It comes down to this: Iif I am to continue toward my goal of being a world-class cook, I’m going to have to have a raise, and good luck with that.

I have been cooking for myself since I was 11 years old, both rich and poor, and for this family, over half a century, and done a pretty good job of it.

I won’t go into the details, because you ladies know what I’m talking about when it comes to putting a dinner on the table each night.

I’ve cooked for myself from St. Louis to New York, Los Angeles to Tokyo, and have always done just fine with basic menus.

But since Christmas of this year, it all changed. My youngest daughter gifted me with several cookbooks, including Williams Sonoma’s “Weeknight Fresh and Fast” and Mark Bittman’s “How To Cook Everything” (that one in a two-volume edition).

But the one volume that smacked me hard right in the stomach was “A Spoonful of Ginger: Irresistible, Health-Giving Recipes from Asian Kitchens,” by Nina Simonds.

I knew at once that this was my chance to break out of the commonplace and impress friends and family, and especially my Asian friends, with my culinary surprises.

I don’t actually have any Asian friends, but I’ve noticed one or two in the market and I thought maybe, when I get good at this, I might strike up a friendship and have one or two to dinner.

But anyone can make stir-fried chow mein or fried rice and egg rolls; I wanted to venture into the unknown, into the mysteries of the ancient Orient.

My first selection was Yin Yang Shrimp with hawthorn dipping sauce; I jotted down the ingredients and went to the market, where I drove my golden electric cart through the spice aisle.

Not finding black Chinese vinegar, I asked the young boy who was stocking the Mexican foods.

“Vinegar’s in aisle six.”

There was no Chinese black vinegar in aisle six. There was some apple cider vinegar, which I’ve heard is good for osteoarthritis. I bought two bottles.

Next, I needed black sesame seeds; I found white sesame seeds, but no black. I needed eight packages of hawthorn crackers but came up only with Wheat Thins.

OK, I’m thinking. Maybe I should start with something She could find more palatable.

I set out to buy the ingredients for spice-crusted tuna with fresh pear chutney and chicken and noodles with sweet root vegetables.

This all sounds yummy and easy and affordable.

There is nothing affordable in the spice aisle. Nothing.

My advice now is that if you’re on a budget, don’t make anything that requires parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. They sound good when Simon and Garfunkel sing them, but in those tiny jars, they’ll sing flat.

A side note: The jars are all stacked alphabetically, so I had to sit there in my electric cart holding up traffic, as I scanned the tiny names.

When my youngest, a Simon and Garfunkel fan, was in school, she would go to the market with me, take each one out and put them in the proper order. I’m tempted to do that here. I look over my shoulder and quickly take out rosemary and thyme and put them up with parsley and sage. What if there is a camera watching me? So I’m a romantic. Sue me.

I’m having buyers’ remorse now. I had gotten all the major items for the first couple of Chinese dishes, but I needed Yuzu Pao sauce and pumpkin seed oil. Then there were other spices necessary for the rest-of-the-week special dishes. Of course, they all come in these tiny bottles the size of the ones used for prescription drugs.

This is what found:

• California lemon peel, $7.99

• Arrowroot, $ 5.99

• Rosemary, even without parsley, sage and thyme, is $5.99

• Garamond masala, $ 6.99

Arriving home, I distracted her from her book and read out the recipes and the cost of the ingredients.

“What do think?”

” How about sending out for a pizza?”


J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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