Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Field Trip to Penzeys

About six years ago, when I was pregnant with Looly, I saw a video of a toddler who could identify a slew of herbs and spices by name based on a single hearty whiff. Impressive, no doubt, but I had an inkling that much like the alphabet song and learning colors, repetition was key to recognition of scents and flavors too. Armed with bountiful childless wisdom, I set out to make Looly a spice prodigy.

Before she could sit upright I wiggled jars of cumin and cardamom under her nose, repeating the names to her catatonically, while she stared back with an appropriate level of cross-eyed bewilderment. As she got a little older, my instructions to sniff led to violent bursts of air exiting her tiny nose, resulting in both of us covered in powdered ginger, much sneezing, and more often than not, tears. Luckily for Looly, I soon got pregnant with twins and traded my spice rack for a comfortable seat on the couch and a stomach settling box of Club crackers, which she was more than happy to share.

Today my kids aren't completely spice deficient. They know some basics; cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg. They recognize basil, fresh oregano, and have been known to use pine needles in their own water table "cooking" to represent rosemary. But, there's still a long way to go and this week, a chance run-in with a whole star anise provided the perfect launch pad for a field trip to Penzeys Spices.

We are fortunate enough to have a Penzeys within walking distance of our home and the kids really enjoyed the in-person visit. One of the coolest things about shopping at Penzeys is that they provide sniffable jars of every herb, spice, and blend they sell. Compare and contrast the California basil with the French basil. Search for the subtle differences between the Ceylon, Korintje Indonesia, China Tung Hing, and Extra-Fancy Vietnamese cinnamons. So much to smell!

For those of you who might not have instant access to a spice store, Penzeys puts out a great catalog that always includes several recipes and often a coupon, and you can order online

Following our big sniff-around, I invited Looly, Bean, and Roo to pick something to bring home. Here's what they chose.

Our haul, including Grey Sea Salt, Very Hot Crushed Red Pepper, and Ruth Ann's Muskego Ave. Chicken and Fish Seasoning (free with my coupon!)
Roo's pork chops are scheduled for Thursday night, and the girls are clamoring to make cookies. Now it's time to get cooking!


  1. Can't wait to help Roo Marinate some pork chops this summer. If i can get him (or Looly or Bean) into grilling, I might have an excuse to get that Big Green Egg i have fancied for a while.

  2. I think Roo is sold but Looly and Bean might need a bit more convincing. Can you bake cookies in the Big Green Egg? I'm pretty sure that could push them over the edge in time for Father's Day.