Variety May Be the Spice of Life, But Too Much Spice Isn’t a Good Thing

When in doubt, I buy more spices. Unfortunately, that’s how I’ve ended up with several lifetimes’ supply of paprika in all its forms—sweet, Hungarian, smoked—despite the fact that I rarely cook with any of it. Mustard seeds, dried mint leaves, and paquin chiles tie as runners-up in my spice excesses.

This past weekend, I finally confronted my spice issue and created a labeling and organizing system comprising color-coded labels and stackable tins that make it impossible to overlook my existing inventory (and would make Martha Stewart proud). My newly organized spices finally deserve to live in the amazing custom-designed spice pantry built into one end of the custom-designed kitchen island my uncle Otis built for me.

These handy tins, purchased online from Specialty Bottle, come in various sizes, but when it comes to spice storage, the smaller the better. Spices don’t have an indefinite shelf  life: don’t follow my paprika example, and only buy what you can use up within six months. I used to frequent Penzey’s Spices at Grand Central Market, but now that it’s gone, my go-to spice source is Kalustyan’s.

I don’t think Avery had spice tins in mind for their “removable” organization labels; I ended up having to reinforce the rebellious edges with double-sided scotch tape, but in theory, each label is transferable to bigger or smaller tins as necessary over time. My color-coded system makes it easier to hone in on what I’m looking for: brown, for spices with “seed” in the name; green, for dried herbs; red, for hot or spicy spices; dark blue, for all other savory spices; and aqua, for spices used for baking.

What’s next on my organizing list? Excavating my stand-alone freezer. I’m pretty sure I’ve still got leftover chocolate Dean & Deluca birthday cake from February somewhere in there, waiting to reward me.

Anniversary Rings Without the Bling

Authentic bagels, characterized by a thick, chewy crust and dense crumb, are a rare commodity outside of New York, and they’re surprisingly difficult to come by even in New York City. As with many things in life, looks can be awfully deceiving, but when it comes to bagels it only takes one bite to discern an imposter from the real deal: All too often, I’ve bitten into unmemorable donut-shaped dinner rolls in disguise.

Named for their ring shape (“beygal” in Yiddish, derived from a German root meaning “ring”), bagels have not been part of my baking repertoire until last weekend, while I was visiting my parents in Woodstock, Vermont, for one last stretch of outdoor summer recreation, leisure and rejuvenation before jumping on the fall treadmill of city life.

Faced with the perfect storm of spare time, easy access to King Arthur Flour (home of every baking supply imaginable), and a commemorative occasion for a ceremony symbolized by rings–my parents’ anniversary–I set out to make some celebratory whole wheat bagels that would exceed my expectations, expecting to be humbled in the process.

It turns out that the process really isn’t as cumbersome or as nuanced as I’d expected, but nevertheless, I’ve gained a newfound respect for bagel making; for a first effort, mine turned out pretty well but could stand improvement. It’s safer to squelch any improvisational instincts the first time, stick to the recipe, and don’t take any shortcuts. The two-minute water bath serves two purposes: it creates a chewy, thick crust and it allows the interior of the bagel to develop.

My ten-pound investment in flour, which I hauled with me back to the city, means I’ve made a commitment to the homemade variety. Next time, I’ll experiment with the ratio of bread flour to white whole wheat flour and other techniques I’ve read about. Will adding a tablespoon of brown sugar (or, the harder-to-come-by bread baker’s secret weapon: diastatic malt powder) to the bagel bath create an even chewier, browner crust that defies scooping? After all, a love of crust is the main reason to eat bagels.

whole wheat bagels, shaped and allowed to rise 12 hours