Delores E. Topliff
Packing to move, tucked in the back of a kitchen cupboard, I found a prized jar of spices bought in Israel from an Arab storekeeper at the base of Mt. Tabor. Its fragrance carries me to where dark-eyed olive-skinned boys shove wheelbarrows piled high with hot fragrant bread loaves down cobblestone streets in old Jerusalem. After I pay four shekels, the smiling boy sprinkled green spices onto a newspaper square, telling me to sprinkle it on the hot bread, and twisted it into a cone. Delicious. Unforgettable.
Like Israelites first tasting honey-sweet manna, I kept asking, “What is it?” until the Arab shopkeeper placed a jar in my hand.
“What’s in it?” I asked next. I saw toasted sesame seeds, smelled oregano, tasted salt, but blanked on other ingredients. Its Arab name is Za'atar. It also contains cardamom, thyme, basil thyme, savory, and sometimes dried sumac. It’s like no other blend I’ve tasted.
I don’t use it often, but one whiff returns me to Jerusalem. Or Mt. Tabor. Or Joppa where Jonah boarded a ship to avoid Nineveh--only to have a whale carry him to its nearest shore and spit him out.
Spices are magic carpets. Good writing is just as distinctive. Pat Trainum recently asked what we like in heroines. I prefer gutsy, even atrocious, Scarlett O’Hara, to Gone with The Wind’s Milque Toast Melanie. The spice analogy works in considering literary characters. Too bland? Tasteless? Lacking identifiable flavor? We spit them out like infants refusing pablum. But give us good memorable flavor, and our families request that recipe, restaurant, author--they become family favorites.
Like Susan Warren’s unforgettable characters, especially P. J. Sugar, whose antics resemble someone we know and love. Or Rachel Hauck’s winsome characters in great natural settings. Or Beth Vogt and MTagg offering holy grail plots where protagonists discover inner truths helping them learn who they truly are, and which goals matter most. Others of us are still blending and stirring writings in our literary kitchens.
Gifted writings? Unforgettable spices! They possess that certain je ne sais quoi that makes us rush to book stores to enjoy delicious flavors again--and add more great books to crowded shelves in our homes--or give to friends.
Tell us your favorite spice? How and when do you use it? Enjoy!