Dolphin With Rabies

Life on beautiful Cape Cod.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Chai Ingredients

Okay, I mentioned wanting to make chai from the Get Crafty recipe. I needed the following ingredients,

Whole coriander
Cinnamon stick
Cardamom pods
Cloves, whole
Whole Star anise
Whole peppercorns
Dried orange peel
vanilla bean

Usually bulk spices are cheaper (and fresher) than the spices you buy at the supermarket, so I went to our local health food store to have a go at the bulk herbs. I go in there a few times a year, usually on a similar expedition. (Herbs, oils, Kiss My Face products.) I probably wouldn't go to this particular store except that it's very close to where I live, and after this experience, I won't be in a rush to go back.

I enter the store and peruse the spices. It's the usual set-up from Frontier herbs with the bulk spices in glass jars. It looks as if someone started to alphabetize them and then became indifferent to the process, so while what you want is probably in alphabetical order, it may not be. This means I need to read the product labels in an annoyingly careful manner to find what I want. I finally find my first spice (whole coriander), locate the little plastic bags, and look for the labels. There are none. I look around for about a minute more, because these earthy-crunchy places all have their little ways of doing things, and I don't want to embarass myself in front of the cashier by asking for something that turns out to be ridiculously obvious. There are no labels. So, I head to the cash register.

At the cash register, my amiable but oh-so-clueless clerk asks me what I need.

Me: "Hi, do you have any labels for the spices?"

Clerk: "Uh, no we don't." After my incredulous look, she adds cryptically, "But I can find some for you."

Labels in hand, I head back. There appears to be no device for scooping spice from the containers, so I do the best I can, gingerly shaking spice from the glass jars into a slippery little plastic bag. And, the selection is not as good as I'd like. Whole coriander, cinnamon stick, whole pepercorns, vanilla bean okay. Cloves I have at home. But no cardamom pods, star anise or whole ginger. (There's a need for damiana leaf, but not for cardamom pods? Please.)

The clerk is wandering in my general vicinity, so I ask her about cardamom pods and star anise. No dice. I go for powdered cardamom, and while I'd been worried about its freshness, I am gratified to sniff at it, it smells sweet, strong and absolutely wonderful, my fears about its freshness subside, and decide to figure out the star anise later.

I head up to the cash register with my little bundles of joy, and we almost immediately hit a snag.

For starters, the Clerk is moving with all the enthusiasm of a woodland creature preparing for hibernation. I did not think it possible for a human being to move so slowly. It's like watching the Star Trek episode where Kirk encounters the aliens that live at hyperspeed, and you see the rest of the Enterprise crew moooovvvvinnnggg vvverrrryyy slllowwwwwllly....

Clerk: "I'll have to check on the price of the vanilla bean".

Fair enough, I'll sniff at the aromatherapy oils for fifteen minutes. I'm starting to feel bad for the customer behind me. It's not her fault that my purchases have derailed the health food store's entire sales process.

Clerk: "Oh, I can't find it in back. I'll need to make a phone call." (Phone call?)

She calls (I assume) the owner. Some time later, after the heat-death of the universe has progressed, it is established that my vanilla bean purchase is almost $10. (ack)

I'm convinced I can get a better deal at Stop'nShop, so I pass on the vanilla beans. I even pass on her chirpy suggestion that I buy the super special organic vanilla beans for only $5 per bean. What are they, magic beans?

Finally. I'm all rung up. And paid. And done. I've rarely been happier to leave a store. As I go, I can hear the customer behind me asking the clerk,

Customer: "Do you sell coffee?"
Clerk: "Yes."

After a pause in which new universes are created and new creatures evolve, it suddenly occurs to her that this was not in fact, a rhetorical question.

Clerk: "It's in the back". Oy.

I still need to get more spices, but my nerve was gone after that ordeal and I was unable to face the rigors of Stop'nShop. Perhaps tomorrow.Meanwhile, my entire kitchen smells of spice, and the scent is insinuating gently down the hall so that I can almost smell it from the office. Mmmmmm. Soon I will have chai.