File under G

By Judy Schultz.

On a lovely June morning, the gods of organization dropped me on my head.

It was a Friday, and I was making a batch of Madhur Jaffrey’s delicious appetizer shrimp thingies, when I was waylaid by a missing ingredient: two teaspoons garam masala.

Normally, I run an organized kitchen. Organization is the key to success, whether it’s a stock portfolio or the mise en place for a recipe, and I know I have garam masala somewhere. I bought it on a recent swing through Little India. But where oh where, now that I need it?

In my spice shelf I found 18 small, labelled bags. Peppercorns, celery seed, turmeric, that sort of thing. Also seven or eight jars/bottles/tins of more exotic stuff, dried galangal, prik pon and so forth. A dozen different salts, including two I actually use, table salt and kosher, plus nine vastly overpriced versions collectively known as finishing salts: smoked salt, black kala namak, New Zealand grinder salt, etc. There were also five small plastic bags of various powders and seeds, unlabelled.

No garam masala.

I buy my spices in small amounts and use them while they’re fresh. My theory of spice disposal: if, after three months, you haven’t used the powdered xuxu-root you bought from the Rolex-wearing witch doctor in that never-before-visited-by-tourists Amazon village, throw it out.

But these mini-containers are a plague. No sooner do I have a pot of chili on the burner than my chili powder disappears, and I have to fake it with some god-awful mixture of cinnamon, cumin, coriander and smoked paprika.

A batch of hermits? Can’t find the nutmeg. Nutmeg, which I buy whole, is roughly the size of a quail’s egg. How could I lose it?

What I need is a sniffer dog, like the little beagle that rummages through my bag in New Zealand customs. He does it every time, hoping to catch me with major street drugs or an illegal apple. He’s rewarded with a Scoobie Snack every time he sniffs out a criminal. Apparently the dog is worth $40,000.

Unable to afford my own sniffer dog, I designed a four-part organizational plan.

Part One: invest heavily in spice jars with lids. I stocked up on four dozen jars at Ikea. They thought I was opening a kitchen shop.

Part Two: print out spread-sheet for spices. When I see the list of one dozen salts, ten of them overpriced and underused, maybe I’ll stop buying the stuff.

Part Three: shelve alphabetically, because the success of any organizational plan depends upon actually following it.

Part Four: after removing garam masala from its appointed spot, re-shelve in exactly the same spot. Under the G, for garam.

It shouldn’t end up where I eventually found it, days later, in the shelf reserved for tea and tea bags. But there it was, garam masala. Bold as brass.

At the time, I was looking for Bengal Spice Tea.

It’s the tea with the tiger on the label. It’s gone missing.

Judy Schultz divides her time between New Zealand and Alberta. Her next book is “A Year in Two Kitchens.”