Pepper’s Shopping List: Ten Spices for Every Kitchen Cupboard

Any cook can tell you how easy it is to overstock the spice cabinet! You try a new-to-you recipe and buy an ounce of this and a pinch of that, but what do you do with the rest of the jar? Well, search a good cookbook or online recipe source for more options.

But if you’re stocking a new kitchen, or you want to pare down to basics, here’s Pepper’s list of essential dried spices. (Okay, it’s mine, but we’ll pretend she isn’t fictional for a few minutes.)

Of course, your preference and how you like to eat play a big part. If you enjoy Mexican dishes, add more peppers and some dried cilantro. If you eat a lot of Italian, add rosemary. If you love making soups and stews, you need bay leaves.

And of course, blends are a great way to add a lot of flavor in a hurry.

In alphabetical order:
Basil
Chili Powder
Cinnamon (ground, but sticks are great, too)
Cumin
Ginger
Nutmeg
Oregano
Paprika (sweet or spicy; smoked is a fave in our house)
Red Pepper Flakes
Thyme

Plus a good sea salt* and black peppercorns and a grinder.

assault and pepper

What’s the difference between sea salt and table salt? Sea salt is formed by evaporation of ocean or lake water, with minimal processing, while table salt comes from underground salt deposits. (“I’m going to the salt mine,” my father used to say before descending to his basement office.) Each has a different crystal structure. In addition, most commercial table salts also include iodine, which before the early 20th century, was often difficult to get in a diet, particularly for Midwesterners. That’s no longer the case, with changes in how we eat and where our food comes from. Table salt can oxidize to form iodine, and give food an acrid flavor.

If you bake, you’ll want kosher salt, so named because it’s used to draw out water in the koshering process. It’s got a coarser structure than sea or table salt, and is particularly good for baking. I have read that professional bakers prefer Diamond Crystal over Morton’s, that lab tests have shown it to be more consistent in structure and therefore salinity, and that most recipes are written expecting the cook to use Diamond Crystal. So that’s what Pepper and I do!

Why didn’t I mention garlic? Because you should use fresh when you can, though the chopped garlic in a jar is a lifesaver, as is jarred ground ginger. But dried minced garlic and garlic powder have a place, too, unless you’ve got a super-small kitchen!

The Saturday Creativity Quote

Image

Clematis “Etoile Violette”
photo by the author

By replacing fear of the unknown with curiosity we open ourselves up to an infinite stream of possibility. We can let fear rule our lives or we can become childlike with curiosity, pushing our boundaries, leaping out of our comfort zones, and accepting what life puts before us.

– Alan Watts, quoted in Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind by Scott Barry Kaufman & Carolyn Gregoire

Pepper’s Bookshelf — The Solace of Bay Leaves

Pepper Reece loves a good mystery — on the page, or in real life! She also enjoys selling culinary cozies along with the cookbooks and chef lit on the shelves in the Spice Shop, the shop she owns in Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market. So when Assault and Pepper came out and a reader asked for Pepper’s reading list, I was happy to oblige. Here’s Part One and Part Two.

In The Solace of Bay Leaves (out in ebook and audio on July 21, 2020 and in paper on October 20), Pepper once again mentions her love of the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters, triggered by the discovery of a book of the books and videos among the things her parents stored with her before decamping to Costa Rica. Sadly, the Seattle Mystery Bookshop is closed in real life, but I’ve kept it alive on the page, and Pepper credits a former law firm staffer now working there for feeding her love of medieval mysteries with the Sister Fidelma mysteries by Peter Tremayne and the Dame Frevisse mysteries by Margaret Frazer. She’s also enjoying the Crispin Guest Medieval Mysteries by Jeri Westerson, which she discovered herself, and is just finishing the first, Veil of Lies.

Another series she’s recently discovered, through her friend, Seetha, are the Perveen Mistry series by Sujata Massey, set in 1920s India and featuring the first woman solicitor in Bombay. The series starts with The Widows of Malabar Hill and continues with The Satapur Moonstone. When Pepper visits Maddie in the hospital, she takes her two UK historicals, In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen and the latest in the Dandy Gilver series by Catriona McPherson.

Pepper also mentions Drinking French, a new cookbook from David Lebovitz, an American living in Paris, and new foodie mysteries from Cleo Coyle, Laura Childs, and Vicki Delany.

And the book about the Armenian genocide that she remembers reading in high school is the much-acclaimed Passage to Ararat by Michael J. Arlen, originally published in 1975.

PS: Looks like I may not have done a post on Pepper’s Bookshelf for CHAI ANOTHER DAY. Here’s what she was reading there:

— Spice: The History of a Temptation by Jack Turner

Soul of the City: The Pike Place Public Market, by Alice Shorett and Murray Morgan

A Rare Benedictine by Ellis Peters, a trio of Brother Cadfael short stories

Murder in Union Square, Victoria Thompson, the Gaslight Mysteries

— Edith Maxwell’s Quaker midwife mysteries

— The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating, by Steven Kerry Brown

— The latest culinary mysteries by Barbara Ross, Ellie Alexander, Cleo Coyle, and Lucy Burdette

Bigfork Festival of the Arts — update

One of the highlights of summer in my town is the Bigfork Festival of the Arts. I’ve been going nearly every year for decades, and loved taking my late mother through the streets – street, singular; town is very small – on her visits, browsing the booths of pottery, jewelry, soaps, and other handmade items. When my first mystery, Assault & Pepper, came out in 2013, Mr. Right and I had a booth right outside our favorite art gallery. The number of books we sold still astonishes me – the Food Lovers’ Village mysteries are set in a fictional version of the town, and the real-life residents have been my biggest supporters.

And every year since, we’ve been there. Regular readers know I usually have a new book out, and come by to pick up a copy and get it signed. We all look forward to it.

This is a tourist town, and the Festival draws many visitors on their first visit to the valley. They haven’t met me or the books yet, and I love chatting with them. With “Playhouse kids,” the young actors who get giddy at picking up a copy of Butter Off Dead, featuring the theater lobby on the cover, for their mother or grandmother. The planning-ahead Christmas shoppers. The readers who say “Oh, are these like the books by the woman who writes about the food?” and aren’t the least bit surprised that I know exactly who they mean. (Diane Mott Davidson. Every time. And it still makes Mr. Right smile and shake his head in wonder.)

By four-thirty on Sunday, we can barely speak. We pack up the booth—everything, even the canopy, fits in the back of my Subaru—call our favorite restaurant for a pizza to go, and head home. Hot, exhausted, and happy. So happy.

This virus has disrupted my publication dates as well. The Solace of Bay Leaves will be out in ebook and audio on July 21, and in paperback on October 20. (The publisher was forced to delay the paperback by disruptions in the supply chain, which meant it couldn’t guarantee that distributors, booksellers, and libraries would have the book by October 20, but those problems don’t affect the ebook or audio, and we didn’t want to make you wait any longer than necessary.) I do hope we can safely meet by then; watch my website and newsletter for updates.

So you can imagine how sad I am to miss the Festival this year. At this writing, it is still planned for August 1-2, in the village of Bigfork. It will have a different configuration, and no doubt fewer vendors and shoppers. But I won’t be there. Mr. Right is a doctor of natural medicine, and we can’t risk unwittingly spreading the virus to his patients. Social distancing isn’t possible at a festival, especially for me. Books aren’t like pottery or soap. Yes, you might visit with the soap maker and ask the potter questions about glazes and designs, but books—you gotta talk, up close and personal! Especially if you don’t know the books, you want to visit and hear about the book from the author. And I want to talk with you. I want to sign the book and smile for a selfie with you and my bright colorful booth.

Just know that I miss you, that I’m still writing, and that I’ll be back next year.

Until then, be well.

Leslie

PS — If you do pop into the Village at any time, you can find signed copies of my books at the Bigfork Art & Cultural Center gift shop (next to the library) or at Roma’s Kitchen Shop.

The Solace of Bay Leaves is out today!

From the cover: Pepper Reece never expected to find solace in bay leaves.

But when her life fell apart at forty and she bought the venerable-but-rundown Spice Shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, her days took a tasty turn. Now she’s savoring the prospect of a flavorful fall and a busy holiday cooking season, until danger bubbles to the surface …

Between managing her shop, worrying about her staff, and navigating a delicious new relationship, Pepper’s firing on all burners. But when her childhood friend Maddie is shot and gravely wounded, the incident is quickly tied to an unsolved murder that left another close friend a widow.

Convinced that the secret to both crimes lies in the history of a once-beloved building, Pepper uses her local-girl contacts and her talent for asking questions to unearth startling links between the past and present—links that suggest her childhood friend may not have been the Golden Girl she appeared to be. Pepper is forced to face her own regrets and unsavory emotions, if she wants to save Maddie’s life—and her own.

Audio book cover

Ebook and Audio: June 21, 2020
Trade paper: October 20, 2020

Published by Seventh Street Books and Tantor Audio

Available in the US and Canada at:
IndieBound
Barnes and Noble
Amazon
Fact and Fiction
Books-A-Million
Bookshop.org
And your local booksellers!

Enjoy the trip to Seattle with me — on the page or screen, or through your headphones!

The Solace of Bay Leaves is coming soon!

THE SOLACE OF BAY LEAVES is on the way.

And gosh, we could all use a little solace right now, couldn’t we?

The ebook and audio will be out July 21, the paperback on October 20, but you can pre-order them now in all the usual places. Pop over to my website for an excerpt and buy links. And if you’re a library user, please ask your library to order the book — most libraries have request forms on their websites, and they want to know what patrons want to read.

The fifth Spice Shop mystery bears a more poetic title than its older siblings. Pepper likes to say that when her life fell apart, she never expected to find solace in bay leaves. Meaning that she never expected to buy a spice shop—or that it would be one of the best decisions she ever made.

THE SOLACE OF BAY LEAVES explores women’s friendships, a major theme of the series. Just as Pepper and Kristen’s friendship was tested in KILLING THYME, here we see how misunderstandings and jealousies affect other long-standing friendships, and how Pepper’s passion for justice makes her the very best kind of friend. Once again, we explore the Market, Seattle’s heart, soul, and stomach. Pepper also takes us up to Capitol Hill and the Montlake neighborhood, places where I lived, walked, and ate as a young woman. And we see her and her fisherman draw closer, as they learn to navigate the here again–gone again schedule his work dictates.

I think it’s a special book, and hope you’ll agree.

Why the paperback delay? Blame the virus. It’s jumbled so many plans, and book launches are no exception. In March, my publisher, Seventh St. Books, realized that disruptions in the supply chain meant it couldn’t guarantee that the paperback would be in warehouses, libraries, and bookstores by July 21, so the paperback launch was moved to October 20. But they didn’t want to make you wait for a little SOLACE, so they stuck to the original date for the ebook and audio. It’s not safe to get together in person now; let’s hope by then, we can meet for a book talk and a cup of chai.

Don’t worry, I’ll remind you when the paperback comes out! Remember, though, that you can pre-order it from your local booksellers or online now. As a friend says, pre-orders are great because you don’t have to give it another thought—the book just shows up, like a present you’ve given yourself!

I’ve been surprised how many readers have told me they’ll grab the e-book now and the paperback in the fall. See how wonderful and generous you are? Cozy mystery fans truly are the best. And in this oh-so-difficult time, I am grateful for every one of you.

My booth at the 2019 Bigfork Festival of the Arts

Whenever you read the book, in whatever format, please do post a review online, at Amazon, B&N.com, Bookbub, Goodreads, bookblogs, Facebook, Twitter, Insta—so many options. Word of mouth, even if it’s digital, is simply the best.

To authors, an audio book deal feels like a sign you’ve arrived. I’m lucky that all my mysteries are in audio, and luckier still that the Spice Shop mysteries are narrated by the fabulous Dara Rosenberg. I finally got a smart phone and recorded myself pronouncing a few Northwest tribal names and other local tongue-twisters for her. She’s so smart and prepared – I hope you love listening to her as much as I love working with her.

Audio book cover

In keeping with the bay leaves, my characters eat a lot of soup and the recipes are in the book. It’s not exactly soup weather, though, so in July and August, I’ll share some warm-weather uses of bay on Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen (I post on the 1st, 3d, and 5th Tuesdays) and get to the soup in October.

It’s beyond strange to launch a book without meeting readers face to face, and I don’t like it one bit. YOU make a book real. But we will meet again.

Until then, happy reading. Be well,

Leslie