Spicely Organics & Pumpkin Hummus

My recipe for pumpkin hummus went up on My New Usual a couple of weeks ago, a tasty and seasonal alternative to traditional chickpea hummus. My friend Becky was hanging out in my kitchen while I was finalizing the recipe and I used her as a guinea pig to see if I could re-write my recipe to   make the ingredients a little easier for everyone to find. I started making pumpkin hummus when we lived in California and I was buying most of my spices from a San Francisco based organic spice company called Spicely Organics. Long story short, Becky and I agreed that while the simplified recipe was good, the addition of the shawarma seasoning blend made the recipe so much better.

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 I hadn’t been able to find Spicely on the east coast since we moved, and when I had looked for them online, couldn’t find a user-friendly shopping portal. I ran across their booth at the Fancy Food Show in NYC this summer and was excited to hear that they were expanding to sell more nationally and had developed their online presence a lot. After posting the recipe, my friend Kate said she had even found the shawarma spice mix at Whole Foods in Montclair NJ, so it’s become much more widely available recently.

The first thing that I loved about this spice company besides the quality and flavor of their herbs and spices is the packaging. I use a huge variety of herbs and spices in my cooking and I don’t want a load of new glass jars every time I resupply my stock. Spicely’s herbs and spices are mostly packaged in small 1 inch square cardboard boxes with a cellophane bag inside. I also like that they are sold in smaller amounts than the standard jar size. The most important factor in spices maintaining their flavor is freshness and it’s a lot easier to use up the small packages before the fragrance starts to dissipate and the flavor becomes stale, especially if it’s a spice I don’t use constantly. For those go-to spices that I use most often, they also carry cardboard or glass jars in larger sizes and a bulk jar called the “sous chef”. Another benefit to the variety of sizes is that stocking up on a few spices isn’t going to be expensive, especially if you often end up throw away the dregs of an old jar that you never get around to using.

They also have a  tremendous variety of  spices in their line. I’ve bought sumac and mace and nigella seeds, black and green cardamom, whole anise, ground turmeric and juniper berries as well as more everyday spices like Italian and Mexican oregano, cumin, thyme, and smoked paprika. The seasoning blends skew toward more exotic, less standard “steakhouse seasoning”, like the shawarma blend, which I use for chicken and vegetables, not just hummus. There was a curry blend that I didn’t love and I prefer a Cajun blend from Louisiana, but I love the unique Ras El Hanout, the harissa blend, and the za’atar seasoning. They list the ingredients of the blends on the package so you can get a sense of the flavor before buying; I got a lot of inspiration from their blends, new ideas for how to combine flavors. I noticed on their website that they now have tea and spice infused chocolate in their product line, none of which I have tried.

The icing on the cake is that all of their products are organic, non GMO, and fair trade certified. My opinion is that if an organic product doesn’t taste good or isn’t well made, I’m not eating it. I also realize that there are a lot of great foods that are grown or made very naturally that aren’t organic or certified. But if food that I use can taste great and is also organic, I’m happy about it.  The Fair trade certification means that the company sources its spices from producers who do not use forced or child labor, have unsafe working conditions or substandard wages. I don’t want my food to come at the expense of anyone’s health or well-being and I want their work to provide them with a livelihood, so fair trade certification is something that I look for when possible, particularly in categories that have a history of abuse. Going to a little more trouble (or expense) for more carefully sourced food isn’t everyone’s prerogative, but it is important to me. I explained my position in this comment about why Rancho Gordo beans, whose farmers are able to make a living growing the beans, are (to me) worth the higher price:

I grew up eating lots of beans, so I too was a little skeptical when I saw the prices of RG beans. Then I tried them. Their flavor and texture is far, far better than the .69 per pound bags of black beans I’ve always eaten. And while I realize that there is still a big price difference, $5 divided by 6-8 servings is not particularly expensive. 
The real test for me however was when my mom ate RG beans for the first time. She is the one who taught me to use beans as an inexpensive meal. She hasn’t had the extra money to spend on frivolous “gourmet” products, and yet she is sold on RG beans. 
Normally, beans are farmed as a commodity product that has to be produced in bulk for the farmer to make any profit. Steve’s approach is completely different. Smaller yields of more costly beans mean a better profit margin for these farmers. While everyone may not be in a position to buy their food at a higher price in support of smaller farmers, I think it is certainly worthwhile for those who can. It begins to change the food supply system, making it possible for small farmers to support themselves growing better quality produce, enabling more food to be grown locally, and creating a more diverse agricultural polyculture.
If you are a new cook who wants to stock your spice basics or an adventurous experimental one looking for spice inspiration, I think you’ll find something to love about Spicely Organics. I wrote this without any “swag” or payment of any kind to motivate my opinion; I am just really happy that they are now more widely available and wanted to spread the word about something I like and use.
Once you track down that shawarma blend, try this pumpkin hummus recipe:
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Pumpkin Hummus

makes about 2 cups

1 ½ cups pureed roasted pumpkin

3 tablespoons tahini

3 cloves roasted garlic

1 clove raw garlic, crushed or grated on a microplane

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon Spicely organic shawarma seasoning (or ¼ teaspoon each of ground bay leaves, cinnamon, coriander, and thyme)

2 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil plus more to serve.

Sumac (optional)

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the pumpkin, tahini, garlic, and spices. Process until smooth. Mix about half of the lemon juice and olive oil in , check for taste and consistency (you don’t want the hummus to be too liquid) and then add the rest to taste.

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Let me introduce you to my friends at

MYNEWUSUAL

If any of you have ever had a loved one struggle with a terrible illness (and if you haven’t, lucky you!) you know that feeling of helplessness, of standing around unsure of what to do with your hands, of what to say (or not to say), of what to do to try to make it even a little bit better. So when someone who is going through breast cancer treatment sends you a Facebook message that says:

Christine – Just wanted to take a minute to tell you how much I enjoy your blog, your postings and your photos. I want to come and eat at your house!! Hope you are well, Amy

you say “Thank you, ma’am” and thank God you accidentally did a good thing!

I met Amy Kelley a few weeks after we got the news that we would be moving to New Jersey at a birthday party for a mutual friend in Santa Cruz. It was one of those “ships in the night” meetings, but one with a fortuitous “click” so as we both entered the upheaval of the next few years, we kept in touch on Facebook. I knew about her move back to Dallas, her marriage, the cancer diagnosis, and her mother’s illness but in a peripheral way. I was finding my own equilibrium in a new place, putting a lot of creative energy into pictures I took of the new geography of my life. When Amy sent me that message last year, I was so grateful to know that some of those messages in bottles were finding their way into welcoming hands.

Then, this Spring, Amy started talking to me about a new project she was launching. She asked if I would be interested in contributing to a site she was building  to enrich the lives of those who were walking in her shoes. As much as anything in my life, my approach to food and cooking has been shaped by my dad’s life-long Type 1 diabetes and the neuroblastoma cancer my sister Grace had in infancy coupled with no health insurance for our family and my mother’s determination to keep us as healthy as she could with food. We gardened and ate strange things like sprouts and tried everything on our healthy dinner plates and all of us developed a love for adventurous whole food diets, but as an artist, my mother emphasized a colorful, bright dinner plate. This ethos is the backbone of the way I cook: food should nourish the eyes, the tongue, the soul, and the body.

So obviously, my answer was an enthusiastic “YES!!”

Friday, Amy posted my first story, a little guide to my new hometown Hoboken, New Jersey, as Contributing  Food Editor for My New Usual. I will be adding my two cents there regularly, talking about ways to flourish in a new way of life, eating things that both taste and look good but also make you feel good, pulling from my experience to offer new ways to look at nourishing the body. I hope I can be encouraging to those who might find themselves faced with the paradigm shift that illness often is. You’ll still find me here at Cognitive Leeks, but if you or a loved one are faced with a “new usual”,  stop by the website for some encouragement. We would love to see you there.