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.