Before he set sail for “India,” Christopher Columbus made it very clear that his journey was not to be a coming-of-age joyride. He was after two things (no women, mind you). “But in truth, should I meet with gold or spices in great quantity, I shall remain till I collect as much as possible,” he wrote determinedly. “And for this purpose I am proceeding solely in quest of them.” Who could blame him? A culinary world without spices is hardly worth living in, at least according to spice maven Laura Griffin. She is the founder/owner/operator and basic all-knowing-Oz woman behind Your Spice of Life, her Hillsdale-based organic spice company which offers vibrant gem-colored, high quality spices and spice mixes to pique the palette. Most recently, Griffin has been preparing for the upcoming Valentine’s Day season, mixing up rich, dark chocolate, dried fruits, cashews, and heady spice blends like a witch at a delectable cauldron. The result of this alchemy is the latest scrumptious addition to the Your Spice of Life Family: chocolate bark of the heavenly variety. Peppery Cashew (which features cocoa and Griffin’s Sweet Asian blend) holds court with Walnut Toffee, a vanilla turmeric concoction, and Ginger Thai (think big, sweet chunks of spicy ginger) and several other exotic mixes that are grounded in dark chocolate. There is even a Sweet Pesto (yes, pesto) bark for the daring connoisseur.
“It’s about knowing what’s good and a lot of trial and error,” Griffin says about her bark and her daring spice blends. “I am constantly tweaking my blends, trying them out on my neighbors, and friends and family. The truth is, it doesn’t matter how much I like it — the blend has got to make everyone happy.”
It’s hard not to be absolutely ecstatic over Hurricane Curry, Cocoa Joe, Za’Atar (a complex Middle Eastern blend hopped up with sumac berries), Thai Treasure, or the company’s most popular mix, Viva Italia — a culinary dry dream containing a healthy dose of fennel, paprika, and dried lemon peel. In addition to the dozen or so blends, Your Spice of Life offers heady individual spices – paprika, cardamom, cumin, chili powder — as well as multicolored, smoky sea salts infused with coconut and summer savory just to name a few of the global flavors available. The transportive nature of the seasonings and salts and rubs (and yes, even loose-leaf tea mixes that are served up in attractive white tins) is exactly what brought Griffin to the elusive spice trade in the first place. She says that she didn’t have to travel to a street stall in Madagascar to have her ‘a-ha’ moment.
“I remember walking into an Indian shop in the farmer’s market district in Boston,” she says, sniffing the air. “There were just tons of baggies filled with spices. Real spices. I went crazy smelling them and realized that the spices and herbs at home weren’t making me jump up and down with excitement. I wanted to recreate that experience.”
With a writer’s quest for knowledge — Griffin left her freelance life in Saratoga — and a kitchen queen’s hunt for perfect taste, Griffin dove palette first into Your Spice of Life. Now she has more than 75 products for sale and that number continues to grow with her imagination and her loyal, local client base. In fact, there is a little bit of the region’s ‘Spice Girl’ sprinkled everywhere; artisan soups and oatmeal at the Village Scoop (and a healthy smattering of Simply Celtic salt on their signature Lavender ice cream) in Hillsdale, an impressive rack of more than 30 blends and spices at The Berry Farm in Chatham, and a cheery, savory table at several farmers markets (including Sheffield and Copake). With the ever-growing demand for her alchemical magic and unique designer labeling (which she also does on her own), Griffin said that the view on the horizon is very clear, as she continues to map out her own spice route.
“I have several stores on my waiting list who want to carry one thing or the other,” she says. “I need to ramp up capacity. I’m still a solo enterprise; 100 percent of production is done by me. My goal this year is to expand my production capacity and continue to pay it forward with other businesses. Most of my spices I get wholesale from Mountain Rose Herbs, but the rest I source locally – the Amazing Real Live Food Company in Pine Plains, grain from the Main Street Grainery in Chatham, nuts and dried fruits from Tierra Farm in Kinderhook. These connections are very important.”
In the meantime, Griffin continues to color her palate with complimentary mixes, adding a bit of this and a pinch of that to create hot, harmonious (and oftentimes healing) flavors. Vegetarians, carnivores, chocolate lovers, and kitchen soldiers can each get their fix of bold and bitter, savory and sweet, while waiting for the Spice Girl’s next voyage to come to fruition. —Nichole Dupont