Spices and Herbs

I have long ago accepted that for the most part I don’t know what I am talking about. It is a rude admission which day by day becomes more heightened. I have however also learned that for the most part it doesn’t matter a damn. Let’s face it my days of critical analysis and engineered documentation are over! I submit this plaintive avowal by way of introduction to the subject of spices and herbs. Be warned that my talent in the kitchen is limited. And the mundane microwave oven is not in the least lost on me!

Spices and herbs are generally considered an additive often with a zing and sometimes with a kick. An herb is perhaps distinguished from spice as any “seed-bearing plant that does not have a wood stem and dies down to the ground after flowering”. Further (should you care to know) the banana plant is the world’s largest herb.

A spice is a seed, fruit, root, bark, or other plant substance primarily used for flavoring or coloring food. Spices are distinguished from herbs, which are the leaves, flowers, or stems of plants used for flavoring or as a garnish. Spices are sometimes used in medicine, religious rituals, cosmetics or perfume production.

Middle English: via Old French from Latin herba grass, green crops, herb. Although herb has always been spelled with an h, pronunciation without it was usual until the 19th century and is still standard in the US.

Like many I am guessing my pioneering to herbs and spices was garlic.  It may have been used sparingly in my food when I was younger but my predominant initiation to its charm was not until after I had been called to the Bar and moved to Almonte.  It was here that I was most seriously acquainted with the pungent tasting bulb by my erstwhile physician who proved to be an exemplary chef. My physician occasionally visited me at my home and I quickly surrendered my kitchen to his dominion and guidance. If there were for my part any prerogative I scrupulously attended to the oasis of refreshment. As a result of this at-hand familiarity with cooking, I plagiarized whatever elements spoke to me most vividly.  How I shall never know I fabricated a Caesar salad dressing which was so rich in oil and crushed garlic that I was regularly haunted for days afterwards by the smell. I was no doubt an unpopular fellow at the morning trough with my main street co-workers at the Superior Restaurant.

A more aromatic episode was in a mountain-top home called “Villa Luna”, Porto Rafael, Sardegna overlooking the Mediterranean and the Isola Maddalena. Outside the kitchen door, mere steps away, was a long hedge of rosemary.  It and the other garden secrets were daily attended by the straw-hatted gardener with whom I communicated a repetitive “Bon giorno!”. Each morning I would prepare an “egg-in-the-hole” with thick bread, plenty of oil and sprinkled with fresh rosemary.  À coté was a slice of ham from the local deli counter. The etymology of the word rosemary pleases me as well because of its association with the sea.

Middle English rosmarine, based on Latin ros marinus, from ros ‘dew’ + marinus ‘of the sea’. The spelling change was due to association with rose and Mary.

Though I know it doesn’t count as an herb or spice, salt is an ingredient about which I’ve become especially fussy.  To date my complete and only preference is Maldon sea salt flakes. What makes them so good I do not know but the difference is real.

My latest ornamentation is tarragon on my salmon filet. Naturally pepper has a rôle in most evening productions but always from a wooden grinder. There was a time when basil interested me.  In spite of my appearance as bland (which by the way I willingly admit and about which I am unabashedly proud) I have a passion for exotic (and spicy) foods from China, India, Vietnam, etc. Hot and sour soup is a personal favourite of mine.

Of the aromatic herbs my first choice is lavender, a preference partially guided by its violet/mauve colour. I understand lavender has been used as an expression of gentility which may at times approach foppishness or lesser inflection. Lavender also has the appeal of homeopathic remedy.

Keep lilac in your bedroom – if you are suffering from depression and anxiety. The aromatherapeutic oil of lilac is proven to elevate depression and relaxes your mind and body, because the smell of lilac itself is noted for it’s calming effect. Simply inhaling a few whiffs of lilac essential oil can impact your limbic system, promoting feelings of calmness and lowering stress hormone levels in the body. This can lead to better sleep and lower levels of depression, as well as a reduced risk of chronic disease.