Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Variety Is the Spice of Life

This oft-repeated quote is usually attributed to William Cowper and can be found in his poem: The Task (Book 2, line 285).

However, some scholars point to the Marquis de Sade who is reputed to have said: "Only two ropes? My goodness, woman, let's make it four. After all, the more spice, the hotter the sauce."

While other scholars attribute it to that inimitable Bronx sage, Yogi Berra, who was heard to have said while ordering a pizza at Sal's on West 49th: "Gimme the works. Extra cheese. Extra sauce. And the more spice. The better."

But we'll let the scholars duke that one out. Me? I'm all about variety and spice.

For instance.

I made a Black Bean and Shrimp Bisque the other night. Just like I have a gazillion times before. But this time I didn't have any sherry to 'finish' it. But I made it anyway. No one complained. In fact, there were a couple of raves.

But I knew something was missing. You see, I've tasted it with the sherry.

Of course, you've probably prepared dishes where you were short an ingredient or two. I know I have. And it's usually the little ingredients. A shot of sherry here. A 1/2 teaspoon of thyme there. One bay leaf instead of two.

No one usually notices. Except those who have savored the dish in it's completeness.

It's funny how a shot of wine or a pinch or sprinkle of spices and herbs can transform a dish from something that is delicious to one that is extraordinary.

And such is life, eh?

I think about all those brilliant, obnoxious, loving, honest, or grating people who have been a part of my life, even for just a moment, whose influences have transformed what would've been a delicious life into an extraordinary one. Those whose comments, ideas or physical shoves have nudged me into places I may not have ventured into on my own.

Just like that chef who first wondered, "I wonder how a shot of dry sherry would improve this?" And then did it. And then savored it. And then served it to his or her guests.

So the next time I'm preparing a Black Bean and Shrimp Bisque, I'll think about the nuances that other chefs have added based on instinct. And then I'll think about what additions I would make to improve it. Then I'll consider all those who have crossed my path whose words and/or actions have made me what I am today.

And at that point I'm reminded that, perhaps I should let them know.

Perhaps you should, too.

How about this: next week we agree to send a note, drop a line, or send an e-mail to those who have added some spice to our lives. Those whose counsel encouraged us to make monumental decisions. Or even those whose word helped us surmount a great obstacle. Or perhaps those whose shoulder invited us to weep when nothing else was available.

I would imagine they would love to hear from the likes of us.

I know I enjoy hearing from those whose lives I've touched (although I rarely knew at the time) in a positive way.

Heck. I know we each have dozens of folk who've nudged and prodded us. Folks who've spiced up and improved our lives.

Now let's spice up theirs by letting them know what a bang up job they did.

Hey, it's just a thought.

Now hand me that cumin and cayenne. I'm ready for a little spice myself tonight.

Bon appetit!

Warren Caterson


I’ve always loved black bean soup. It’s such a simple and hearty dish. Here
we take it up a notch with the addition of shrimp. This is good enough for
company. So double it or triple it.

PREP: 10 minutes     COOK: 1 hour

1 can black beans, drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 large carrot, coarsely grated
1 stalk celery, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1 medium tomato, peeled, cored and diced
2 cups shrimp or chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 pound cooked shrimp
2 tablespoons sherry
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1. Heat oil in a medium Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium
heat and sauté the onions, carrots and celery until very tender, about
15 minutes. Add the garlic, basil, oregano and thyme and sauté an
additional 3 – 5 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes and broth, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
3. Stir in beans and simmer an additional 15 minutes. Stir in shrimp and sherry and reheat to steaming (do not boil) about 3 more minutes.


  1. Ooh, sounds like a wonderful dish! Thanks for sharing the recipe!
    I definitely know what you mean about missing ingredients, but either one gets creative, or one just has to make do. :)

  2. @healthyfoodietravels. Well, Kiri, if an ingredient is missing...then I think I'm with you. Time to get creative! :-D

  3. The only time I ate shrimp was when I was pregnant....but I may have to try this anyways b/c it sounds delish! :D

  4. @Ali Mc. Yes, you must! The shrimp adds a nuance...it doesn't overwhelm. (Oh, btw. I'm back at so the books will ship this week or next.) Take care!

  5. Oooh.. this certainly spiced up my morning! So there you go, you've spiced up my life even if it's just with a recipe. Here's to you ... Cheers!
    Honestly, each time I visit and read your posts, it cheers me up plenty!

  6. Mmmm, this sounds devine! I can not wait to try this, it sounds like a perfect Autumn day warmer. And cumin and cayenne? Favs!

  7. @ping. Thanks, my friend. And as you know, you are always welcome here!

  8. @Victoria. Believe me, it may not be divine, but it is a wonderful soup for an Autumn Day, lol. Oh, and it will go perfect with that shawl. Just saying. :-) Now...please pass the cumin and cayenne, kay?

  9. @Sofie Dittmann AKA German Foodie. Hey...It's not like I forgot the sherry. The home I was at didn't have it and it was too late to run out and get it. But hey...it turned out okay. Even saved some for you. C'mon by! :-D

  10. Your Bisque sounds so good! :)

  11. This sounds wonderful! I have to give this a try.

  12. While we're on the subject of improving food with booze, I can say, hand on heart that beer is a wonderful addition to a broccoli risotto. I deglaze the onion & rice mixture with it and then add a generous splash at the end. Something about the yeasty flavours of the beer just make it pop! Just saying... :-) (The idea came about when I had no white wine or verjuice so I used what was to hand)

  13. OK Warren, how about this... "I wear Oxfords and blue jeans. They were never in style so they are never out of style." or Sherry's imagination with puppets. The two of you inspired me, cut me free from some of the bands that tied me. I never said thank you. Not culinary, but I was the one baking cookies in that apartment. Still you and Sherry inspired me.

  14. @katshealthcorner. It's a keeper, Kathleen. Give it a shot and let me know how it turns out. :-)

  15. @peanutbutterandpeppers. Thanks, Jennifer! Please let me know how it turns out and if you tweaked it at all. Take care!

  16. @Di. Ah...the mother of invention, eh? This sounds like a great idea! I can imagine how the yeast/hoppy flavor of beer would be a unique (and welcome) twist to risotto. Next time I whip some up, I will forgo the wine and reach for my Amber Bock. :-D

  17. @emmy. Thanks for the compliment! I remember those apartment days - even drove by the place last time we were in S.Fla. It looks exactly the same! (Unlike the college just down the road, lol)

  18. Hi Warren, SO many people have touched my life it's hard to know where to start, even when not in a good way, it's a lesson learned, even if the lesson is 'let ME never be like that'. For me, variety is the spice of life, I love trying and learning new things. The other day I bought a bottle of amaretto liqueur as I wanted to try out my own recipe of Plum and Almond crumble. After a couple of attempts, I'd cracked the recipe... BUT in between takes I'd practically finished the bottle. Sometimes things are better out of the recipe than in. Although, I totally agree those 'secret' ingredients can really lift a recipe. Try a couple of anchovies in your spaghetti bolognese next time and you will see what I mean. All the best and Happy Halloween. Kg.

  19. @Kooky Girl. As always, your comments inspire (and more than likely, bring a smile.) Oh, and I'm all over those anchovies in the bolognese sauce. Thanks for the suggestion! Here's to umami...in all its various forms! Thanks and a happy halloween to you as well! :-)

  20. Yummy! sounds like a wonderful dish.