Restocking spices a jarring experience

Until the past couple of weeks, I never realized what a spicy life I lived - or how much that would cost me.

An enthusiastic cook, I have collected dozens of containers of herbs and spices through the years. Tall glass jars of garlic powder, small plastic vials of cumin, yellow metal tins of mustard powder. Some of them were used regularly and replaced with great frequency. Others were bought because a recipe called for them, and then they languished at the back of the spice shelf.

Does anyone ever heed the oft-repeated advice to replace dried herbs and spices yearly? I know they lose their potency over time, so occasionally I would sniff the contents as I twisted the lid back on a container of parsley or Italian seasoning. But as long as I could detect a scent, I kept using it.

Whenever we moved, I frugally packed the herbs and spices into a box and moved them myself.

But this time was different. I had more jars than ever before. And when it came time to pile them into the minivan for the trip to Massachusetts, there wasn't room. So I reluctantly left them all behind - the extra-strong Mexican chili powder I'd picked up in Houston, the vanilla sugar from Germany....

I convinced myself that starting anew, with fresh spices, would be a flavorful boon to my meals - no more of that old weak stuff.

Then I began reading price stickers on herb jars at the grocery store: basil, $3.49; cinnamon, $5.89; paprika, $2.49. And I knew I'd eventually end up with at least 50 of them. Ouch!

So, as government officials call for Americans to spend more money to stimulate the economy, I'm doing my part as a "big spen-der" - and I don't even have to leave the spice aisle at the supermarket.

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