History Of Attar Herbs and Spices

Attar Spice Shop

It is times like these, when considering 50 years of business that one can feel overcome with a sense of awe, generosity and pride for our loyal customers who have been with us for so long through so many inevitable changes that a business of this age will endure. As Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher said, “change is the only constant”. For our long-term customers who have chosen to stand by us and support our vision over the years, through our falls and climbs, we are ever grateful. To our new customers, welcome. We are thrilled to have you here as part of the Spice Up Life community and look forward to many more years to come all together!

The Roots of Attar
According to Dick Martin developing the roots of Attar began early in his young adult life. As a graduate of Harvard with a degree in botany, Dick did his research on the uses of plants (ethnobotany) and studied how the American Indians used them. Dick says, “I traveled a lot in South America, looking for plants for research for the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. I would collect samples and send them up there for analysis. I would find out a little bit from the Indians what they used them for.”

If you knew Dick Martin well, you’d know that plants were only one of his passions. He collected coins, was a gifted musician and spoke Japanese. A few years back I was introduced to a book called, One River by Wade Davis which recounted some of the Amazonian expeditions that Dick was a member of as a young student. There is even reference to Dick Martin bringing along his saxophone on the trips and joining with the locals for nights of music making and revelry.

Dick Martin

Dick explained, “Attar means perfumed in Persian. It comes from a word that means essence. It’s anything that has a fragrance, a taste or a smell.” Attar then became the name he gave his herb, spice and essential oil company when he opened its doors 50 years ago.
His very first office was in Harvard Square. It really was only a suitcase from which he sold his herbs and spices…and the business continued to grow. He then opened a health food store in Cambridge Mass. Eventually, he moved the business to New Ipswich, New Hampshire (Smithville) where it was in operation serving customers around the country for over 40 years until his retirement. Melissa Spencer and Erik Hood of Harrisville NH, purchased the business in 2010 and moved it to Harrisville.

Attar Herbs and Spices Catalog

Attar Herbs and Spices Catalog

In the Fall of 2010 my husband and I walked into this quaint little shop called Attar Herbs & Spices. We fell in love at first smell. When we walked out we realized we had just met our destiny. A month later we were signing papers to purchase the business from Dick Martin. It has been an incredible journey these past 7 years learning the ins and outs of what it takes to grow a business and grow a family, at the same time. We are blessed with an incredibly supportive and hands-on family, family-like customers and an uber-talented and skilled staff.

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Stuffed Acorn Squash

As I write this our woodstove is aglow with the roar of it’s fire, the trees outside are bare and blowing about and darkness is creeping into our daylight more and more each day. That means one thing. Autumn is here and winter is almost upon us. There are few meals that speak to me of autumn chills, home-bound comfort and deep satisfaction more than this dish. Everyone in our family loves it too, which is a huge bonus. Stuffed squash is a wholly satisfying meal in and of itself. I tend to make this dish on a day when I have some time at home and yet don’t want to overly fuss with being “in the kitchen” chopping, dicing and prepping. With just a few minutes to start rice cooking and getting the squash in the oven you are good to go until you assemble it all. It’s easy and nourishing and can be adapted to whatever you tend to have in the fridge for rice, vegetables or protein. It’s my favorite type of meal. May your shared meals reflect the warmth and comfort we so desire throughout the coming chilly winter days.

Stuffed Squash with Roasted Pecans
PREP TIME: 15 minutes
COOK TIME: 45 minutes
Serves 4

2 Acorn Squash (many squash will work here: delicatta, spaghetti or kuri)
2 cups of rice
2 tbsp of vegetable flakes
1 vegetable or chicken bouillon
parmesan cheese
1/3 cup roasted pecans
1 tsp garlic, granulated
1 tsp thyme
dried cranberry
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375F. Halve the acorn squash and scoop out seeds and stringy flesh from center. Lay squash flat down on deep baking pan and add water into base of dish, about 1/2 inch worth. Cover pan with aluminum foil and steam for 30-45 minutes or until soft when pierced with fork. Time will vary based on type and size of squash used. While squash is cooking, start your rice. Bring 4 cups of water, vegetable flakes, garlic, thyme and bouillon to a boil. Add in rice, lower heat and cover. When both rice and squash are done then carefully scoop rice mixture into squash. Top with cheese and chopped roasted pecans and heat for another 10-15 minutes. I often top with dried cranberries, if I have them. Add salt, pepper to taste.

The Queen Of Spices: Cardamom

Blueberries and cardamom make this coffee cake irresistible.

blueberries and cardamom flavor make this coffee cake irresistible.

We awoke Sunday morning and decided it would be a great day to go berry picking. Early afternoon, after a quick vote to survey the family faves it was decided that blueberries and raspberries outweighed strawberries. So, we headed to Monadnock Berries in Troy where we were greeted with an abundance of berry bliss perched atop a beautiful hilltop with a breathtaking view of Mt. Monadnock on the horizon. Row after row of raspberries were ripe for our pickin’. The blueberries were just as abundant and we quickly filled our buckets and bellies in no time. In about an hour, under the hot summer sun, the four of us gathered about 10 pounds of bounty. If we had been asked to weigh-in before picking and after, chances are we would’ve added another 10lbs to the loot picked. Thankfully, it’s not polite to ask a strangers weight.

It was towards the end of our picking, feeling berry-filled and heat exhausted but not yet ready to quit, that I began to daydream about the creations we might spice up at home with all these sweet and tart fruity inspirations in our midst. When my mind hit upon the idea for a blueberry cardamom coffee cake I became fixated. You see, cardamom is one of my favorite spices, ever. It is known as the “Queen of Spices” and that’s a rightly royal title in my mind. It holds a special spot on our spice shelf, right next to the mortar and pestle so we can easily grab it and grind some fresh to use in our morning coffee brew. Cardamom is the fruit of a large perennial bush that grows wild in southern India, Sri Lanka and now cultivated heavily in Guatemala. It has been used for thousands of years in India and Scandinavian countries where it is used in both sweet and savory dishes. It’s aroma is strong and requires only a small amount to impart flavor. It’s taste is floral and a touch lemony with just a hint of camphor which gives it that fresh and clean scent. Use your imagination and experiment with this extremely versatile spice to add a touch of exotic elevation to your food. Here are a few ideas to get you going:

*Baked Goods: Raspberry Cardamom Cocoa Muffins; Blueberry Cardamom Coffee Cake; . Poached Pears with Cardamom. It pairs especially well with berries, apples and pears, orange, chocolate and cinnamon.
*Drinks: Add a touch to your coffee directly with the coffee grounds for a nicely spiced morning brew or combine with cinnamon, clove, star anise, ginger and black or green tea for a chai-tea infusion.
*Savory: Rice Pilaf (add a couple of pods along with cinnamon, clove and cumin) into the water while cooking; Add to your pickling jars; Slow-cooked meat dishes and poultry.

Ginger, Cherry and Rhubarb Muffins

Gluten Free Rhubarb Muffins

We pack lunch every day for our kiddos so I get a lot of opportunity to bake. Thankfully my kids appreciate some variety (in muffins, at least!) This week, swimming in rhubarb, I whipped up a batch of these muffins with what I had on hand and they were a huge hit. Next time you have a hankering for a muffin, clean out the fridge and see what unique combo you can come up with!

1 1/4c Gluten Free Pamela’s Muffin Mix
1 egg
1/4 cup water (or milk or milk substitute)
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ginger, ground
1/4 cup rhubarb chopped
1/4 cup cherries chopped

Preheat oven to 350F. In a saucepan add in 2 tbsp of water and the sugar, rhubarb and cherries. Simmer for a few minutes until sugar is dissolved and rhubarb is softened. Add this into the flour mixture along with remaining ingredients. Mix well and spoon into buttered muffin tins. Top with anything…nuts, granola, oats, etc… Bake for 15-18 minutes.

Spicing Up the Grill on Memorial Day

Spicing up the Grill with Barbecue Chicken

Spicing up the Grill with Barbecue Chicken

Dormant tree buds are unfurling, yawning and stretching open. The pesky black flies are hurling, swarming and attacking. That can mean only one thing, spring has sprung and the grilling season is upon us. The upcoming Memorial Day weekend often marks the onset of outdoor gatherings, the safe season to plant the garden and the inauguration of the beloved barbecue grill.

Memorial Day historically was known as Decoration Day in honor of those who fought for our country and gave their lives to protect our freedom. The custom of decorating the deceased graves with an American flag has evolved to also include ceremonies and parades often followed by gatherings with family and friends to ‘grill and chill’ and enjoy great weather and great company.

The process of cooking meat slow and low over a source of fire to impart as much smoke flavor as possible is called Barbecue. As Chinese chef Martin Yan, host of the long-running show Yan Can Cook, put it, “Man discovered fire. Five minutes later, he invented barbecue.” This process has some history and can be serious business. Barbecue has a global appeal. From Argentinian Asado Steak to Jamaican Jerk Chicken, the roots of barbecue are not purely American (don’t tell the Southern States that though). Did you know that the barbecue world has their own Grillers Hall of Flame located in Orchard, MA? There are so many different techniques combined with hundreds more of favorite spice rubs, finger-licking marinades and secret sauces that are all treasured for their final flavor. Grilling, as a technique, is a close cousin to the barbecue. It is the quicker method of using higher heat to cook the meat faster and with little smoke. Most serious barbecuers and grillers have their own “tried and true” method.

A serious griller I am not, though we do enjoy a well seasoned and grilled piece of meat or slow-cooked pulled pork. This weekend, whether you’re prepping a smoker or lighting a grill, the merits of mixing up smoke, heat, meat, sugar, and spice is undeniable. And let’s not forget our veggie family and friends. What’s good for the brisket or thigh can work just as well for some tofu or Portabella mushroom. Below is some of what we’ll be cooking up this weekend when friends and family gather at our home to grill-n-chill while the kids run wild.

Spice Rub for Beef or Chicken
1/4 C Sweet Smoked ​Paprika
3 Tbsp dark chili powder-if you like heat make it Ancho Powder
1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper–balance with the chili powder for heat
1 Tbsp white or maple sugar, can also use honey
1 1/2 Tbsp Oregano, use Mexican Oregano for a truly south of the border flavor
1-2 Tbsp Salt to your own taste–applewood or hickory smoked salt here works wonders for a richer flavor
2 Tbsp ground Cumin-can be pan roasted for a deeper taste
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
2 tsp Garlic powder
2 tsp Onion powder
1 Tbsp each black and white peppers.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. You can massage right onto the meat or I like to add a few tablespoons of tomato paste/ketchup, an ounce or two of apple cider vinegar and a splash of olive oil to the rub right before grilling to turn it into a sauce–either way tastes fantastic.

For Pork Chops:
1 Tbsp Cumin
1 Tbsp Tarragon–ground in mortar and pestle for freshest, sweetest flavor
1 tsp white pepper or lemon pepper
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 Tbsp basil
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
Combine and massage as above. If possible rub onto meat and refrigerate for 1-3 hrs before grilling. No additional liquid for this one.

*This article was written by Melissa Spencer for the Monadnock Ledger Transcript

Spice Tea for the Common Cold

Attar Spice Tea

Attar Spice Tea

We’ve been recirculating a cold that just won’t quit in our house this past month. Really, it’s been about a month of morphing from one compromised body to the next. Emptied boxes of tissues, low grade fevers, cough-filled nights and hacking days have plagued our home for far too long. Sometimes the hardest part of these colds for me is the feeling of helplessness and the inability to make them go away for good. I feel like I am in a real life game of “whack-a-cold”. As soon as one sicky is well, it pops back up in another. It is in these moments when I’m feeling worn down by everyone’s sickness that I catch myself and as one of my favorite writers, Glennon Doyle Melton reminds often, it’s time to adjust our “perspectacles”.

This is not a chronic illness and we are not dying. We are simply fighting the common cold for an uncommonly long time! We will get through this. Sleepless nights, chicken soup for three meals a day and an obscene amount of cough drops are not the end of the world. Sometimes we just have to surrender to it and give our bodies the time and resources to rest and heal. Easier said than done in our fast-paced, action packed world but worthy of our attempts always.

In our household when colds hit like this there are some basic guidelines we follow like lots of healthy soups, no dairy and certainly no sweets. Take a ton of vitamin C and drink LOTS of tea. And that’s exactly what we do. Lots and lots of tea. This is really my best and only secret weapon. I head to the spice cupboard and pull out a few key spices to help us combat the bugs, boost the immune system and try to restore health again. As you may have heard me say before, spices are little powerhouses of anti-oxidant and nutritive healing value. It may not be a quick fix but its soothing and supportive of the compromised systems and most importantly for me, it’s comforting.

Spice tea for the Common Cold:

*Combine in a pot 3 cups of water, ½ tsp. ginger, 1/4tsp clove, ½ tsp turmeric, ½ tsp fennel and a cinnamon stick (or grd. cinnamon). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the spiced water into a cup and add honey and a squeeze of lemon to taste. This recipe is very forgiving. If you like more of one, add it. If you don’t have one, leave it out. Adjust to your tastes and preferences. Honestly, I don’t measure and it’s different every time but ALWAYS comforting. Let’s drink to health and adjusting our perspectacles!!

*This article was written by Melissa Spencer for the Monadnock Ledger Transcript for April 2016.

Spice Dyed Easter Eggs

Natural Dyed Eggs
The Easter weekend was a grand success. The weather was pleasant and Lavender Lemon Chocolate Chip Pancakes were enjoyed (with a spontaneous batch of lavender infused chocolate sauce that I whipped up to accompany them). We went to pick out plants at The House By The Side Of the Road.

We also had lots of fun dying eggs the “old fashioned way”. Old fashioned as in “before there were concentrated food coloring dyes in convenient little teardrop shaped bottles with rather predictable results” sense of the word. One great thing about natural dyes is that you can most likely find a pretty decent palette by rummaging through your pantry. I took the opportunity to use up some VERY old annatto and turmeric, some very freezer burned blueberries and the scraps of beetroot skin sitting in my compost bin. I got to do a little spring cleaning along side our Easter fun!

Natural dye
This is less of a recipe and more of an idea for a process. The general idea is to take your found natural dye elements and essentially make “tea” with them. Some things require longer “steeping” or even boiling to get the richness of color out. The more of something you use and the longer it sits the more vibrant the color. A little splash of vinegar helps the egg shell to absorb more of the dye. It’s as simple as that.Natural Egg Dye

We decided to avoid any system of measurement and simply add what we had on hand and see where it took us. I really enjoyed the element of surprise in this project. I did grind the turmeric and annatto seeds before adding them to the water. I would have used more blueberries if I had had them but they still turned out a beautiful pale cornflower color. I would also have boiled the annatto and the paprika for longer as the colors could have been much more vibrant as I did add a good amount. We also chose to let them sit overnight in the dye baths. All in all I think the results were quite beautiful!

Natural Dyed Eggs Carton
Everly enjoyed watching the process but the part where he got to EAT the egg was his favorite, of course!
The color from the beetroot was the most surprising. It’s such a rich shade and there are little blooms of rust color on it. SO beautiful! Some other great ideas for things to use as natural dyes include: Purple Cabbage, Chili Powder, Spinach, Raspberry, Red Onion Skins, Chamomile Tea, Grape Juice. Think to yourself “would I be worried about this staining my white shirt?” if the answer is “yes” then chances are good it would make a nice dye!

Lavender Lemon Chocolate Chip Pancakes

Rich lavender field in Provence with a lone tree

Ah Spring! The fresh, clean, newness of it all. This year my partner’s birthday falls on Easter Sunday. I was trying to think of something special to do for breakfast that morning so it seemed pretty appropriate to come across this gem of a recipe in the archives this morning. Flowers, Chocolate and Pancakes in one fell swoop.

When most us think Lavender we think SPA. It is, after all, well known for its aroma-therapeutic ability to help us relax. The French don’t shy away from the use of lavender in culinary applications and for good reason. Lavender can be intimidating to use in cooking but if done right it can be absolutely divine. Adding too much can definitely spell disaster and make your food taste like a bar of soap, so when in doubt add less. It doesn’t take much!

This recipe really hits the nail on the head with that delicate floral balance.

Lavender Lemon Chocolate Chip Pancakes
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup Milk
1 tbs baking powder
3 tbs vegetable oil or melted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbs sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
1/2 tsp granulated lemon
1 tsp freshly ground lavender flower (grinding releases the volatile oils that make it smell so lovely)
1 tsp whole lavender flower ( this is mostly for visual appeal)
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (or more! this is Easter after all)
Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl. Whisk together wet ingredients in a separate bowl and stir into dry ingredients. Fold in Chocolate chips.
Cook on a lightly oiled or buttered skillet on medium-high heat.

Did you know lavender is also one of the essential oils that can effectively deter insects including ticks? How perfect for an Easter stroll through the field!

The Spice of Life

Well, there’s good news and bad news. Myles came home from college last week for a quick visit. It was the usual: quick load of laundry, get a haircut and eat some food. It was only for one night but it doesn’t even matter. I’ll take quality over quantity everyday. Oh, so for the good news and bad. I’ll start with the bad. The food at school is horrible. That’s disappointing because the boy eats all his meals there and the boy eats a lot of food! The good news,however, is that he has gained a very real appreciation for home cooked food. Not that he didn’t have it before, but there’s nothing like absence to make the heart grow fonder and a little distance to provide some perspective.

Since his visit was unplanned and brief I hadn’t prepared anything special for dinner. As it turns out he had already eaten but was happy to sit with us and enjoy second dinner. While the five of us were sitting there talking, laughing and sharing I realized it really didn’t matter at that moment what we were eating. The act of gathering around the table together for nourishment is not one dimensional. Yes, our food is important. Healthy food is extremely important. But as we come together the community aspect of the dinner ritual is equally as important as what we are putting in our mouths. With our busy days and everyone going in different directions I have come to really appreciate how the family dinner creates a necessary pause and regrouping within our family. Its an exhale at the end of the day. A reminder to say thank you. We have food. We have each other. Some days the food is great and some days it’s not. It’s in the sharing with each other where we are deeply nourished.

As a food column and in particular one that focuses on spices….sometimes the most important spice is the Spice of Life. Wishing you many gatherings around the table with family and friends this spring season.

Written by Melissa Spencer for the Monadnock Ledger Transcript

St. Patrick’s Day Herbed Mashed Potaotes

Rosemary isolated on white
Just around the corner is March 17, when leprechauns, shamrocks and potatoes are aplenty. Everything is green — well, except for the grass that is. To tell you the truth, St. Patrick’s Day holds a very special place in my heart. I am not Irish, though I’ve been mistaken for one most of my life. With my fair skin and freckles I suppose it’s a safe enough assumption.

There’s something more though. My brother, Patrick, was born on St. Patrick’s Day 42 years ago. He is not Irish either, but was given the name at birth and throughout his life carried the mixed blessing of receiving birthday cards with happy green men, rainbows and the infamous pot o’ gold. They were personalized at least. Not many of us can boast that.

Patrick passed away two years ago on March 16 and as you can imagine, there isn’t a St. Patrick’s Day that goes by that his presence isn’t felt with every green-legged leprechaun, shamrock or pot o’ gold I happen to see. And while he mostly found his connection with this day amusing, he could never connect with the honorary meal of the day, corned beef and cabbage. Through the many birthday dinners that were shared, corned beef and cabbage was never allowed. It was his day after all. Sometimes there is a place for reinventing tradition. Sometimes there is more meaning in starting a new way of doing, being or celebrating that can bring about that comfort of a time-honored tradition.

On this St. Patrick’s Day, and all those going forward, I choose to celebrate with the food that Patrick loved as a way to honor his memory. That would be mashed potatoes. I guess I don’t have to stray too far away from the Irish traditions after all. Mashed potatoes are a comfort food and while they require some prep time they are worth the effort. I have a little spin on the traditional recipe that makes them visually appealing for St. Patrick’s Day and tasty enough for whatever day you decide you need a little comfort. I include rosemary and thyme in the broth while I cook up the potatoes. Rosemary is known as the remembrance herb, and happens to complement potatoes so well.

I think it’s safe to say that Patrick would approve of this recipe.

herbed mashed

Herbed Mashed Potatoes

∎  Add to a pot of water 1 tsp. of thyme, 1 tsp. of rosemary and 1 tsp. onion powder. If you are using dried herbs, be sure to put in cheesecloth to make removal easier.

∎  Peel and cut 3 large or 5 medium sized potatoes and add to your water. Bring to a boil and then simmer until potatoes are soft.

∎  While potatoes are simmering, take 1/2 cup kale and puree in 1/2 cup of milk, (or cream). Set aside until potatoes are done.

∎  Strain potatoes from water, being sure to remove the herbs as well. Add pureed kale to the potatoes along with 2 Tbsp. of butter and mash to the consistency of your liking.

∎  Add salt, pepper and chives to taste.

Written by Melissa Spencer for the Monadnock Ledger Transcript