Articles featuring Spice of Life

The story behind Spice of Life shop 

Posted: 4:03 am, March 28, 2019 by Matt Browne

I have known Lori for many years but sadly I had never been into her shop, Spice of Life, until recently. This store is truly a hidden gem in downtown Paso Robles. The aromas when you walk in will get your cooking creativity going as well as make you hungry. Spices, herbs, teas, and so much more. Check out the below Q&A and be sure to go visit Lori at Spice of Life, located at 1306 C-2 Pine Street. – Matt Browne

Q&A with Lori Foster from Spice of Life

Where are you from originally?

I was born in a small town just outside of Boston, Mass. My grandparents migrated from Italy in their late 20’s and settled in an Italian neighborhood. I was surrounded by a large family network of Italian culture and food. When I was eight years old my parents, brother, sisters and myself moved to California. Soon after moving, my paternal grandparents and other extended family relocated to California.

How long have you been in Paso Robles?

My husband, Steve,, and I, along with our 3 young children, moved to Paso Robles 25 years ago, in 1994.

 

How did Spice of Life come about?

While my husband and I were on vacation in Key West, Florida we visited a small spice shop. From the moment we walked in we were overwhelmed by the intoxicating aroma of the spices. We brought a variety of spices back home and I incorporated them in my cooking. I was blown away by the difference it made. Soon after, when I was thinking of starting my own business, my husband asked me what I was most passionate about. I was drawn to the spices over and over again. The creativity of cooking, focusing on home-cooked meals, blending spices and herbs, providing healthy options to others was the driving force for me. Spice of Life was born!

Did you have a love of cooking/ food that created your love of spices?

I grew up in a large Italian family where the kitchen was our gathering place for good food, good conversation, and comfort. I have countless memories of helping my parents and grandparents in the kitchen, stirring the sauce, kneading dough, sprinkling colored confetti on anise cookies and working alongside my grandparents in the garden. Food was such an important part of our lives and culture and I feel a deep connection with my heritage. Even today when I am cooking I pour myself a glass of wine, turn up Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra and immerse myself in the energy and spirit of creating a delicious meal.

When did you first open?

I began my Spice of Life business in 2009. Farmer’s market was my main presence participating in various locations including Templeton, Cambria, Los Osos and Paso Robles. I also sold my spices and teas at various retail stores and wineries. In 2013 I opened my brick and mortar store in downtown Paso Robles, corner of 13th and Pine St.

 

Do you have any plans to expand?

I am excited to announce that we are expanding into the space next door and creating a Tea House. We will expand our current menu offering small plates, tea lattes, medicinal hot chocolate, with many vegan and gluten-free options. Our loose leaf tea selection will continue to grow, we will carry a wider variety of tea supplies and various other products.

What else do you provide in your shop other than spices?

My main focus at Spice of Life is providing high quality, premium spices and teas. I am passionate about blending spices with unique flavors, creating delicious teas and offering clean and healthy ingredients. We work closely with our customers, providing knowledge, inspiration, and creativity while developing amazing relationships within our community. I love highlighting local, artisanal products as well as hard to find ingredients from around the world.

Where do you get your spices from?

I work directly with several importers that source our spices from around the world and from their native country of origin. All our spices are tested for quality, are non-irradiated, and do not contain anti-caking agents.

Do you create the blends on your own?

I enjoy working with and creating my own spice blends. They are all my original recipes and I mix and blend every batch myself. When I have an inspiration for a spice blend I usually blend 7-10 different combinations and ratios of spices and then spend the next month or so cooking and using them. I continue to refine the blend until I get just the right balance. My husband and I work together to fine tune each and every blend.

Do you have some favorite spices or blends that you use often?

The first blend that I created for Spice of Life and my all time favorite is my “Italian Traditions”. I love the versatility and the flavor is very comforting to me. When I make eggplant dishes I often combine my “Italian Traditions” with my “Cajun Sensation”. The flavors burst and compliment each other perfectly. I love my “Curry-Up” spice blend also. Sprinkling it on eggs and adding it to soups are some of my favorite ways to use this Indian blend. “Greek Influence” is another blend that I reach for when I am roasting vegetables, seasoning fish, or just sprinkling over avocado toast.

How about a favorite dish that you make using your spices?

Eggplant parmesan and calzone are go to recipes for me. These are the dishes that bring me back to my childhood and connect me to my heritage and ancestors. They are favorites with my family and we usually make plenty to make sure we have lots of leftovers in the fridge. Another favorite is my Cajun Cauliflower Soup which has become a favorite with my customers as well.

 

 

Could turmeric really boost your health?

Bold health claims have been made for the power of turmeric. Is there anything in them, asks Michael Mosley.

Turmeric is a spice which in its raw form looks a bit like ginger root, but when it’s ground down you get a distinctive yellowy orange powder that’s very popular in South Asian cuisine. Until recently the place you would most likely encounter turmeric would be in chicken tikka masala, one of Britain’s most popular dishes.

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These days, thanks to claims that it can improve everything from allergies to depression, it’s become incredibly trendy, not just cooked and sprinkled on food but added to drinks like tea. Turmeric latte anyone?

Now I’m usually very cynical about such claims, but in the case of turmeric I thought there could be something to it. There are at least 200 different compounds in turmeric, but there’s one that scientists are particularly interested in. It gives this spice its colour. It’s called curcumin.

Thousands of scientific papers have been published looking at turmeric and curcumin in the laboratory – some with promising results. But they’ve mainly been done in mice, using unrealistically high doses. There have been few experiments done in the real world, on humans.

This is exactly the sort of situation where we on Trust Me like to make a difference. So we tracked down leading researchers from across the country and with their help recruited nearly 100 volunteers from the North East to do a novel experiment. Few of our volunteers ate foods containing turmeric on a regular basis.

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Then we divided them into three groups.

We asked one group to consume a teaspoon of turmeric every day for six weeks, ideally mixed in with their food. Another group were asked to swallow a supplement containing the same amount of turmeric, and a third group were given a placebo, or dummy pill.

The volunteers who were asked to consume a teaspoon of turmeric a day were ingenious about what they added it to, mixing it with warm milk or adding it to yoghurt. Not everyone was enthusiastic about the taste, with comments ranging from “awful” to “very strong and lingering”.

But what effect was eating turmeric having on them? We decided to try and find out using a novel test developed at University College, London, by Prof Martin Widschwendter and his team.

Prof Widschwendter is not particularly interested in turmeric but he is interested in how cancers start. His team have been comparing tissue samples taken from women with breast cancer and from women without it and they’ve found a change that happens to the DNA of cells well before they become cancerous.

The change is in the “packaging” of the genes. It’s called DNA methylation. It’s a bit like a dimmer switch that can turn the activity of the gene up or down.

The exciting thing is that if it is detected in time this change can, potentially, be reversed, before the cell turns cancerous. DNA methylation may explain why, for instance, your risk of developing lung cancer drops dramatically once you give up smoking. It could be that the unhealthy methylation of genes, caused by tobacco smoke, stops or reverses once you quit.

So we asked Prof Widschwendter whether testing the DNA methylation patterns of our volunteers’ blood cells at the start and end of the experiment would reveal any change in their risk of cancer and other diseases, like allergies. It was something that had not been done before.

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Fortunately he was very enthusiastic. “We were delighted,” he said, “to be involved in this study, because it is a proof of principle study that opens entirely new windows of opportunity to really look into how we can predict preventive measures, particularly for cancer.”

So what, if anything, happened?

When I asked him that, he pulled out his laptop and slowly began to speak.

“We didn’t find any changes in the group taking the placebo,” he told me. That was not surprising.

“The supplement group also didn’t also show any difference,” he went on.

That was surprising and somewhat disappointing.

“But the group who mixed turmeric powder into their food,” he continued, “there we saw quite substantial changes. It was really exciting, to be honest. We found one particular gene which showed the biggest difference. And what’s interesting is that we know this particular gene is involved in three specific diseases: depression, asthma and eczema, and cancer. This is a really striking finding.”

It certainly is. But why did we see changes only in those eating turmeric, not in those taking the same amount as a supplement?

Dr Kirsten Brandt, who is a senior lecturer at Newcastle University and who helped run the experiment, thinks it may have something to do with the way the turmeric was consumed.

“It could be,” she told me, “that adding fat or heating it up makes the active ingredients more soluble, which would make it easier for us to absorb the turmeric. It certainly gives us something, to work on, to try to find out exactly what’s happening.”

She also told me, because our volunteers all tried consuming their turmeric in different ways, that we can be confident it was the turmeric that was making the difference and not some other ingredient used to make, say, chicken tikka masala.

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There is a lot more research that needs to be done, including repeating the experiment to see if these findings can be confirmed. But in light of what we’ve discovered will I be consuming more of the stuff? Probably. It helps that I like the taste and I’ve already begun experimenting with things like adding it with a touch of chilli to an omelette.

Michael Mosley will be doing a live Facebook Q&A session on Friday 23 September .What would you like to ask him?

 

 

Eat Global, Drink Local

By Evelyne Fodor

[Editor’s Note: With this blog, we welcome Evelyne Fodor to the blog. She is a woman of many accomplishments, including a PhD in French (she is a French instructor for the UCLA Extension), a tremendous chef, and a lover of food and wine. Evelyne has become one of Tablas Creek’s best-loved wine consultants and made many fans in our tasting room. This is her first blog piece.]

One of the most frequently asked questions at the tasting room is also one of my favorites. “Which food do I pair with this wine?”  At Tablas Creek we take food pairing very seriously. For each of our wines we offer recipes and food pairing suggestions.  Each spring and fall, we invite our members to taste dishes created by local chefs to match our new releases.  We also have a monthly column on our Tablas blog dedicated to this topic.

When one has an eclectic, adventurous palate however, food pairing becomes a very elusive topic. The other day, long-time club members Tom and Karen from Atascadero showed me a picture of an Ethiopian dish they enjoyed and asked me for suggestions on which of our wines to pair with it. If, like Tom and Karen, you love experimenting with regional cuisines such as Indian, Thai, Ethiopian, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese or Moroccan – cuisines with high flavors but notably not associated with wines – the topic is worth exploring.

Spices

I am by no means a specialist but in our wine and food-centric community we have an in-depth understanding of both spices and wines.  I asked three local experts, Lori Di Ciaccio-Foster the owner of Spice of Life in Paso, Brigit Binns owner of cooking school and B&B Refugio and Neeta Mittal, owner of the boutique winery LXV to explain the complicated relationship between spices and wines.

Fascinated by what she refers to as the “mystery of spices,” Lori brings spices from all over the world and blends them in the back kitchen of her small shop. For her, the fusion between spices and wine is striking:  “Blending and harmonizing spices to create vibrant flavors satisfies the mind as well as the palate.” She explained that “each spice captures unique flavors, aromas, and emotions which can pinpoint a specific region or culture.” Like wines, spices thrive best in very specific regions where natural conditions create a unique terroir.

Spice of Life

Next door to Spice of Life is Neeta Mittal’s LXV Wine Lounge.  With its deep blue walls, day beds full of vibrant colors and plush pillows, the place is a “sensory experience.” Neeta was born and raised in Kerala, “God’s own country,” a southern state of India also known as the “Land of Spices.”  Besides its famous backwaters, elegant houseboats, ayurveda treatments and wild elephants, Kerala is also famous for delicately spiced, taste-bud-tingling cuisine. When Neeta is not involved with her winery, she explores the principles of Ayurveda, vegetarianism and veganism: “As we become more demanding of flavors and more intuitive about our health, spices once thought to be exotic are making an exciting splash in the culinary world.”