For Petalumans of a certain generation, our only cultural references to spice are David Lynch’s production of Dune, or the Spice Girls – and neither one is too savory. This has changed thanks to Wind McAlister, who’s approaching her first anniversary as the reigning Sonoma Spice Queen – which is both the name of her store on C street in Petaluma and her personal calling.
So, who better to ask if Petaluma is a spicy town?
“It is becoming a spicy town,” McAlister says sagely.
Present trends suggest that Petaluma is heating up – Jamaican jerks and Cajun spices are popular, ditto the habanero-smoked salt and a hot Madres curry. McAlister will follow this temperature rise with a soon-to-be-released spicy mustard North Carolinian barbecue rub.
During the last holiday season, many Petalumans became fascinated with her java and spice barbeque rub, which consistently sold out. More than merely “Coffee and meat – two great tastes together at last,” the admixture of chilis, chicory, coffee, various powdered alliums, and black lava salt, redefined, for many, what spice could mean to their cooking.
“People are really interested in the contrast – ‘oh, wow, there’s coffee in it’ – they can smell it, they wanna know if they can taste it and how it’s gonna contrast with different meats,” says McAlister of the rub. For the record, it goes well with steak, beef, and lamb, as well as fatty fish like salmon. Ergo, “Spice is the variety of life.”
Recently, the spate of wet weather has brought a flurry of curry seekers interested in creating comfort food with more culinary flair.
“People are cooking for their children, so they wanna find things that will encourage them to eat different types of cuisine without it being too out of the box,” says McAlister.
As always, all of the queen’s spices are 100 percent organic and locally-made. She’s also happy to make personal blends for special events like weddings or business promotions. But she won’t mix you any Dune-style “spice melange,” the awareness spectrum narcotic that turns your eyes super-blue and makes you psychic. In fact, McAlister demurs at the notion of being perceived as Petaluma’s de facto apothecary – especially when when asked if there’s a spice that will make one more sexy.
There isn’t – “But you can take turmeric and it will help you with your joints,” she deadpans.
“It’s so funny. Everybody comes in wants the next new thing – like a homeopathic remedy using spice,” she says (it’s always turmeric and cinnamon, by the way). “People are convinced that the spices are gonna help them with their illness.” Maybe. But it will definitely spice up your cooking.
Sonoma Spice Queen is located at 407 C Street, Petaluma. For more information, including hours, visit SonomaSpiceQueen.com or call (707) 776-7678.
Daedalus Howell is the author of Quantum Deadline, a darkly comic sci-fi crime novel, set in Lumaville. Also, you’ll never believe the strange goings-on at DaedalusHowell.com.