Thursday, February 3, 2011

the tsar dust incident

I like to cook. I wouldn't say I'm very good at it, but every so often I get an urge to cook something and make it really spectacular. When Boyfriend and I lived together, I was really excited to be able to cook dinner for him. He eats pretty much everything, my mom and brother, who I live with now, eat pretty much nothing. My brother accidentally ate a mushroom once and thought he might die.

So I went out and bought a kitchen's worth of utensils and pots and pans and gathered all my cookbooks. Then I went to the spice store. I get a little crazed about spices. I don't know why. Maybe it's because I like all the neatly labeled bottles. Maybe it's because I need to know what they all taste like. Maybe it's some strange belief that this spice right here will make everything I cook taste a million times better. Whatever it may be, the spice store is like my special little cooking heaven.

I pranced around with my little shopping basket, loading it up with the basics - red pepper flakes, garlic and onion powder, dried shallots (who doesn't love a shallot?!). Then I got to the interesting section. The spices that were a bit more specialized. Fajita seasoning - in the basket. Something called "Sandwich Sprinkle"? In it went (which, side note, is honestly good on everything). That's when I saw it - the bottle with the cutest label and most clever little name - Tsardust Memories. You all know how I feel about Russia. And I love goofy plays on words. Plus the label on the bottle was so pretty. So I picked up the bottle and tossed it into my basket. It was an unassuming looking brown spice. Seemed pretty harmless. If only I knew.

I've never eaten Russian food before. I have no idea what flavors are common in Russia. I took it home and read the back of the jar, where it gives you a description of the spice and tells you what it will be good in. Sometimes they even give you recipes. Penzey's seriously is the best.

"Warm and spicy-sweet, this blend is awesome with ground beef - burgers, meatloaf, meatballs, casseroles... Excellent in hearty soups and stews, and one of the best things ever on pork chops - try it on the grill. Whatever you make, serve it with crusty bread. It's all good."

Well, that sounded promising and easy enough. It happened to be winter at the time. I'd just make a stew and sprinkle some in. So that's what I did. I woke up extra early one morning to brown meat and cut veggies and throw it all in the Crock Pot. I sprinkled on some Tsardust and went to work. When I came home, the apartment smelled delicious. Boyfriend was salivating and couldn't wait to eat. We dug into the stew.

"...what did you put in here?" Boyfriend asked after a few bites.
"Oh, this new spice I got, it has the cutest name - Tsardust Memories!"
"Doesn't this taste kind of...sweet? I can't put my finger on it. It's kind of weird."
"Yeah, now that you mention it, it isn't a very 'stew-y' flavor. I guess it's not that great in stew."

I was bummed my stew wasn't perfect, but I was determined to make this Tsardust work. A few weeks later, I decided to make some onion soup, one of my specialties. It was coming out perfectly, Boyfriend had done a taste test and said it was my best ever. For reasons I can't explain, at the last possible minute I decided to sprinkle on the Tsardust. 

"You put the Tsardust in here, didn't you!?" Boyfriend exclaimed, outraged, when he finally sat down to eat.
"...Maybe. It says on the bottle it is good in hearty soups and stews!" I said, defensively. I felt like I had to stick up for the poor, innocent Tsardust. 
"This soup was so good! Why would you do that? No more Tsardust, it's just not good and you need to let it go."
"But I want to like it!" I whined.
"What's in it anyway? Is this cinnamon?"
"I don't know, I've never checked." I admitted. I went to get the bottle and read the ingredients. Hand-mixed from: salt, garlic, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, marjoram. 
"Um, yes. It has cinnamon and nutmeg in it. As well as garlic."
"Cinnamon, nutmeg and garlic?! That is like putting garlic in apple pie, practically! What about that sounded good to you!?" Boyfriend was extremely perplexed.
"Um...the label was cute? And the name was clever?"
"No more. No more of this in my food. It's just not going to happen." Boyfriend said firmly. I pouted and ate my ruined soup. 

I wasn't about to give up though. A few weeks later, I went to find my Tsardust to give it another go. I opened my spice cabinet and rooted around inside, but the Tsardust was no where to be found.
"Boyfriend!" I shouted, "Where's my Tsardust!" Boyfriend quickly woke up from his stupor on the couch.
"No! No way! I hid it. I am not eating that ever again!" He said, shuddering.
"What! Where is it, give it back! That wasn't cheap!" But he wouldn't budge. I had to admit defeat.

This past fall, when we were moving out, I finally found it. In the cabinet above the fridge, tucked in a corner. Up way too high for me to have ever gone looking for it. But now I have it back - my Tsardust is no longer just a memory. And my determination to find something this spice is good in is now renewed. Watch out Boyfriend, I'm making dinner tonight. ;)


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