First, there's Penzey's Spices on Mass Ave in Arlington. This find was recommended to me about a year ago by two of my coworkers, Mel & Jimmie, both of whom I would include in my "foodie" circle of friends. The shop carries over 250 dried herbs and spices, including many of their own house blends. A trip here is a great reason to toss all of those old, flavorless spices (you know the ones I'm talking about... that spinning rack that came pre-filled with a sorry excuse for spices) and replenish your kitchen's spice rack. You'll thank yourself the first time you cook with them. Some of my favorite products that I make sure to stock up on each time I shop are the Sandwich Sprinkle (a peppery salt blend that adds a great kick to rice, salads and what do you know... sandwiches) and the Garam Masala (an aromatic North Indian spice blend that works wonders on chicken dishes). Visit their website at www.penzeys.com and sign up for their free catalog. They print seasonally and include a coupon for a free spice jar. You can also order online if a trip to Arlington isn't in the cards for you.
My second stop is one that I refuse to miss out on, under any circumstances. And the best part about it... it's two great finds in one. Right in the heart of Inman Square are two adjacent shops, Christina's Homemade Ice Cream and Christina's Spice & Specialty Foods. Sometimes, I think it's a good thing that I don't live closer because I would weigh 300 pounds because their ice cream is simply amazing. Their flavors rotate seasonally but they have a handful of staples that are pretty consistent, one of which you have to try... my personal favorite, Burnt Sugar. Think of a rich, decadent toasty caramel blended with sweet buttery cream. It's sinfully amazing all on it's own, no toppings required.
Post ice cream binge, I could spend hours in the tiny room next door that is Christina's Spice & Specialty Foods. It's a bounty of international and hard to find spices (make sure you pick up some Egyptian Dukah spice), imported oils, vinegars, loose leaf teas, dried mushrooms and rare chocolates. One of my favorite things about the shop is their selection of South African spices, snacks and condiments. It's the only place in the U.S. that I've been able to find Ms. H.S. Balls Chutney (a sweet sauce that's the South African equivalent to ketchup), bobotie spice (a base of spices used to make a classic lamb and egg dish) and biltong (think beef jerky, only 1,000 times better).
|The flavor board at Christina's Homemade Ice Cream|
|Authentic South African Biltong|