What kind of wedding gift do you give a couple of self-confessed foodies? Seriously, send me your ideas.
It would have been easy enough if I hadn’t waited ‘till the last minute to make a mad rush to Williams-Sonoma at Mayfair Mall where the getting-hitched gourmands were registered.
Turns out the only items not yet fulfilled on their list were a Le Creuset Dutch Oven for $350 (nice, but way out of my price range) and a few random spoons and spatulas.
Not wanted to be remembered as the good friend who sent a silicone spatula, I snagged a quick shot of espresso from Alterra Coffee at the mall, and decided to look elsewhere.
Fortified by the highly concentrated cup of caffeine, I zipped from one shop to another, hoping to find something – anything! – food related to send my soon-to-be wed friends back in Dallas.
Something they could brag about when hosting the monthly supper club into which they’d recently managed to gain entree. Something all the other couples would secretly wish they had on their kitchen shelves…
Okay, I know that last part sounds a little vain, but at the moment this supper clubbing is serious social business! Reputations can be made or broken on the quality of grilled sea bass served.
Personally, I think supper club is fun – sorta like disco for our decade, only instead of phone numbers and controlled substances, people swap recipes for Moroccan Lamb Tangine and Pan Seared Tilapia with Chili-Lime Butter.
But I digress.
After scouring several shops and finding nothing other than a new citrus press for myself (if you use lots of fresh lemon or lime juice, you must get one of these ASAP!), I almost passed a shop offering exactly what I needed.
From the outside The Spice House, located in the historic Adam Bauer building at 1031 North Old World Third Street, looked totally nondescript, but inside I discovered Milwaukee’s very own version of a Marrakech spice souk.
Tables and shelves were packed with a fantastic array of fragrant spices and flavorings – anything you might need for complex Indian, Asian or Middle Eastern dishes was here.
I slowly made my way around the small but well-organized store, admiring the rich cacophony of color packed into each jar -- brick-red paprikas, smooth brown cinnamons, golden chunks of crystallized ginger. . . I took it all in slowly. Then It finally caught my eye.
The perfect gift for my cooking-crazed friends: A “Spicy Wedding Gift Box.”
The box was packed with four versatile seasonings, including “Old World Central Street Seasoning,” which has been a best-seller at The Spice House for over 20 years, as well as some totally cute wedding charms made out of Chinese porcelain. It even contained a little card offering bits of wisdom like, “A German tradition says you will have a sound marriage provided you have a sound nutmeg in the kitchen,” and, “In China, a beautiful hand-selected star anise, the points of the star joining in the center, represents all the attributes of both individuals joining in the bonds of marriage.”
So much more interesting than spoons and spatulas, don’t you agree?
Anyway, with my mission thus accomplished, I stocked up on a few staples for my own kitchen.
While one of the ladies who worked there exchanged tips for making good soup stock with a young couple originally shopping for saffron (it can last seven years, who knew?), another very knowledgeable woman showed me various kinds of vanilla extracts, patiently explaining the subtle differences between Mexican, Madagascar “Bourbon Islands,” and Tahitian Vanilla Extract.
I snagged a small bottle of fragrant Madagascar Vanilla Extract and moved on to cinnamons where she recommended the rich, dark “Saigon” variety for use in drinks and the Ceylon cinnamon for desserts. Since I’ve been craving apple crisp, I snapped up some two-ounce packets of the Ceylon cinnamon, ground nutmeg and a small jar of Sunny Paris Seasoning, a complex blend of French herbs perfect for sprinkling over chicken or anything else you readers can think of to tell me about...
Frankly, I wanted to buy a lot more. Surely the Milwaukee Iron Seasoning and Milwaukee Avenue Spice would make a great “taste of the town” gift for someone back home.
And what about Pomegranate Molasses? Couldn’t I find a use for that?
Reluctantly, I carried my selections to the register and made a mental note to return to The Spice House soon. Then I headed home where I packed, sealed and sent the spices, along with all my best wishes and an almost-too-pretty-to-use cookbook.
I think they’ll love it, don’t you?