In a spice world, a man for all seasonings

Cooking was alien before he married her, as was shopping for just the right spice.

Chili powder in Tai'an, Shandong, China.

I'm not in Kansas anymore, I think, as we round the corner of the aisle, bringing a bewildering array of peppercorns momentarily into view. Pink, green, white, lampong black, royale, Sichuan, tellicherry, and even a peppercorn gift box slide by as my wife continues to lead me through the first spice shop I have ever visited. When, I wonder, would a peppercorn gift box send just the right message?

Not that I've ever lived in Kansas, but even after being married five years, there are times when I still marvel at how my life has changed.

Take today, for instance. In my world before Jodi, I could not have conceived of spending any part of a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon in search of "fresh spices that every kitchen should have."

Kitchen? You mean where I used to store the snacks for the big game? But here I am, helping my bride find powdered sumac and mustard seed and cardamom, and stopping to examine canisters of Moroccan spice mixture and pesto pasta seasoning, just because they "smell so delicious."

We enter an entire alcove of curry powder and, even though it's not on the list, Jodi stops. Not that we actually have a list – when you're married to a foodie, shopping for ingredients becomes an adventure dictated by the senses, not a task to be completed.

"But I thought you didn't like Indian food. I know I don't." I gave up the game for this?

"Maybe your tastes have changed. Maybe mine have." She reads the names out loud: garam masala, maharajah style, sweet, Thai red, tandoori, vindaloo, rogan josh.

"We should try something new," she says and picks up a small packet of garam masala. I read its card: "An all-purpose blend called for in many Indian dishes." I smile as I have a premonition of spending a good part of Sunday researching Indian recipes on the Web.

We move on to cinnamon, a topic of discussion during the car ride here. Which type of cinnamon should we stock in our kitchen?

Actually, it wasn't so much a discussion as a case of my wife thinking out loud and me listening in. Our food choices usually turn out much better that way. And so I find myself standing before an entire wall of the stuff: China tung hing, Indonesian ground, Indonesian whole, Vietnamese extra fancy, Ceylon "true."

Jodi contemplates our choices, brow wrinkled in concentration, sniffing one jar, peering in another, occasionally reading one of the cards placed in front of each. Knowing I am a stranger in a strange land, I bend down to read the big card in the center of the display case: "Cinnamon," it says in big red letters, and, in smaller type, "the dried aromatic inner bark of certain tropical Asian trees." So that's what it is.

"Did you find one you like?" she asks. One I like?

"How about..." I hand her the nearest card, "this one?"

"Korintje Indonesia cinnamon," she reads aloud, "sweet and mellow, this is the cinnamon we all remember from our childhood."

"Perfect," she says with a big smile, gives me a soft kiss on the cheek, and hooks her arm in mine as we walk to the register.

And it is. Even though something has apparently wiped Korintje Indonesia cinnamon from my childhood memory banks, I know that I will always remember it now.

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