fresh out of goat, but thought I’d give it a try. I’m chronicling the hour-by-hour progress, so stay tuned… The Erbe Italiane di Lusso sounds really intriguing – and will probably be used in Victor’s next big batch of pasta sauce. And the rest are just going to find their way into some fun dishes.

2016 – the year of fun food. Happy New Year!