I came home yesterday to find my son with my basket of spices on the counter. Those who read the Case of the Pink Stain will understand why this gave me an uneasy feeling. He had a notebook, and was writing busily in it.
“Mama! Come tell me what these are.” He pulled me over to the stack of spices he’d made. “What’s this?” He picked up an unlabeled bottle of reddish powder.
“That’s berbere.” I spelled it for him and he wrote it down at the bottom of his list. “What are you doing?”
“What’s this?” He pushed another bottle of a darker red at me.
“Mitmita. Is this for school?”
“No, I just felt like it. What’s this?”
“Cinnamon sugar. No, you spell cinnamon with a c, not an s.”
He finished writing, tore off the sheet from his book and handed it to me. While I was looking at it he ran off to his bedroom. I cleared up the spices back into their basket and went to post an amused status on social media. He doesn’t have moments like this often, but he loves to get all organized at odd moments. They don’t last long – five minutes of super tidy, and then we are back to chaos normal. But it was sweet to get a partial list of my spices with amounts on it. It has forty line-items, although as I pointed out to him a little later, he’d missed some of the spices that I don’t keep in the basket. He replied that he’d also left out some things he didn’t know what they were, or that were odd mixes of things.
The thread on social media took on a life of it’s own, as these things are wont to do. Part of the reason I don’t join the mob chanting that facebook is evil is that I have moments like last night where my friends make me belly laugh and we all connect in silly ways that also involve some learning… turns out that a lot of people have no idea what berbere and mitmita are. Both are Ethiopian spices mixes, very HOT and were a gift to me from a friend. I use them very sparingly because spicy foods don’t go over well with the kids usually. I’d tagged my son in the thread, and he joined in a little, although he found the fast conversation a little overwhelming. But in the process we also learned that some of our own family had sailed on ships that traded in spice, and he learned that spices are a good way to study history, as they are linked with the history of the world in weird and wonderful ways.
Today he asked me to teach him more about the spices, and we talked about where Ethiopia is, and some of it’s long history. We discussed what we could make using those spices, and tonight we’ll make a pot of stew we can season with them. It was an unexpected opening, but a welcome one. History of the world through food is right up my alley, and a delicious way to learn. You never know what is going to become a teaching moment! And bonus, I have an inventory of my spices. Sort of.
(I’m behind on writing Lab Gremlins. I’ll post that as soon as it’s written).