One week and one day after Hurricane Sandy, I opened the door to my neighborhood health food store. The smell of tea, herbal things and good salt hits my nose like a balmy punch. As I look over the newly delivered vegetables, a small elfin woman next to me looks up with her eyes bright and exclaims “Isn’t it exciting? FOOD!”
My pantry was pretty bare after the storm. I was not affected compared to the suffering endured by fellow New Yorkers. But a few days of darkness and silence in Manhattan has an effect nonetheless. One of them was the necessity of throwing out everything that was left in the fridge and freezer that had not been consumed. The now fermented unfrozen berries for smoothies that could not be made during the blackout and the packages of overlooked baby peas. We had foraged deep into the freezer and the pantry since food was scarce in our part of town. I used the rapidly defrosting bags of mushy and watery pearl onions from Trader Joes as seasoning. Now, when I see a pearl onion, from the pickled pearl onions for martinis in my bar cupboard to the fresh pearl onions at the Greenmarket, I feel a little bit of revulsion.
The cleaning fervor hit me the minute the lights, heat and hot water came back. First, the fridge and freezer got attacked. I moved on to the cupboard and threw out a slew of dried up and flavorless crap. The only survivors from the purge were the condiment jars whose contents had spoiled. These got soaked to remove the labels. Holiday entertaining would require a well-stocked pantry. My little notebook in hand, I made myself a list.
Then I rode my bike over to Kalustyans Spices and Sweets. I’d never been there before despite it being a famous place in New York visited by tourists and natives alike. When you walk in, the first grouping of provisions you see are for cocktails and my first thought was “Holy shit, they have dirty martini brine”. I had never seen that outside of an olive farmer’s stand at the Santa Monica farmer’s market. They have everything from everywhere. It was hard to keep to my shopping list.
I’m now all set for the start of holiday cooking. My freezer and fridge are pristine, having been scrubbed with detergent and baking soda. Ancient bottles of green goddess dressing and cocktail sauce have been jettisoned and I will not set eyes on a pearl onion for a long time.
Here is my list for a well-stocked spice cabinet for holiday cooking:
– Cinammon sticks & ground
– Vanilla bean – slice down the middle and put in a dark glass bottle filled with vodka. cure for a month for vanilla extract. Keep adding vodka to replenish
– Peppermint extract
– Cream of Tartar
– Baking Soda & Powder (without aluminum)
– Ground clove
– Oregano (Mexican or Dominican)
– Black Peppercorns
– Crushed Red Pepper
– Cayenne Pepper
– Ancho Chile Powder
– Dirty Martini brine