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beyond curry powder an invitation & intro to Indian spices 
by Courtney Knettel
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Ordinary is no longer good enough for me -- when it comes to food, anyway. Things have to be sublime, surreal, over the top. I seek the psychedelic flavor-blast of the ultimate yum!, the flickering-firelight glow of a shimmering ooh-la-la. I want to maximize the flavor-experience of each moment and every bite. Life is too short to "make do" with anything less. If I am going to be what I eat, don't dare leave out the spice.

I know, I know -- what is 'ordinary,' is relative. And spice, to inhabitants of many parts of the world, is quite ordinary. Well lucky them. As for me, I grew up in the Midwest U.S. of A. with a standard Oscar Meyer-Hamburger Helper childhood. Want to step up the flavor of those green beans? We've got three primary options: butter, salt, and cheese (and for those folks with a dash of flair: garlic salt and Lawry's). Fortunately, my own imagination was expanded in my formative years under the influence of my Indian babysitter, who introduced me to what I called 'magic sprinkles.' Once I was 'spiced', I became isolated in my tastes. My family thought I was weird. (Actually, they still do.)

Fortunately, I flew away to attend college in the multicultural oasis of the Midwest that is Madison, Wisconsin. I was thrilled to live in a diverse, cultural college town. At the inexpensive food carts on the main square near my dorm, I could (and did) eat my way around the world -- everywhere from Thailand to Brazil. Suddenly, I wasn't alone in my spice cravings. People in general were open to new experiences and novel flavors. The cumin and coriander I added to my Ramen and canned chow mein were even regarded as 'cool.'

By the time I finished my five-year college stint, I found most 'ordinary American' food to be, um, hard to swallow. Yet because I knew how to manifest my own spice-magic, I could quickly, easily and cheaply whip up my own sensational Indian-esque spin to my food. What's more, I was increasingly attuned to a healthy way of eating, and spices, I quickly discovered, could transform vegetables into memorable experiences. At some point, I evolved into partaking of junk food, cheese and even meat only on occasion, and I don't even miss it. Ergo, the spicing fixation that had once branded me a weirdo now infuses my life in ways that even I hadn't imagined.

The transition from the diverse ease of college life to the 'after-life,' however, proved harder for my friends and acquaintances -- living in a liberal college town had spoiled their taste buds. Six months after graduation, I received a desperate plea via email from my friend Laura. Moving back to her middle-sized Wisconsin town, she found that she could no longer make do with the same (bland) food she had grown up with. Plus, she couldn't afford the dollars or the calories of take-out every night. She remembered my stash of Indian spices. Perhaps I could suggest some for her to try?

amble on this-a-way...


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