Love and Olive Oil

“Surprise” Baklava and Spices Gone Wild

Almond and Walnut Baklava

So as I was slaving away during my 3-hour-solo-dinner challenge the other night, I figured, I’ve already got the phyllo dough out and thawed, why not make baklava too?

While it was good in principal, and actually ended up being pretty tasty, it could have been a disaster.

You see, the recipe calls for 1 to 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon in the filling.

Cinnamon and Definitely NOT Cinnamon

That, my friends, is cayenne pepper. I don’t think I even need to say what happened here. Poor Taylor, still on the floor, heard me start swearing in the kitchen and panicked thinking I cut myself. Nope, but I did just dump in a boatload of cayenne into the freshly ground nut filling.

I hadn’t stirred it yet, luckily, and managed to skim off ‘most’ of the offending spice. Reground some more nuts, and hoped that you wouldn’t be able to taste it in the final product.

You couldn’t. In fact it was a decent baklava. I used the recipe I found here, using maybe 2/3 almonds (some regular and some marcona), and then the rest walnuts, because I ran out of almonds. I think it could have been better… I wasn’t too fond of the walnuts in there. Anyone have a killer baklava recipe that they swear by?

I do have to say, that this experience has reinforced the fact that our spices are out of control. Maybe if the labels hadn’t rubbed of the bottles, the above disaster could have been avoided. But the spice rack is just the beginnging…

Spice Rack
It all started with the spice rack. Until you realize that you cannot be limited by the 16 random spices that someone decided to fill it with (Dill Weed, anyone?).

Spice Drawer
Then things start to migrate into the spice drawer. Good in concept – the drawer is just deep enough to lay down one row of spice bottles. But when that gets full, and you start buying bigger bottles and bags of spices… well..

More spices on the shelf.
That’s when things really start to get messy. They get thrown on a shelf in the cabinet. The very deep shelf that makes them almost impossible to find (“Taylor, where’s the oregano?” I say with my head as deep inside the cabinet as it will go. Maybe I should just get Kitty to get it for me).

They multiply, I tell you! And we’ve just discovered the wonder of spice that is the international food store, which only sells spices in large bags. Too much to transfer to a bottle (not that there’d be room in the drawer anyway), we need some spice mason jars or something. But where on earth would those go?!?

And thus I pose another question – how do you keep your spices under control? We have limited space – that drawer and some counter is about all of the room we have for any spice-containment-unit.

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  1. I put my spices in a drawer, but take them out of their original packaging. I bought 30 small 2″ wide x 2″ depth x 3″ height plastic containers that have snapping lids. My drawer happens to hold six of these containers per row. I bought a labeler and put a label on each container, as well as the date the spice was opened.
    Each container holds a little more than one standard jar of spice, but I typically buy in bulk anyway. I’d guess about three ounces of spices per container.
    I left some room behind the rows of containers for things like measuring spoons, measuring cups, tea strainers, and other small, spice-related items. The drawer is in my island which is where I do the prep for all my cooking, so it is very accessible.
    The other great thing is since the containers are semi-transparent you can see the colors of the spice when you open the drawer. I also find I use a larger variety of spices since I can access them all so quickly and they do not hide behind each other in my cupboard.
    I have not found spice blending to be a problem. I thought so many spices in close proximity without super tight lids would cause some mingling of flavors, but this has not occurred.
    Sorry I do not have a picture I can send you or link to.

  2. I feel like the spice fairy imparting some great wisdom here….you need a SpiceStack! The new SpiceStack spice rack holds 27 bottles from the grocery store (read: spices of your choosing, labeling no longer required) in your kitchen cabinets. The stacking design means storing more spices in less space and the drop-down drawers allow you to always find the spice you need fast. No more digging for the dang oregano! SpiceStack is $29.95 (with additional units at $14.95) at And we sell extra bottles too for your bulk spice purchases.

    Happy Organizing!

  3. Hi Lindsay,
    After a magabuck kitchen remodel, no one, not the architect, the contractor, or the cabinet maker offered me a solution to the spice dilemma, so I took it in my own hands. I took one drawer and designed then made a foam-core insert specifically designed to the bottles I use most. (see separate email attachment). Any decent graphic designer should be able to figure it out.
    Then all the other spices in bags, bottles etc. go in two plastic tote boxes, one for sweet and one for savory, never to be combined. Sometimes it works.
    One more hint… date the spices when you get them. Then you don’t feel guilty throwing out the dill weed that is older than your oldest niece! Good luck.

  4. I have a messy spice cabinet too…but I’d love to do this someday:

  5. i’m so glad you were able to salvage the baklava–i’d hate to see one of the yummiest creations of all time go to waste. and who knows, maybe you’ll start a new trend! if they can sell bacon baklava, surely a hot and spicy version has potential! :)

  6. Wow Beth, that is stunning! I am quite jealous of you right now. :)

  7. We were facing the same situation. My FIL built us some narrow shelving to fit on the end of a cabinet. After adding matching bottles, we are now able to fit 99 bottles of spice on the wall. All neatly alphabetized. We are lousy at organization, but this is one very happy time that it has worked out for us.

  8. Hilarious! I can’t say I’m much better than you with the spices. No matter what I do, they seem to get out of control! When I find myself wading through my spice shelf, I think to myself “What would Martha Stewart do?”

  9. I wish I had some good tips for you, but I’m in the same boat with the spices! Ours have overflowed out of the rack onto the counter next to the olive oil, and that’s where they stay.

    Your baklava looks great though! I’m dying to make my own someday, if I come across a killer recipe, I’ll pass it along.

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