Empty spice jars

Does anyone else ever feel proud when they finish a jar of spices?

I remember being 23 and lamenting to my mom that cooking new things always felt like a huge chore, but I NEEDED to increase my repertoire. I kept ruling recipes out because I didn’t have several of the ingredients, or I had never cooked with them before, or I didn’t know where to find them in the grocery store. 

It seemed silly to me to spend $6 on a whole jar of curry powder to use ONE teaspoon for ONE recipe. But she told me to buy the spices anyway. They wouldn’t go bad, and when I’d inevitably come across another recipe calling for curry powder, it’d be that much easier to give that one the green light.

So I did as I was told. I think buying a whole jar of a spice you’ve never cooked with before is hopeful. It’s putting faith in the recipe you’ve chosen, and faith in yourself that you’ll keep cooking, keep trying new things. I think it says that you’re still adventurous. You’re not stuck in your ways. You’re acknowledging that you’re still learning and willing to risk looking a little silly should something go wrong. 

Buying that new spice is step one, and then when you’ve finished it? That’s tangible proof that your silly hopes all that time ago were fulfilled. You tried that recipe and loved it. You said yes to several more. Over and over again, half a teaspoon by half a teaspoon. Those meals added up. Past Alex made a great choice that Sunday afternoon all those months ago when she was in the mood for a culinary adventure.

This particular jar of curry powder has made at least a dozen batches of curried chili – a hearty dish with tomatoes and chickpeas and jalapeños that has warmed us on lots of cold nights.

Maybe it’s stupid of me to make this big a deal out of something that happens every day to thousands of home cooks all over the world. But not everyone cooks, you know? Not everyone was lucky enough to have a mother who told them at the beginning of their cooking journey that buying the spices is a good way to dip your toe into culinary waters. That buying the spices is a good way to start small.

Throughout my 20s, and still to this day, I make so many cooking mistakes. These empty jars represent the many meals where I learned how to time all my dishes to be finished around the same time. Now I know when to add more oil to the pan, and when to turn my vent hood on so that my apartment smoke alarm doesn’t go off. (I’ve also learned the food is still good when it does.)

I’m a person who has trouble finishing things – I’ll languish too long over work assignments, I have never ending to-do lists that never get completed, I’ll fold 90 percent of a load of laundry before deciding I simply can’t continue. 

So when a jar of curry powder I’ve been taking from – imperceptibly – for months is totally finished? Solely from meals I’ve made? It makes me feel as though a lot more is possible. That little by little really does add up. That maybe the tiniest contributions over time really can add up to a whole novel written or a house paid off.

Maybe an empty spice jar is as much a miracle as any of those things.