Sometimes the expats return to their home countries, for varied reasons. Some, including our dear friends and neighbors, live here seasonally. One of the side effects of the rotation of the expat population is The Moving Sale. These sales give us who stay a chance to buy funny looking table lamps, side tables, Bundt pans and other artifacts at bargain prices. We scavengers can get herb and spice collections for free or a few pesos. But to accept these herbs, spices and odd lots of ingredients has its dark side.
One departing expat left me a Number 10 can of tomato paste, and about a pound of fennel seed. Questions arose. How do I open and store such a quantity of tomato paste in the overcrowded and overworked freezer compartment? And fennel seed—used in making Italian style sausage— it takes about a tablespoon per batch. I have enough fennel, between his gift and my unfortunately concurrent purchases, to make enough Italian sausage to circle Lake Pátzcuaro several times.
Another vexing challenge is that of redundancy and of freshness. I appreciated getting a small bag of celery seed, but how many more baggies of orégano can I use—or basil? How fresh are they? Did they come from the Other Side 3 years ago? Most of these herbs are readily available in mercados and supermarkets. So who wants to have to spend time rotating for freshness and finding both suitable containers for storing on increasingly chaotic shelves?
One type of seasoning, though, gives me no hesitation in pitching it into el bote (the trash can). Those are the little, premixed packets of Taco Seasoning, French Toast Batter Seasoning, Tuna Casserole Sauce Mix, and Caesar Salad Herb Blend; that sort of stuff. The kind of seasonings that are composed mainly of salt, sugar and MSG with a little spice as an afterthought. ¡Salgan!
The real problem is how to seem grateful for these gifts from the departing expats yet while maintaining my sanity. After all, I don't want to make their leave taking any more dolorous than it already is. So, in the end, I accept with feigned gratitude, while silently cursing the Herbal Triage that awaits me.
Sometimes I can bestow some herbs and spices on others less fortunately endowed. A couple of days ago, I brought the Number 10 Can of Tomato Paste over to our next door, Alabaman neighbors, Geni and Larry, along with some 1 cup plastic freezer containers. They packed about half the contents into their vacuum sealed plastic bags, and gave me the other half in my freezer containers. It was a small price to get that tomato paste where I could use it.
So, there is hope.
But there is also a catch.
Geni told me that when they turn off their electricity to leave, I will get their tomato paste.