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Author keeps 'spice' of family's legacy alive
Christina Arokiasamy has been blending spices and flavors since childhood. Her senses are finely tuned to it, the way a musician has an ear for a melody.
She is transferring the craft, blending on page what is part memoir, part cookbook, in “The Spice Merchant’s Daughter.” She’ll speak about her book at Eagle Harbor Book Company on Bainbridge Island this Sunday.
Arokiasamy, 42, developed a taste for spices from her mother, a spice merchant. In bustling Malaysian markets, strung with tapestry and color, and in quiet moments at home, together in the kitchen making warm vanilla pudding, a young Arokiasamy began to love her family’s trade. Her great, great-grandfather was captain of the East India Company; for five generations spices were a part of her family’s livelihood.
“As a child, I watched my mother, grinding the spices, taking them to the mill, using her artisty to make beautiful masalas (blends),” she recounted.
It is the life of a spice merchant, as well as their blends, she wanted to capture in “The Spice Merchant’s Daughter.” In it, she shares forgotten recipes and skills passed down through her family.
“It was a different world itself of dealing with spices, understanding how they grow, bringing them to blends,” she said. “Machines will never be able to replace those things.”
Arokiasamy later became a trained world-class chef and went on to teach the art to more than 10,000 people in Washington state, becoming known as an international “gastronomic guide.”
She now lives in Kent, where she leads classes and spice shop tours. She’s currently writing a second book, on cooking with spices to promote health and happiness.
Arokiasamy cooks for her two sons, who are 8 and 12 years old.
They love to help, she said, and the activity provides a good distraction, making way for family conversation that might not happen otherwise.
“They are able to relax and just talk about things that are happening in their lives,” she said. “It’s so beautiful because everyone is so happy and engaged.”
This week Arokiasamy taught 20 junior high and high school students how to use spices in a flavorful, nutritious way. Children can develop a palate for spices, though adults often assume they won’t eat them, she said.
“How would you know if you only give your child macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly for lunch?” she asked. “They love flavors.”
Arokiasamy often starts a dish frying ginger and garlic, adding cinnamon, or maybe cardimom. Then she takes a deep breath.
“That instance right there, when it all meets together, oh, it is heavenly,” she said.
These spices she writes on aren’t so exotic they’re hard to find.
“They’re all over the place, spices are everywhere,” she said. That’s part of what she does: take people to the places they can buy spices, then teach them which are true and which contain non-nutritious filler.
She’ll lead a culinary tour in Seattle at 10 a.m. April 24, finding “jewels of spices” at shops and markets. To join the tour, visit Arokiasamy’s Web site, www.spicemerchantsdaughter.com, and send her an email.
Arokiasamy said these flavors and spices that have come from all over the world are a part of a palate to be enjoyed during life. It doesn’t take chef training to use those flavors, just passion.
“When you cook, just cook with passion. Learn to cook with passion and be creative,” she said. “Life is so short, wouldn’t you like to experience that?”
Meet the author
See Christina Arokiasamy speak on “The Spice Merchant’s Daughter, Recipes and Single Blends for the American Kitchen” at Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor Book Company at 3 p.m. Feb. 28. Find the store at 157 Winslow Way.
For more information, visit EagleHarborBooks.com.