Storing Spices in Small Kitchens

Anyone who likes to cook knows that it can be a real challenge to store spices in a way that keeps them fresh, organized, and easily identifiable. Anyone who cooks in a relatively small kitchen also knows that many of the spice storage options available are unrealistic for our space constraints. While I’d love to have a rotating spice rack sitting by my stove, that counter space is reserved for other purposes. And if I did have the extra space, a spice rack wouldn’t be my first purchase (hello, Kitchenaid mixer!).

My spice collection recently reached its tipping point when my kitchen cabinet became so full that I had to remove several layers of jars and bottles before I could locate the object of my desire. Adding to my frustration was the fact that some of the containers my spices came in made it really difficult to get out the amount I needed. It’s never a good thing to over-season with cayenne pepper. Ouch! Fortunately, I found a solution when I was browsing the aisles at Bed Bath and Beyond.

I came across these little tin containers that have dramatically improved my spice situation. The tins have many benefits: (1) they are magnetic, so they can securely stick to my fridge; (2) they have clear lids so I can see the spices inside; (3) they are wide enough that I can remove the lids and easily take a pinch of the spices inside; (4) the lids can rotate around to reveal two different sized openings if you don’t want to open the tins every time; (5) they’re opaque so sunlight won’t degrade the quality of my spices; (6) they’re reusable; and (7) they cost $2.99 each.

I have only identified two downsides for the tins. The first is that the clear plastic in the lid can fall out if you push down on it too hard. Fortunately, it’s easy to put back in and has not yet fallen out of a tin that actually contained spices.  Phew. The second issue is that the barcode sticker is on the bottom of the tin where the magnet is, and it’s impossible to remove. A few pieces of the sticker from one tin got stuck to my fridge, but it was easily scraped off.

I think these spice tins are a great investment for any kitchen, especially one that requires creative storage solutions. Happy seasoning!

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Apartment Gardening

balcony-grown cucumber

I have always loved growing plants, but caring for them while living in a city has been a true challenge. Especially because my apartment receives NO direct sunlight. But that hasn’t stopped me from trying! Whenever I eat an exceptionally delicious fruit, I try to grow its seeds. I’ve done this semi-successfully with both oranges, pomegranates, and potatoes, especially with the help of this book.

potato plant

I’ve also purchased seeds to plant. Strawberries, radishes, cucumbers, and little sequoia trees were all successful. Unfortunately, however, none of the plants featured in this post are currently living. Each of them met its demise because it lived in a city apartment instead of a nice, suburban garden. The potato plant shot up like a magical beanstalk, a form I was not expecting it to take, but it quickly outgrew its tiny container and instantaneously wilted before I could replant it.

radishes and cucumbers thrived

The strawberries (which even lived through one winter) and cucumbers were my most successful plants because they yielded fruit. We got about 3 tiny strawberries and one petite cucumber. They were all delicious, but the plants couldn’t survive the intense summer heat on my balcony. I could only repot them so many times before they got too big to sit on my balcony’s ledge, and I couldn’t water them fast enough to keep them going. It’s a real challenge transporting that much water out to a balcony!

All of the other plants I had (the oranges, sequoias, and pomegranates) fell victim to another common apartment hazard–the separation anxiety stricken puppy. Stella pup is a very smart girl, and she managed to escape from her crate, bust out onto the balcony, and climb onto the chairs so she could look over the ledge and search for us. Unfortunately, she also pushed a few plants over into the courtyard, smashed several, and spewed dirt everywhere.

I hope my windowsill garden fares better this summer. I never know what dangers lurk because there is no telling what a dog that sits like a human can do!

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Microwave-Free Popcorn

If you haven’t figured this out by now, you should know that I LOVE snacks! One of my favorite and most frequent snacks is fresh popcorn. But keep those microwavable bags away from me! I like making my popcorn the old fashioned way, with a little oil in a pot on the stove. Making popcorn this way never gets old because you can do it differently every time by varying the kernels, oils, and flavoring components you use. And if you have a pot with a clear lid, you can get a show along with your snack.

red kernels

I’ve tried using several different types of popcorn kernels, and have found that some work better than others. Blue kernels are my favorite because they pop relatively quickly and have a really crisp texture with a nice, sweet flavor. White kernels are the next best. They take just a little longer to pop than blue kernels, but are crisp, yield a large volume of popcorn, and are easy to find. Next comes red kernels. They pop the fastest of any I’ve tried, but they have a low yield and a slightly chewy consistency. Lastly come yellow kernels. They’re probably the easiest to find in supermarkets, but they take the longest to pop and have a very starchy consistency (think Halloween popcorn ball).

red kernels, olive oil, and red pepper flakes

Any type of kernel you choose to pop will be made the same way. Just choose an appropriately sized pot for the amount of popcorn you want to make and add your kernels, oil, and flavoring ingredients (discussed next). For one serving of popcorn, use approximately 1 tbsp. of oil and enough kernels to cover the oil. Cover your pot with a lid and put it over a medium-high flame. Once you hear the kernels start to pop, shake the pot constantly until the sounds stop. Then, remove the lid and pour your popcorn into a serving bowl.

I’ve experimented with many different popcorn flavors. You can make a boardwalk style caramel corn by adding a neutral tasting oil and a good sprinkling of brown sugar to your pot with the kernels. I added red pepper flakes to the olive oil and kernels in these pictures for a wonderfully spicy batch. Other things I’ve added before popping are ground cinnamon, curry powder, and minced garlic. You can also use flavored olive oils (truffle oil is particularly decadent, so much so that I use a mixture of truffle and plain oils to temper the taste).

It’s also fun to experiment with flavors you can add to the popcorn after it’s already popped. I like using different types of salts like smoked chardonnay sea salt or white truffle salt. Freshly grated parmesan cheese, lemon zest, and ground black pepper also go really well together. I strongly encourage you to experiment with any other flavors you like and to share your successes in the comments.

Enjoy making popcorn at home for a fast, cheap, satisfying, and healthy snack!

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