I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

That unforgettable je ne sais quoi

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!


  1. Dee, your description transported me to that busy street where I could hear the vendors hawking their wares, the sounds of horns blaring in the busy streets and the chatter of people.

    In the kitchen, one of my favorite spices is rosemary. I love the aroma it adds to lifeless chicken or a boring soup. Another favorite is nutmeg for the lovely flavor it adds to drinks and baked goods.

    In fiction, I love heroines who can stand up for themselves and heroes who protect those they love.

    Wonderful post, Dee. :)

  2. What a great post, Dee! I'm with Lisa. I was picturing the scene as you described it. I can hear you asking, "What is it?" with your curious, investigating mind. It sounds delicious!

    I like cardamom in a rub for fish, actually. I would have to say cinnamon is one of my favorite spices to throw both into baked goods and pasta sauces. Delicious!

    1. You both make me very happy by picturing the scenes and "getting" my post. I love your responses--and you both add so much to your writing. We're all going forward together.

  3. I loved the scene you painted too. I wish you'd write more about your travels. My favorite spice is vanilla, followed closely by cinnamon. :-)

  4. I've been to Israel and lived in Turkey for two years. To this day, the scent of certain spices transports me back to the Middle East. I remember the vivid orange-ish red of saffron -- and the exorbitant price of it too. And I remember purchasing frankincense and myrrh and puzzling over what to use for gold pieces, and placing all in a copper treasure chest next to my Nativity scene when we lived in Turkey.
    I used to favor heroines who needed to be rescued, but that changed as I grew up and also as I began to write my own stories.

    1. Roxanne, I'm considering starting a blog, and it would include people, places, things.
      Beth, thanks so much. Thanks for adding your flair and flavor. I love what you added about frankincense, gold, & myrrh. It it so real and so you!

  5. You painted a word picture of the markets in Israel. I feel like I walked the street with you. And I agree...you definitely should start a blog and tell of your experiences, then compile the blogs into a book!

  6. Ditto Delores. You need to blog. You have so much wisdom. I would love to hear of all those places you have been. One day I will get to Israel. I am intrigued by the reply on frankincense and myrrh. Especially during this Christmas season. Never have I gotten a whiff of those before! Must put on my bucket list! I have been reading lots of books this year. So many great characters. I loved Karen Ball's book Shattered Justice. Her male character had so much to deal with. I kept turning the pages thinking..."no way..." and it made me stay up to finish it! Great post Delores. Now, go and start that blog! Happy day to you.

  7. Thanks, friends. I'm thinking I really will start a blog...and compile. Gail, it's not hard to locate small amounts of frankincense and myrrh locally or online. I have some & enjoy that. Thanks for the tip on Karen Ball's book.