My Genius Hour with Spices

This week I’ve been on an adventure with spices. My grade 5 students are doing genius hour from their homes, so that meant that I would be able to have time for my own genius hour with them. When we are in school, I usually help them instead of doing my own project.

But this chapter of learning is different, I am modeling genius hour for them from home. Here is my plan. My question was, “How can I organize my spice cabinet so the spices are more accessible and then try at least three spices I haven’t tried before? So, my plan was to clean out my spice cabinet, organize it alphabetically and use at least three of the dormant spices that have been there too long without any love.

First, I made a simple soup using Celery Salt. (Starting out small.)

Next, I went over the top! I made Machboos. It’s like a Middle Eastern version of biryani. I used two sources for the recipe and added my own vegan changes. (My sources are in the link to my version of the recipe.)

Altogether there were 7 tablespoons of spices in the machboos! 7 T.! Seven Tablespoons! What!? That’s almost a half cup, and it doesn’t count the five cloves of garlic, two onions, two green chilis, or the whole bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and black lime.

I’ve never made anything like this in my life. I felt empowered, bold, prodigious and prodigal. If I keep this up, I may use up a good chunk of the many spices I have in my cupboard.

Third, I made a savory and yummy mushroom stew. It had five different kinds of mushrooms and parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

Since it’s April and National Poetry Month, I even wrote a spoken word poem about spices.

Four Things I’d Say to People Who Are Afraid of Their Spice Cabinet

1 – I used to be too, using cinnamon and basil and oregano and salt and pepper. 

When I felt exotic I’d add a pinch of cumin and a smidgen of chili powder. Nothing louder than what you’d find in a steaming bowl of chowder, though.

2 – Then I got older and bolder and experimented. I always loved to eat savory, flavory dishes, so why not recreate them in my kitchen? I can try. And try I do now because you see.

3 – My spices are becoming a touchstone for me. I look in my cupboard and see so many jars of hope, flavors brimming, ideas bubbling, whole leaves, pods, seeds, some crushed and powdered, as the hours are in my life. My time is limited in this place, in Bahrain where the flavors are exquisite and the spices are pennies. My time is limited on this earth. My time is limited in the kitchen, So,

4 – I want to use every hour, every recipe, every moment, every meal to the fullest. To the tastiest. To the joyful hope of a new beginning.

Here is a list of spices I used this week. Asterisks are by the spices that were used for the first time or in some new way.

  • celery salt*
  • black lime, whole and powder*
  • cinnamon, whole and powder
  • pepper, whole and ground
  • cumin, seeds* and powder
  • garam masala
  • bay leaf
  • cardamom, whole* and powder
  • salt
  • cloves, whole
  • coriander seeds*
  • saffron*
  • parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme* first time altogether

Here is my video of my genius hour for spring 2020:

16 thoughts on “My Genius Hour with Spices


  1. Oh…what a perfect project! I am jealous of its perfection, exotic and purposeful.


  2. Way to model risk taking and working towards goals! Are you leaving Bahrain? It is always to see things with new eyes.


    1. Thanks, Erika. Risk-taking is a key in learning, isn’t it? I am not leaving Bahrain in the near future. We were planning our retirement in about the next year, although that may be extended a bit due to our present circumstance. Time will tell. God bless us all.


  3. How this brings back memories of standing in my Grannie’s pantry, opening all the fancy bottles on the spice rack to smell them (favorite – cloves). Amazing how Genius Hour led to this – reiterating the fun risk-taking of exploration. We don’t know unless we try. Unbelievable how many spices you used – and your dishes look absolutely mouthwatering. Love this line: “My spices are becoming a touchstone for me” (many have symbolic meanings, too) and the comparison of time on Earth to time in the kitchen being limited. We should all embrace our time so zestfully. As you are.


    1. Fran, thank you for your kind words. I love the story this elicited from you–of you in your Grannie’s pantry. What a precious sight. I love the line you wrote, “We should all embrace our time so zestfully.” Lovely! Thanks again!


  4. I love your idea to model genius hour with your spice cupboard organizing and use. So creative and fun! I may have to try this out!


  5. Denise, I’m so excited for you and this new endeavor!


  6. What a wonderful idea for a Genius Hour project! I have to say that my cooking life has been so much easier since I alphabetized my spices. I’ll never go back to the old disorganized mess! I especially enjoyed reading your takeaways and what you’d say to others–and the food all looks delicious!


    1. Thank you, Elisabeth! That is great to hear from someone who has done it and kept it up. So far, so good. Why I didn’t think of it earlier, I don’t know.


    1. Thanks, Jackie. Yes, I will add the link to the post. Thanks for noticing. I took that last picture before it was even finished with the last ingredient, which was a cashew cream. Oh, my goodness. It looked better and tasted delicious. My husband loved it too. The recipe is from Holy Cow! Quick and Easy Vegan Recipes by Vaishali. Mushroom Pot Pie was the recipe. I just made it without the crust.

      My organization was simple. I just alphabetized the spices, from bottom to top, though. Otherwise, my favorite “C” spices were ending up on the top shelf. I needed cinnamon, cumin, and others close by!

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