Spanish Moss Clinging To My Culinary Soul - Swampy's Kitchen Blog at - 281038

Swampy's Kitchen

Spanish Moss Clinging To My Culinary Soul 
Aug. 3, 2012 5:57 pm 
Updated: Aug. 14, 2012 5:56 am
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.

Spice Rack - Top Half
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Spice Rack - Bottom Half
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Aug. 3, 2012 6:14 pm
Wow, That's almost as extensive as AR's pantry!, LOL! Great Blog!
Aug. 3, 2012 6:14 pm
That is quite a collection Doug! I have a few more to add to it! There was a time in my life that pepper was "spicy" - no more! I am so glad that I moved beyond the world of Lawery's seasoning salt.
Aug. 3, 2012 6:18 pm
Wow, this is really practical! It's easy to tell what each on is! Narrow shelves do the trick. Signed, Your Groupie
Aug. 3, 2012 7:27 pm
DM: Is there a prescription for Spice Rack Envy?
Aug. 3, 2012 7:30 pm
I've got shelf envy! Seriously, my spices are soooo cramped. I had to look up while reading to see where I could do the same thing. No joy. My kitchen only has 2 walls, one is mostly pantry, the has cabinets. Hey, loved the video and especially liked that your little girl wanted some hot sauce on her chili. My kind of child!
Aug. 3, 2012 7:41 pm
Looking forward to hearing more. (Nice meeting you in Seattle!)
Aug. 4, 2012 6:55 am
Doug, I loved the video-especially the parts where your wife craves alligator and the kids in the kitchen. I love the spice shelf. I want one. Although, I don't have near the amount of items you have. The shelf would be a mini-Doug version. Now, how to get the hubby to build me one.
Aug. 4, 2012 8:59 am
Ah spices! I don't believe my mother discovered fresh garlic till I was in high school. My collection is not near as neat or tidy like yours as it is all growing outside. Can't imagine life without them now, can you?!
Aug. 4, 2012 12:14 pm
Hi Cindy & thanks. It was great to meet you too. I did see a couple of things on the AR shelves I wouldn't mind having on mine.
Aug. 4, 2012 12:15 pm
Hi BN & Thanks. I can wait to see & try what you are sending. That really is too kind of you. Have a spicy rest of the weekend.
Aug. 4, 2012 12:17 pm
Hi Bibi - I think I have a pretty good idea of where everything is but I do surprise myself sometimes. This will be a good chance for me to do some inventory. Thanks and have a great weekend.
Aug. 4, 2012 12:18 pm
Hi bikerfamily - take 2 chipotles in adobo and call Dr Pepper in the morning.
Aug. 4, 2012 12:19 pm
Hi Duffy - thanks - that one is the spicy one in the group. She can be a real Holy Jolokia ! Have a great weekend.
Aug. 4, 2012 12:20 pm
It was nice meeting you too Magnolia Blossom. I'm already trying to write the bottom 2 shelves in my head.
Aug. 4, 2012 12:21 pm
Hi Lela & thanks - show hubby the video and say "I want that." - who knows, it might work. Would love to hear what is in your shelf as I reveal what's on mine.
Aug. 4, 2012 12:23 pm
Hi CH - No I can't imagine what it would be like without my collection of hot sauces & spices. Whatever whim I have, it's right at my fingertips. Sometimes I think I actually have too many choices.
Aug. 4, 2012 12:44 pm
In the event of fire, I rescue my cats and my spice collection first, then things like identification and cash. I don't have much in the way of sauces, but I have 3'x7' of spices and an additional small shelf over my sink. Your mother and mone must have swapped recipes because bland was the order in our house too. I started buying spices the first trip to the grocery after I got married and never looked back. Penzeys' has opened a store nearby and my kids tease that they will call me for stock. I look forward to getting to tour your trove.
Aug. 4, 2012 1:13 pm
Doug I am very jealous of your spice rack- I currently lack the space to display my collection :( I had to finally move some kitchen appliances to the garage just to make room for the sauces/spices. My boyfriend got tired of the spices crashing down on us every time we opened the first cabinet, lol! Ps, it was very nice to meet you at AR!
Aug. 4, 2012 2:30 pm
Good evening BigShotsMom - that sounds like a collection worth saving. I actually have another roll out drawer for every day spices. I'm glad you stopped by. Have a nice evening.
Aug. 4, 2012 2:32 pm
Good evening arich01 - it was a pleasure to meet you too. Appliances are more than happy hanging out in the garage. I applaud your priorities. Have a great night.
Aug. 4, 2012 3:30 pm
There was a time when I couldn't eat anything hot at all. I used to be such a wimp! (and, by some standards still am) I have found though, that not all "HOT" is created equal. There's the immediate burn, the slow burn and the can't even breath, let alone put in my mouth burn. I very anxiously await your blogs to describe each type of HOT and learn the history. For now, I've graduated to eating "hot" that comes on slow and gradual as opposed to the burn-your-lips off when it hits your mouth hot. This will be a so interesting. GREAT BLOG!!!
Aug. 4, 2012 3:31 pm
BTW Doug, nice "RACK!" Spice rack!
Aug. 4, 2012 4:54 pm
Who's CH? I must have missed that post :)(:
Aug. 5, 2012 5:24 am
Very impressive,and a very interesting read. Thanks.
Aug. 5, 2012 7:37 am
Good morning Candice - I'm not a hot for the sake of hot type of chilihead. My lips don't have to be numb for me to enjoy it. I like flavorful sauces that have a consistent burn. Of course that doesn't mean that I won't subject myself to some Spooky Dude (later blog) every now & then. Have a great day & thanks.
Aug. 5, 2012 7:38 am
I really need to get a new keyboard Cat Hill or I need to learn how to spell. I will blame technology. B-) Have a great day.
Aug. 5, 2012 7:39 am
Good morning & thank you manella. I appreciate you stopping by.
Aug. 5, 2012 11:54 am
I put hot sauce on darn near everything including popcorn. I crave it like no other and when I am at work at get really desperate, I'll go as far as dipping pretzel sticks in taco bell sauce packets. LOL! The Madame Alexander Doll comment cracked me up big time. Great blog Doug and I look forward to the next one. Go Chiefs ;)
Aug. 5, 2012 1:46 pm
Hi Nicole & a belated happy birthday. I keep a bottle of chipotle tabasco in my desk drawer at work and every time I put hot sauce on my eggs I think of you. Go Broncos !!!
Aug. 6, 2012 4:33 am
I grew up with a bottle of Tabasco on the kitchen table. I have been know to use scrambled eggs simply as a vehicle to get hot sauce into my mouth! You have w wonderful collection, very nicely displayed!
Aug. 6, 2012 4:52 am
Good morning Wyattdogster & thanks - I couldn't agree with you more that scrambled eggs are a great partner for hot sauce. I like to turn my eggs orange at times I use so much. Have a great day.
Aug. 6, 2012 6:58 am
Hmmph, go Skins! You have a good day too Doug!
Aug. 6, 2012 7:39 am
Hold on a sec Wyattdogster - I still have a soft spot in my heart for the Redskins (especially when they beat the NY Giants) from when I was a kid. I was a big fan of Sonny Jurgenson, Charley Taylor, Larry Brown, Jerry Smith & Chris Hanburger and those were in the days BEFORE George Allen & the Over The Hill Gang. Unfortunately I was living in Denver when Doug Williams remembered how to play football for 15 minutes one Sunday in January. B-(
Aug. 6, 2012 8:46 am
First, I need to say I love that title of the blog! My southern soul is happily walking through the trees, listening to the crickets chirp, and is that gardenias I'm smelling? : ) And second, wow, that's some collection! When I was younger, black pepper was about as hot as I could go. Now, I love chipotle in just about anything, and I use picante smoked paprika like most people would use salt (addicted to smoked paprika!). My husband, however, is the confirmed chile head in this family. I currently have 22 fire-breathing pepper plants growing for him...and by fire-breathing, I mean a Thai Hot is the least hot of the group--rest are on par or not far behind the Bhut Jolokia. We've been experiementing with making our own hot sauces and drying and smoking the chiles. He says they're great...I cannot confirm since I won't touch them with a 10-foot pole! This man will pick the first of a new pepper variety off the plant and eat them whole just to see how hot they are. I'm looking forward to the rest of your blogs on this. I'll have to do one when all of our pepper varieties start coming in.
Aug. 6, 2012 9:03 am
Hi wisweetp & thanks - I find in most cases that my titles far surpass my blogs but that's what I get for locking a couple of monkeys in a room with a couple of bottle of whiskey & a laptop. Smoked Paprika is good and is another secret go to spice for me in my everyday rack/drawer. Bhut Jolokia ? I have some sauces but would never eat straight off the bush. I have a couple of different Habaneros,Scotch Bonnets, Thai & Tabasco peppers but nothing like that. Can't wait to see them.
Aug. 6, 2012 12:00 pm
Oh boy you sure opened up a good topic once again, Doug! In my house, there was salt in both the salt and pepper shakers (no pepper) and the only other seasonings mom used were paprika and dried parsley. Talk about bland. Mom insisted Dad had a stomach problem and couldn't eat spicy food. I now know it was all a ruse. I overcompensated for that childhood depravation and have devoted more cupboard space to my seasonings than to my tableware. I have two lazy susans in one cupboard--one for spices and the other for herbs, all alphabetical so I can find stuff--and then the whole upper shelf for the extra stuff like back-ups and big packages. I'm fond of all kinds of salt so there is a lazy susan next to the cooktop which holds the ones I use most frequently along with the other seasonings I reach for often. (Next to that is a section for all the oils but that's another topic!) There is another two-tiered spinner on the buffet for table condiments and more stuff on the table itself. And then there is the floor-to-ceiling rack near the back door which holds even more extras. I can't go to Penzey's without coming home with a basketfull and I just returned from Montana where I picked up a honey-pecan seasoning I just had to have. We even travel with our own little jar of fleur de sel and the garlic pepper grinder that is my husband's addiction. What can I say? We are all of the same insanity when it comes to seasoning and I say, the more the merrier. I'm certain that your collection continues to inspire your cooking and just know you have a kindred soul out here on the west coast :-)
Aug. 6, 2012 1:07 pm
WOW KATSINTHEKITCHEN - I am in awe and I am bowing down in your general direction. We also have a cabinet for the olive oils & vinegars and what not that is mainly controlled by my wife. The spice/seasoning drawer that has all of the daily seasonings (ie: salt, pepper, lemon pepper, paprika eetal) was also organized by my wife in her own haphazard fashion. I have had to learn her methods but the big shelf is mine. Like you, I almost always have something in my bag from everywhere I travel. I can never have too many local flavors to experiment with in the kitchen. Thanks for such a great response. Like I said, I am in awe.
Aug. 6, 2012 3:51 pm
I'm glad you can appreciate where I'm coming from with my devotion to the Redskins. I miss those glory days!
Aug. 6, 2012 7:27 pm
Well, there is probably a very fine line between enhancement and overkill but I'm willing to walk it when it comes to the kitchen :-D
Aug. 6, 2012 8:59 pm
I feel like "mild hot sauce" is an oxymoron (=
Aug. 7, 2012 12:13 am
Especially if you put the mild hot sauce on some Jumbo Shrimp chatty cathy-lol....
Aug. 7, 2012 11:28 am
Aug. 10, 2012 4:49 am
I guess it's time to write about a couple of the lower shelves. Thanks to everyone for reading & your comments.
Aug. 10, 2012 2:42 pm
Look forward to your next blog :-)
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Doug Matthews

Home Town
Princeton, New Jersey, USA
Living In
Mendham, New Jersey, USA

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Mar. 2000

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About Me
My mother decided early on that her sons would never have to rely on someone to feed them so we all learned to cook at an early age. I really started to branch out when I moved out west to Denver, SF & Dallas. Combine that with extended business travel to Louisiana & my growing love of spices and you get a real mix of flavors.
My favorite things to cook
Love to make cajun food with my favorites being crawfish pie, alligator stew & alligator chili - I go nuts on Super Bowl Sunday
My favorite family cooking traditions
We didn't have a lot of traditions per se but you could count on pancakes or waffles on sundays - dad making scrambled eggs twice a year on christmas morning & mother's day - veal parmagiana on christmas eve, Thanksgiving with Grandma Matthews and any menu of your choice on your birthday. We weren't a spicy family so I learned a lot of good strong basics in the kitchen from Mom that I have carried over into my cooking today.
My cooking triumphs
I love to experiment with variations of dishes I try around the country. My biggest success is here on allrecipes where I had 2 recipes published in the same cookbook - Southwestern Turkey Soup & Curried Carrot Soup. I think my corn muffins are a great starting point and my alligator chili has become a much requested Super Bowl favorite.
My cooking tragedies
There have been a few times in the past where I tossed everything and took everyone to a restaurant instead. I'm not too proud to say my cooking is awful when it really is.
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