07 September 2012

Retail Therapy, with Chiles

September 6th, 2012, 8:41 PM. This notion swirling in my head, after a bowl of beans, dressed in shades of cinnabar and rust.

Close to three weeks into my part-time job, dear ones, of being a seller of spices. About time for a status report, methinks. For me just as much for you, it would seem. This is because the retail environment is a very different terrarium than my usual habitat.  I took my emotional temperature on the matter earlier this week. I had a particularly enjoyable day at the store. Stocking, finding stuff, connecting the customers with what they need, what they want and occasionally with something they did not realize they wanted...it was all to the good. This is important. The work is uncomplicated, but important. I mused on that as I drove home after closing. Why did I think that? 

The first thing that occurred to me was that it is important because getting your customer what he or she needs is crucial to survival as a merchant. Even more so is doing it with grace, style and efficiency. Not only connecting them to the particular product, but enjoying the process becomes a matter of pride. 

The second thing was the realization that all of these transactions I was involved with during the day were opportunities to learn something new about someone or something. I am finding it fascinating to discover what people are making with and doing with the herbs and spices and seasonings they come to buy. Talk about a fertile ground! It opened my mind again to the notion that there are so many good things in the world, to be seen, touched, tasted. Listening the short stories people tell is time well spent, I believe.

The third thing, and perhaps the most revelatory of my musings, was the effects on my own physical and mental states of being. At the end of the day, I was tired, but strangely happy. Happy. Being in a store, selling the stuff and the things! How could this be? I'm introverted, people usually wear me out, and sometimes I feel like Forrest Gump when it comes to small talk. So you would think this setup would be the wrong way to go.

Much to my delight, it is not. At least, not so far. I realized that, yes, people do wear me out. I do have to venture outside of my "hamster ball" for hours at a time. But the reasons for that are good ones. I get to solve simple problems, with easily measurable results. I can talk about what people are cooking for dinner (and I so enjoy food and the cooking of it), and for whom they are cooking. And one of the coolest things about the gig: if at any point in the day I feel the need for a pick-me-up, I can open any number of the apothecary jars holding samples of a huge variety of spices or herbs...and smell them, enjoy the colors and textures.

Trust me, there are times where a noseful of basil or oregano or curry spices are just the thing to perk a mind and body up. Lately my new favorite has been this ground Indonesian white pepper that looks a little like fine sand and smells like wine and beaches. So good...

I arrived home, pulling into the driveway to park the car. I sat for a moment in the silence after turning off the engine, wondering why I felt so accomplished. The only thing I could think was that it was retail therapy that is doing me some good. Not the buying of things, but the selling of things that help fill bellies and bring people to the table that have brought me some peace of mind. 

Epilogue: Tonight I made a big batch of pot beans, based on a new recipe newly brought to my attention. The ingredient list is short and simple, just the thing for a day when you don't feel like much fuss. I did make some changes, because I like to ask questions of what I cook. Instead of 2 to 3 dried 'red' chile pods, I used the equivalent of 5 chiles (3 Anaheims and 2 anchos). And instead of leaving them whole, I removed the seeds and ground the peppers fine in a spice grinder. The resulting powder was spicy but not hot, and was beautifully mottled in shades of red. Bricks and rust, cinnabar and iron, painterly shades swirling around in the pot as the beans simmered to full-bodied tastiness. I spooned up the last bits from the bowl, at peace with a full belly and savoring the good things come from this earth.


  1. No picture of the beans and spices? I suppose I'll have to just imagine those colors. Stepping outside our normal and doing something we've never seen ourselves doing can often be just the thing we need. I'm glad you're enjoying your sojourn into spices.

  2. I apologize, but I just want to sing the bean song again.

  3. VM made me giggle. I want to sing that song every time I make that recipe!


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Don't suffer your crimes
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