Cardamom.

Cardamom isn’t my favorite spice. Cinnamon is. And chipotle pepper powder is fast taking second place. But cardamom delights, fascinates, and enchants me. It is exotic and unpredictable—you never know how strong it’s going to come on or how exactly it will affect the flavor of the foods into which you sprinkle it.

Tonight I was on a conference call meeting, so that meant I was multi-tasking in the kitchen. I stood at the counter, hovered over my mortar and pestle, shelling cardamom pods. The little shriveled green pods are no bigger than my pinkie nail. I stood there semi-hypnotized by the aroma and the repetitive action, picking up the little pods, digging in my thumbnails to break the shell, and then pulling it back to expose the cardamom nugget inside. It is supposed to be dark black, but a lot of them were light brown. They’re still edible, but I think the flavor is better in the black ones. I shake the little cardamom bits into the mortar and then discard the papery green shell on the counter. I pick up another pod and repeat the practice.

Even though it’s tedious, I grind my own cardamom. You can’t match the flavor of fresh ground spices with the dried-out rubbish that comes in the jar. Cardamom flavor is complex and bold and faceted—processing dumbs it down.

I bought these pods last summer in Jerusalem at a spice shop in the Muslim Quarter. I have several jars full of them. They remind me of Turkish coffee and an Israeli summer and places more exotic and magical than suburban Philadelphia.

I sprinkled my fresh-ground cardamom over a bowl of pears and yogurt. Tomorrow I will brew it into my coffee. The flavor and the fragrance bring on the memories that remind my heart of longing and though I am delighted, I am sad. You can be both, you know.

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