My Aunt Helen is the most sensual cook that I know; her pantry is stocked with exotic herbs and spices, and powders and sauces. When I’m in her pantry, I’m reminded of the eroticism of a foreign marketplace. The rich aromas and vibrant colors of her seasoning barks, roots, berries, fruits, and seeds, remind me that food is pleasurable and powerful, and that cooking is an art. That cooking for a man, is an advanced art. My Aunt Helen is a bona fide authority on knowing how to feed a man. She once told me, “After a hard day’s work, a man isn’t coming home looking for finger food. He’s lookin’ for a well-spiced meal.”
Months before I got married, I purchased a black and white marbled notebook. I asked Aunt Helen to teach me what she knew about cooking to please a man. I intended to record every little detail, all of her cooking secrets and techniques. In essence, I wanted to know how to cook the kind of meals that would entice my husband to come straight home from work; and if the truth be told, keep him there for the rest of the night.
Aunt Helen was a real peach of a teacher. She wasn’t guarded like my mother’s cousin, Edwina, who really didn’t want you in the kitchen while she was cooking; but if you happened to be there on such an occasion, you couldn’t decipher her technique anyway, ’cause she seasoned the food so fast, her movements were a blur. Every Saturday morning, Aunt Helen, who lived 35 miles away, would be waiting for my arrival. She’d already have her secret spices sitting out. Aunt Helen once told me, “Cooking for a man entails much more than just feeding his empty stomach. If you want a man to desire your cooking, you’ve got to feed all of him…his senses of sight, smell, touch, and sound. Not just taste.”
When I came home and told my mother what Aunt Helen had said, Mama chuckled. “That girl is something else,” she said. But Mama wasn’t fooling me, I knew she found as much worth in Aunt Helen’s womanly cooking philosophy as I had. After all, Mama was just as committed as Aunt Helen was, to cultivating and upholding her cooking reputation. “A woman’s cooking, is her glory,” she often said.
In fact, if the truth be told, just before my mother went on a vacation where she thought her host might ask her to cook a meal, Mama always filled a small bag with her most potent herbs and spices. She would tuck the bag inside her purse, in a place that made it inconspicuous. My mother, who delighted in the compliments that people extolled on her cooking, used to tell me that she took her personal herbs and spices on vacation, because not every woman’s kitchen was well-stocked. Whenever Mama was called on to cook in somebody’s scantily-stocked kitchen, she didn’t worry that her cooking would lose the spotlight; she would ease her seasoning pouch out of its hiding place, and when the woman of the house wasn’t looking, Mama would spice the meal the same way she would have, had she been at home.
My mother used to tell me, “A well-stocked pantry is the building block of an enchanted kitchen, a kitchen that a man enjoys being in and eating in.” She said, “it makes a man feel settled in for the night when he can run back and forth, from the refrigerator to the cupboards, and find a variety of good things to eat.”
In one of Aunt Helen’s cooking class sermons, she said, “A woman’s food pantry should be as opulent as her bedroom closet, filled with tantalizing items that delight and inspire her womanly sensibilities.” She said, good cooking comes from some place deep inside a woman—her heart. Said, the real good cooking women of the world are those women who have a heart for creating and feeding. She said, having a stocked spice cupboard stimulates a woman’s cooking flow. Said, “When you’ve got to stop every five minutes to run to the store for an ingredient, it breaks your concentration; and when you break your concentration, you compromise the flavor in your cooking .” For that reason, Aunt Helen kept a checklist of necessary pantry ingredients to keep on hand posted on her cupboard door, so that when she was caught up in her baking, she wouldn’t have to leave the house and break the cooking spell that was on her.
From that day forward, I’ve made it a habit to keep my favorite spices on hand. I’m inspired to do my best cooking when I have a rich and opulent array of potions to season my dishes with. I even empty some of the seasonings into non-traditional containers — like Egyptian perfume bottles and other sensual containers — to give myself the sensation that I’m actually cooking with magic potions.
My favorite Herbs and Spices
Pepper (whole black pepper, white pepper, and cayenne)
Seasoning Blends (for seafood, Italian, and Mexican dishes)
Dried Rosemary Leaves
My Favorite Flavored Extracts
That’s what my mother called her spice blend for meats and poultry.
Whenever Mama was cooking meat or poultry that she wanted to leave her mark on, she’d wink and say teasingly, “I’m gonna put a little Jezebel on it.”
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon ground bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon sugar
Place all of the ingredients in a glass jar and shake to mix thoroughly. For easy dispensing, pour the mixture into a spice shaker with an air-tight lid. You can modify this recipe to suit your personal preference.
This spice blend will remain fresh for about a month. It makes a scant 1/4 cup.