Food,  Gifts,  Self-Care

Online Self-Care Gifts for Mom on Mother’s Day, Part 4: Succulent Spices

Hi guys! Time for the fourth and final installment of creative and convenient self-care gifts for Mom on Mother’s Day—gifts that can be purchased online and shipped directly to her—but also, ones that are pampering and simultaneously socially-relevant.

Gifts for the gourmand are always a smart choice, especially with most eating establishments being closed now due to the global pandemic.

Chances are, Mom is most likely doing more at-home cooking, and what better way to spoil her than with this presents of greatness for the foodie: Succulent Spices.

I happen to have in my arsenal THE best spice hookup for you, ever. It’s Penzey’s Spices, and although their chain of intimate, nationwide boutiques are now closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, I just got word that their online catalog, which was also closed for three weeks due to safety reasons, has just begun shipping once again! So if you order soon you might be able to make the deadline for Mother’s Day this Sunday, May 10.

Penzey’s is in a league of its own. Their herbs and spices are so fresh and tasty! The single-note spices, like their granulated garlic and dehydrated onion, are delicious kitchen essentials, yes; but the blends…OMG…the blends are to-die-for! I’m talking mouth-watering, truly succulent spices! These are the kinds of spices that make a meal. They’re the kind that men risked their lives for when they traveled across unchartered oceans in the 15th century while pursuing wealth and riches in the conquest of the Spice Trade. We take for granted the simplest spices nowadays which were so rare and valuable to our forefathers. Only the rich could afford to have these precious spices. But now everyone can afford beautiful seasonings, and sweet or savory, Penzey’s has got you covered.

For her baking needs, Penzey’s carries the best cinnamon, the tastiest vanilla, and even hot chocolate blends ready for the making! Plus, Penzey’s makes incredible salad dressing mixes. All you do is add the wet ingredients for the freshest result. So much better, and healthier, than bottled, store-bought dressings!

I could spend an assload of money at this place…and, in fact, I routinely do! But let’s not get it twisted; I do not receive any kickbacks, free product, or advertising dollars from Penzey’s, okay? So why am I bothering to write about this lesser-known spice giant? I guess you could call it integrity in journalism. It’s something that’s rare these days.

Penzey’s website is easy-peasy to navigate and quite explicit as well. Each spice, extract, or blend is shown with a photograph and has detailed info and descriptions so you know exactly what you’re getting. The kind folks over at Penzey’s even offer recipes and suggestions for your meals so you can’t go wrong when shopping for Mom!

And now, on with the spices. Here are my suggestions for the ideal Mother’s Day bundle. Start with the basics (salt and pepper) and, if you can afford it, add one (or two) selection(s) from each of the categories below. Simple, elegant, practical and delicious, all rolled into one! I guarantee you, Mom will love it, and if you’re going over to her crib for dinner any time soon, so will you!

The Basics

Grey Sea Salt. Did you know that ordinary table salt, like Morton’s iodized salt, for example, is the culprit of a host of unhealthy side effects, while natural unrefined salts actually contain essential minerals that provide magnificent health benefits?

As a result of a high-heat processing and added toxic ingredients, traditional table salt like the kind you buy at the grocery, or the stuff that you find on tables at most restaurants, has been justly vilified by the health care authorities for many years.

But it is lesser known that the right kind of salt, natural salt, is actually beneficial, and in fact, essential to the cells in our bodies. No animal can live without salt. The real question is whether or not your salt is natural or processed.

You can research this point all day long on the internet, but for now suffice it to say that Penzey’s harvests a very fine Celtic grey sea salt for which I am extremely grateful! You can take all of this with a grain of salt, but first, I urge you to investigate it yourself. In the meantime, here is my favorite, pictured above.

Black Pepper. Pepper was once pound for pound more expensive than gold, hence the moniker Black Gold; and if you’ve ever been incarcerated in a jail or a hospital, or confined to a restricted diet for any length of time, you know exactly why. The value of spices in the culinary arts cannot be overstated, and while we’re currently on a lockdown of a different sort, pepper is both delicious and, whether you know it or not, it’s actually good for you.

Not only does it add heat and flavor, but it contains a powerful active compound called piperine which studies suggest contains potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In addition it benefits the brain, the gut, and blood sugar levels among other health-boosting things.

I love freshly-ground pepper on a salad or atop my meal, but when I’m cooking I like to use a LOT of black pepper, and although a pepper mill is such a decorous and lovely touch, adding all that pepper to my food can be a real grind.

Therefore, I like to buy it pre-ground, despite not being as fashionable or impressive, only to grind my own as a final kind of garnish when I’m presenting the meal at the table.

Salad Dressings

A delicious salad dressing made from scratch is a healthy and appetizing topping for your greens, and Penzey’s makes it all nearly effortless with their tasty array of fresh salad dressing mixes. All you do is add the wet ingredients, be it oil and vinegar, or mayonnaise, sour cream or yogurt.

I hate to break it to you, but the sugar-laden, chemical-laced sludge that typifies most store-bought, ready-made commercial salad dressings render them a bonafide health hazard in my humble opinion. Not to mention that they leave something to be desired in the decadence department. Mom will surely appreciate the ease of which she can make her own fresh salad dressing, and with quality ingredients that she can control. Better taste, better health, and certainly, a better price point. I mean, have you seen what they’re charging at the market for these inferior dressings? It’s insane!

I’ve tried the Penzey’s Green Goddess, Creamy Peppercorn and Country French Vinaigrette. Love them all. But what captured my heart is their inimitable Italian Dressing mix. It is positively delectable, and dresses even the simplest salad most elegantly. This one is a best-seller and for good reason.

As with many of the Penzey’s spices, the Italian Dressing can be used several ways. You can make it straight up with oil and vinegar, create your own lower-calorie version by adjusting the ratio of oil and vinegar, or concoct a creamy Italian by adding a little sour cream or mayo. It’s all up to you, and the directions are right on the packaging along with the ingredient list so Mom knows exactly how to make it and what’s in it. That’s the beauty of Penzey’s!

Salad Toppings

A sprinkle of a dry cheese, dusted with herbs and spices, really makes salads sing. I have in my wardrobe of salad accoutrements four great toppings that I like to put on top of my salads to add flavor, color and texture. I alternate between them, but I always go back to my Garden Salad Seasoning, below.

The Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle, Sicilian Salad Seasoning and Garden Salad Seasoning are all Romano-cheese-based toppings, the lattermost of which, the Garden Salad Seasoning, also tastes great on pastas and cooked veggies. Or, if your diet permits gluten, try a little bit on garlic bread. It even goes great on a baked potato if you mix it with a bit of sour cream.

I also own the Salad Elegant Seasoning, which, in contrast to the others is a Parmesan-cheese-based topping and a little spicier than the aforementioned due to its high content of paprika and garlic, in addition to red and green bell peppers.


One-Note Winners

My category “One-Note Winners” includes Granulated Onion and Toasted Garlic, which are staples in my cooking, as are Oregano and Rosemary. They are all the freshest of the fresh, and you can really taste the difference between a Penzey’s herb or spice versus an ordinary grocery-store spice, that’s been sitting around deteriorating for a more than a while.

Penzey’s Dill Weed is also über-fresh and potent, perfect for poached or grilled salmon, white sauces, salads and potato soup. You really can’t go wrong with one or more of these one-note winners. It’s like having your own herb garden within reach!


Hot & Spicy 

Who doesn’t love hot and spicy?!? Penzey’s Chili Con Carne Seasoning is rich and dark and nuanced. Their BBQ 3000 is the perfect rub for a slow-cooked pork shoulder, and I am absolutely smitten with the Southwest Seasoning, below, added simply to grass-fed beef, with tomato sauce, fresh garlic and chopped onion. It makes sumptuous tacos with the perfect amount of heat and incredible depth of flavor.

Beautiful Blends

Penzey’s Beautiful Blends category includes Sunny Paris and its tangy cousin, Fox Point, which are both great on all types of eggs, including scrambled, poached or fried; Chicago Steak Seasoning for the red meat enthusiast and of course, my personal favorite, Shallot Pepper, below, which, when partnered with a copious amount of butter, brings new life to ordinary steamed broccoli or cauliflower rice. Also tastes great on chicken.

By using the freshest, highest-quality herbs and spices in her cooking, both Mom and you will reap the great rewards pioneered by our ancestors who knew the secret to satisfying foods is in the use of the most succulent spices! I have given you just a mere sprinkling of what Penzey’s has to offer. Go to their website, and get lost for a few hours. You can’t go wrong. Happy Mother’s Day.

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