Some people were just born to eat spicy foods. Some people avoid spicy foods like the plague. Then there are those people that discover spicy foods along the way or, as in my case, have spicy foods discover them.
I grew up in a household where the most exotic spice my mother used, or at least I think she used, was a little bit of black pepper. With four kids and just as many carpools and twice the activities, I am actually surprised my mother had time to even think about cooking for us. I suppose that is one of the reasons why we had so many time-saving casseroles for dinner that while tasty & filling all lacked a bit of the culinary edge we seem to have added into all of our cooking today. To me, Tabasco was a dangerous foreign country somewhere and hot sauce was a tool of the Devil. My taste buds were so firmly rooted in bland for so long that I used to break into a sweat driving by Taco Bell. When I went to work out in Denver, my co-workers used to love to take me to the local Mexican restaurant where they would order me the “Gringo Platter” with a side of sour cream and a towel. Slowly, however, my taste buds did start to adjust to this new sensation and I started to actually find that I was buying & using some very basic spices and some very mild hot sauces. Soon thereafter I got married to a woman with more adventurous taste buds than mine and work started to send me to Louisiana where I discovered a new level of flavorful heat. I started to appreciate spicy food in a way that I had never done before and as I began to feel the Spanish Moss that had been clinging to my culinary soul, my eclectic collection of spices & hot sauces began to grow and grow and grow.
The first shelf I had for spices & hot sauces was probably no more than three feet long and maybe six to eight inches deep. I slowly filled it up to just about overflowing and was thinking of starting a second shelf when my poor carpentry skills came into play and the unsecured shelf crashed into the cold & unforgiving tile of the kitchen floor. My kitchen smelled like a BBQ restaurant gone wrong and gone right all at the same time. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Hire a carpenter to hang my next shelf.
And that is exactly what we did at the next house. Two large shelves about four feet by four feet each but only a couple of inches deep were found at my mother’s house and quickly donated to the cause. At first, what was left of my collection from the kitchen disaster at the first house looked almost pathetic on the empty shelves so I had to get creative in the way and fashion I arranged the bottles, shakers, grinders & bags. Well, to be honest, at that point it was just pretty much bottles & shakers. Quite a few duplicates too since my tastes hadn’t expanded that much yet. During the five years we lived in that house the shelves slowly began to fill and the policy of “anything on the wall is fair game to use” was established. I was somewhat limited by the height of the shelves as I believe they were originally designed to display Madame Alexander Dolls instead of bottles of liquid fire. Purchases I wanted to make were probably not made since I knew I had nowhere to put them on my shelves or in the overcrowded cabinets. I almost had to start using some of the sauces to make room for the sauces that did come in.
When we moved to our current & final house (my next move will be six feet down) the kitchen was, to put it plainly, a white formica & cheap chrome disaster. The cabinets looked like refugees from a bad 70’s sitcom and there was absolutely no room for any shelves on the walls. My spice & hot sauce collection stayed in the moving boxes until one day I decided that rather have books in my study, I would display my hot sauces. I knew it wasn’t going to be forever because I knew I wasn’t going to live with that “Disco Kitchen” any longer than was necessary and I didn’t. A year after we moved into the house my wife & kids moved out and the work crew moved in for the summer. The kitchen was completely demolished & remodeled to the way you see it today. It was my wife who had the brilliant idea to use the dead wall space by the oven for a floor to ceiling display area for my hot sauces, all four feet wide by ten feet tall of it. It has eight shelves with some extra room at the top for the taller bottles. It has been described as the home to “Quite an extensive hella spice collection” by none other than Michael Ketchum of “What’s Cooking ?” in the Alligator Chili episode. (Cheap Plug: since that filming we have lost about 100 pounds between us) Outside of my wife & kids (mostly my wife and not so much the kids), my spice & hot sauce collection is probably my biggest pride & joy.
Over the next few blogs I am going to explore those eight shelves with you a couple at a time. I’ll tell you a little bit about the theme of each shelf, its contents and its history too. So come back next time when we start to make our through some of that Spanish Moss clinging to my culinary soul.
Alligator Chili Episode –