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Spice Packed

This is how we store our spices. FullSizeRenderWhen we first bought our house, replicating our Manhattan sundries with an entire new set seemed excessive, if not costly. Fortunately, Guido’s, our local grocer, offered an impressive variety of spices that you could scoop into tiny baggies. We loved how this allowed us to buy a mere three tablespoons of tumeric or dill seeds. Nevertheless, we’d always buy more than we needed, then be left with smidges of leftovers that we refused to toss.

An organized person would, at the very least, write the name of said spice on the twist-tie upon scoopage, but why would we do something so easy and practical? With only the three or four-digit stock number to go by, we have spent countless afternoons in the kitchen passing a baggie of colored powder back and forth, trying to ascertain its identity.

As I rifled through our large potent jar the other day, I realized that my concern had less to do with nebulous identity and more about whether cumin should live so close to cinnamon, paprika and rosemary. So, I separated the baking ones (cinnamon, cardamom) out and placed them in a separate jar.IMG_0468.JPG

Still, I decided it was time to ask an expert, namely the executive editor of Bon Appetit.

“You throw out your spices once a year, right?” my friend Christine asks when I email her about co-habitation. “I know it sucks, but they lose their potency quickly, especially if they’re stored in bags.” Or squeezed into tight sealed jars.

Storing them jumbled in a jar isn’t ideal, as they can pick up flavors,” she continues. “Especially from cumin.”

Fucking cumin. I’ve never liked that spice and now I feel justified upon her basically calling it out as the bully of spices.

Separating by type is a start,” she suggests. “But I would make a list of what you use most often, then restock. Buy what you need, then put them in these jars” (

So, I head to the Container Store and fork over the $49 for the lazy Susan spice rack. Included in the box are dozens of named labels: marjoram, oregano, saffron, salad herbs (really?). “We’re not labeling these, right?” I ask Bertrand as he removes the plastic strainer tops from each jar before placing them in the dishwasher.

“No way,” he agrees. With all due respect, we’d rather have our spice jars be unidentifiable than look tacky.

On the drive to Guido’s we do a lightning round. Tumeric, Spanish paprika, fennel seed, ground ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon. Something sounds familiar to me as I rattle off the names, then it hits me: Rob’s popcorn.

Years ago, shortly after our friend Kerry met her boyfriend Rob, he catered a mutual friend’s dinner. The pre-meal snack was a popcorn-nut mix seasoned so deliciously, I begged her the following day to ask him for the recipe. I soon received a charming email from him, complete with the cherished recipe, emphasizing that the mix was a work-in-progress and encouraging me to play around with it myself. The next time I ran into them, Rob asked me not to share his secret blend. “It’s going to be the bar snack when I open my first restaurant,” he explained.

I kept my word. That was back in 2008. Since then, Rob and Kerry have opened two restaurants in Brooklyn–Wilma Jean and Nightingale 9– as well as a cafe, Smith Canteen. We’ve yet to see the popcorn make an appearance.

No matter; it’s alive and well in our household. I made a batch for a dinner party the other night and, as my friend, Lisa proclaimed, “This stuff is ADDICTIVE.” She wanted the recipe, and I felt others might, too. Is there a statute of limitations in recipe publishing? Despite having passed the seven-year mark, I texted Kerry and asked if Rob would let me.


He said yes. Lucky you.

IMG_8599Chef Rob Newton’s Spiced Popcorn & Nuts

  • 5 c fresh popcorn
  • 2 c roasted pecans (I double roast ours)
  • 2 c roasted-salted peanuts (I skip these)
  • 1 t paprika
  • 1/2 t cayenne
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 t nutmeg
  • 1/2 t ground ginger
  • 1 t coriander
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1 T tumeric
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 1 T sugar
  • 4 T butter
  • 1 T maple syrup, at room temperature

Have the popcorn and nuts ready and mixed in a bowl. Melt the butter slowly, then, once fully melted, add all the spices, sugar and salt. Turn the heat up slightly until the spices butter mixture is fragrant. Add the maple syrup and whisk thoroughly. Pour over popcorn-nut mix. Toss well, to coat everything. Lay out on baking trays to allow to cool before serving (we like to serve it warm!). Fyi: it freezes well.

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Jane was executive beauty director at W Magazine for 16 years. When she is not writing beauty articles, she's likely either hiking with her husband and dog, Remy, or in her kitchen, frauding (new verb) her way around a fancy recipe, a home decoration or a highbrow dinner party conversation of which she knows nothing about. In other words, she nods a lot and googles a lot later.

1 Comment

  1. Anne Johnston Albert says

    hahahahhaaaaa!!! this is SO true of us, you described perfectly what happens in my mind and it was hilarious. loved, loved, loved!


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