Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I'm a Cinnamon Girl

I'm ready for a change of pace here. Censorship and corporate greed have been much in my thoughts these past days, but I'm feeling in the mood to focus on another, happier entity that begins with the letter C.

Cinnamon.

Mmm, cinnamon, reassuringly sweet, almost bland when you scoop an aged teaspoonful from one those McCormick cans. Friend to oatmeal cookies, sticky buns, rice pudding, it was the most familiar and comforting spice in the cabinet.

But that was the cinnamon of my childhood and early adulthood. Since I became a writer, a foodie and a satisfied customer of the online spice merchant, Penzey's, (who have yet to segregate their spices into sexy/LGBT and literary), cinnamon has become a much more complex and ubiquitous ingredient in my life. Not to mention I've read several reports that it helps control blood sugar naturally. Since adult-onset diabetes runs in my family, I'm sprinkling cinnamon on my morning yogurt every day--a medicine that is easy to swallow indeed. (Rumor also has it that it sweetens bodily fluids, gentlemen!)

Long banished is the tin of McCormick's that languished on the shelf for a decade. Penzey's offers four kinds of cinnamon from different parts of the world and it all comes fresh and potent enough to take you on a journey to an exotic land from one sniff. Their Chinese cinnamon is advertised as the best for all-purpose use and for a while I just bought that, but recently I decided to do a taste test on their other varieties: Vietnamese Cassia, Korintje Cassia, and Ceylon Continental 00000.

The results are in and they're all good, but each definitely has its own character. The Vietnamese has the most natural sweetness and complexity. There's a touch of sandalwood to it and it's my first choice for cookies, puddings or a family batch of oatmeal. Korinjtje Cassia was advertised as the choice of cinnamon bun bakers and a more potent version of our childhood brand and I can see why. It's also good on oatmeal and with yogurt, but definitely takes you to a different destination--there's something a little rounder and toastier about it. Ceylon Cinnamon is the spiciest and most austere, with a hint of hot pepper, which makes it perfect for curries and couscous. It's apparently favored in England and Mexico which would make it perfect for Mexican chocolate brownies. But since I used up the others and am having it for breakfast, it's also perfectly satisfying for my yogurt parfait as well.

Immersing myself in the scents and flavors of these high quality cinnamons reminded me of the importance of spices in human history. The desire for spice led Europeans to explore the world and alas rape and plunder it as well. As erotica writers we also make use of the desire for spice to inspire and sell our work. Readers are always curious about a writer's habits and tricks--perhaps my morning infusion of cinnamon is part of what keeps me writing fiction that is too hot for the Amazon?

20 comments:

Erobintica said...

Sniiiiiiiiifffffffffffffff - ahhhhh. I love the scent of cinnamon. An ultimate comfort food (one I don't partake of often anymore) is cinnamon toast. Bread toasted just so, smothered in butter and then sprinkles with a cinnamon/sugar mixture - heavy on the cinnamon, then stuck under the broiler until the sugar is melty and crispy.

I've been to a Penzey's - unfortunately it's an hour away or I'd buy all my spices there.

Hmmm, now I want something cinnamony.

Erobintica said...

oh, and now the Neil Young song (that I've always loved) is playing in my head. :-) Thanks!

Donna said...

That song is going through my head, too!

I love cinnamon toast and cinnamon bread and buns, but actually mixed with Greek yogurt, it's still a sweet indulgence.

Marina said...

Oh my, I love it! Love the smell of it, love the taste of it!

And, I love Penzey's - they just opened one here recently!

Hmm - we could have some kind of progressive blog thing devoted to spices and all things spicy!

Donna said...

Marina, I like that idea a lot. Very appropriate and we could each choose a favorite spice, have a recipe and a spicy excerpt :-).

We have a Penzeys in Menlo Park but it's not close enough for regular visits. But you can sniff samples of everything. I love their curry blends, too.

Emerald said...

What a fabulous post. Cinnamon is one of my favorite things. Seriously. I love it anyway, but a few years ago I heard it helped raise one's metabolism and after that started putting on just about anything that had a hint of sweet flavor (I was specifically working to get in shape at the time). That wasn't too much of a stretch — I had already been adding it by the unmeasured "several shakes" method to virtually every baked good I made.

And I am thrilled to have a referral for excellent cinnamon! First, thanks for the company referral, and second, thank you for the breakdown of the types they sell. How exciting! (Yes, I am excited about cinnamon.) I can hardly wait to place an order.

Thanks Donna!

Update — before I posted this I just went to their website, and there is a Penzy's right down the street (highway, actually, along which I live)! You would probably actually know the location, Donna. ;) Cool!!

I find that progressive blog spice idea very cool. :)

Donna said...

Emerald, you lucky woman! I so wish I could just hang out at Penzey's and sniiiiiiffff spices. They didn't have such a place when I lived in Rockville, alas, or I might have been introduced sooner!

Okay, well, I am happy to do a spicy blog tour, but I'd need help here. Any thoughts on how to proceed?

Craig Sorensen said...

Count me in for the progressive spice tour!

We always have some of the good ol' China variety, and we gotten addicted to the Saigon Cinnamon in the last few years after I bought some from The Spice House online. I don't think I've tried the Ceylon, but that sounds tempting.

Thanks for imparting your knowledge!

[sings] The drummer relaxes, and waits between shows, for his cinnamon girl...

Marina said...

Hmm - cayenne, ginger, curry, allspice, nutmeg, garam masala, paprika, saffron, etc. - and cinnamon!

Actually, this might be kind of fun over the summer, when people are getting creative with grilling and such - or in the late fall, around Thanksgiving, when folks are doing holiday baking.

Maybe "Spicey Sundays" or something like that? A different spice featured each Sunday over the summer? Different bloggers could take turns hosting, like we did for the BJ tour. We could get a nice gift basket from Penzey's for a prize! What do you think?

Nikki Magennis said...

Ooh, yes, I love cinnamon! How fascinating that you get different kinds - thanks for that, Donna.

Spice thoughts: the spice stalls in the markets in Tunisia, heaped with chillies, saffron, coriander, and a lot of unknown red/brown/gold quantities. There were piles of resin there too, that you burned on the fire or chewed. God, the air was heavy with scents.

- and writing 'Essence' for E is for Exotic, with a vanilla pod stuck between my upper lip and my nose as I typed!

Kirsten Monroe said...

Mmmmm....yum Donna! That's wonderful. I love cinnamon. I have a holiday bread pudding recipe that includes a wonderful infusion of cinnamon, star anise and whole bean vanilla soaked overnight in the boiled juice of fresh cranberries.

And I love cinnamon so much that I keep a little dish of it in the bathroom next to a big feather body brush & brush it on my skin in the morning. I like the smell of it when my skin heats up. A walking, talking cinnamon bun!

A great cinnamon-centric book is "Gabriela Clove and Cinnamon" --lotso spiciness in that novel!

spamword: rantlet

Donna said...

Whoah, what a wealthy of spicy comments!

I love the once-a-week summer spice festival, Marina. I don't think I can wait until fall--let's do it, although since we have a few months we can let the spicy thoughts slowly simmer. Mmmm....

And Nikki, I remember that wonderful story--but won't give away the ending. I think vanilla should be included as a possible choice in the tour.

Kirsten, you are who I'd want to be if I had more guts! Sprinkling yourself with cinnamon, oh, my. Do strangers come up to you and stand there with dreamy expressions on their faces? You are a cinnamon girl extraordinaire. Now, are ya gonna share that recipe?

Erobintica said...

Love the idea of a spicy summer tour!

and Kirsten - a walking, talking cinnamon bun! - We have a theme song and now a logo!

Jeremy Edwards said...

As Fred Schneider would say ... "Shake your honey buns!"

And my spamword is indip.

Emerald said...

Marina said,
"Maybe "Spicey Sundays" or something like that? A different spice featured each Sunday over the summer?"I think that sounds like a fabulous idea. Spices are so cool. :)

Meanwhile, I have discovered that Penzey's is almost within walking distance of where I live!!

Herr Dr DGS said...

Great to have all these foodie resources nowadays, and someone to track them down for us :)

[sings] I could be happy the rest of my life with my cinnamon girl.

Donna said...

I do hope so, Herr Doktor ;-).

Glad you're up for the summer spice festival. Craig has already called dibs on peppercorns. Nutmeg is calling to me, but I'm always will to puddle wrestle for it...

Jeremy Edwards said...

I think I'd like to do dill, if it's not yet taken. : )

Jeremy Edwards said...

Oh, except that's really an herb. Can we do herbs, if we promise to bring our own Herb Alpert records?

Emerald said...

Oh I LOVE dill. I even love the way it looks — like a little baby fern.

I'm looking forward to your post on it already, Jeremy!