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A well stocked spice rack is an asset to any kitchen. Plain dishes can become aromatic flavor sensations, and humdrum recipes can be given new life, just with the addition of the right touch of spice.

For most dishes, there is the perfect spice, but you don’t have to have an extensive rack of spices to enjoy experimenting and creating your own combinations. Spices, as opposed to herbs, are the seeds and roots of aromatic plants, and can be bought in powdered, whole seed or whole clove form. In use, generally less is best, as the flavors of spices can be very strong.

Here are a few suggestions for the most popular spices and their uses:

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is the aromatic bark of a member of the Laurel tree family. There is also Chinese cinnamon, which comes from a member of the Cassia family. One of the most familiar and beloved of spices, cinnamon has a lovely nostalgic flavor that is mainly used in sweet dishes. You can buy cinnamon in powdered form and as rolled quills of bark. One of the simplest ways to use cinnamon is to make cinnamon sugar. Add a teaspoon of cinnamon to a cup of finely granulated sugar and mix well. Use it to sprinkle on pancakes, breakfast cereal or freshly baked apple cake. Cinnamon and apples are a classic combination. A quick ice cream topping can be made with pureed apples and cinnamon sugar. Cinnamon quills are also useful. Add them to mulled wines, use as a spoon to stir hot milk or cocoa, or bundle to use as room fresheners in pot pourri.

Ginger

This is a `hot’ spice with a familiar flavor that tickles the tongue and the imagination. Many of us remember home made ginger beer and dark moist gingerbread from our childhood, but the rise in Asian cuisine worldwide has opened up the uses of ginger to include savory and meat dishes. Fresh ginger is part of the whole ginger root, which can be peeled and sliced, or grated to use in recipes. Powdered ginger is most often used in baking. There are also other ways to obtain ginger, such as crystallised pieces and piquant pickled ginger. Try grating fresh ginger into a simple stir fry, or add it to carrots while they are steaming. Make a ginger sugar with one teaspoon of powdered ginger and one cup of fine sugar, and this this instead of plain sugar to macerate fresh fruits – this will give your fruit salad a delicious Oriental flavor. Crystallised ginger can be added to fruit cakes or scattered over ice cream for a dessert. Pickled ginger, available from Asian supermarkets, is marvellous in sweet and sour dishes, and as an accompaniment to dim sum..

Cardamom

This lovely, subtle spice also comes from the ginger family. The green cardamom pod is often used in powdered form and gives a beautiful flavor to cakes and cookies. It is also an ingredient in Chai tea. It makes a gentle substitute for ginger when you don’t want such a strong flavor. Try it in milk smoothies, or beat it into softened ice cream

Nutmeg

This nostalgic spice is usually found in whole nutmeg cloves or ground to powder. Nutmeg is the richly aromatic seed of the Nutmeg tree. A pinch of the ground powder adds a traditional flavor to egg custards and eggnogs. In a blender, mix 1 cup of milk, a whole egg and a banana until smooth. Sprinkle grated nutmeg over the top. Nutmeg can be used in fruit cake mixtures as well, and is a welcome addition to potpourri. But for a fresher taste, try grating whole nutmegs yourself.

Saffron

An expensive spice ground from the stigma of the crocus flower, but essential to correctly present delicious Indian cuisine. The simplest way to use saffron is to add a few grains in warm water to cooked rice. It colors and flavors the rice to be the perfect accompaniment to curry. Saffron is also traditionally used to flavor and color fish dishes.

Paprika

A mild red spice from the chilli family, paprika is essential to dishes such as goulash. Paprika can be used to flavor and color many simple dishes. Add it to scrambled eggs or Welsh rarebit for chilli spice without the heat. The smoky Spanish version is known as pimenton and comes in mild and hot varieties. Pimenton is an essential ingredient in paella.

Allspice

This is the one to have if you don’t want a shelf full of spices and just want that warm cosy feeling of spices in your home. It is a very popular spice around the world, from the Middle East to the Caribbean, and is used in savory and sweet dishes. The aroma and flavor incorporates aromas of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. If bought as whole seeds, it can be ground for use in recipes, or used whole in mulls and potpourri.

Cloves

Some people may recall being treated with oil of cloves when they had a toothache as children. Clove oil is certainly a powerful painkiller. But it is those small black seeds that reign supreme in an apple pie. The seeds are highly aromatic and only three of four need be used to infuse stewed apples. But they are also an essential ingredient in chutneys and pickles, lending their special flavor to these rich blends.

There are many more spices you can experiment with to add a lift to your cooking, but with just these few, you can fill your kitchen with the warm spicy scents that make food really special.

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Menopause: How to Deal With Hot Flashes and Night Sweats

Hot flashes and night sweats are common during the menopause, with symptoms ranging from a mild feeling of warmth in specific areas, such as the face, chest or back, to an overwhelming heat that passes through the entire body. While some women notice only mild discomfort, others experience distressing symptoms that can disrupt their daily life. If hot flashes and night sweats are affecting your quality of life, there are ways to reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms.

Identify Your Triggers

Hot flashes are often triggered by certain foods and environmental factors, although these triggers vary greatly from one woman to the next. The best way to discover your triggers is to keep a diary of symptoms and possible causes. Common triggers include spicy food, alcohol, caffeine, cigarette smoke, hot weather and stuffy rooms. You can also look for other patterns, such as the time of day or specific places where your symptoms are more likely to occur.

Reduce Your Stress Levels

Stress and anxiety are common triggers for hot flashes and night sweats. Many women notice an increase in anxiety levels during the menopause, which can make night sweats more likely. While it’s not always possible to remove the causes of stress, you can reduce its impact on your body by learning to relax. Relaxation exercises, such as progressive muscle relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing and guided visualizations can be useful for relieving stress.

Adjust Your Sleeping Environment

Night sweats can be caused or exacerbated by your sleeping environment. Make sure your bedroom is well ventilated and try to keep it as cool as possible. Use cotton sheets and bed linen, as well as loose cotton clothing, as this allows your skin to breathe and helps to prevent overheating. If face flushing and sweating is a problem during the night, you can buy special pillows filled with cooling materials. Keep a bottle of cold water by your bed, as hydration is particularly important for keeping cool and preventing headaches during the menopause. Gels packs, ice packs and fans can also be useful for some people.

Take Regular Exercise

Regular exercise is important for managing many symptoms associated with the menopause, including hot flashes, insomnia and weight gain. Gentle exercise, such as walking, swimming or yoga, is often best, as you can give your body a workout and reduce your stress levels without working up too much of a sweat. Wear loose clothing made of breathable fabrics, such as cotton, and remember to drink plenty of fluids while exercising.

Nutritional Supplements

Nutritional supplements help to relieve hot flashes and night sweats for many women, but it can take time and experimentation to find the right supplement. Soy, evening primrose oil, B vitamins and black cohosh are popular supplements for improving health during the menopause. Most health food stores also stock supplements designed specifically for the menopause, which often include a variety of vitamins, minerals and other compounds. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor before taking supplements, as they can interact with some medications and should not be used if you have certain medical conditions.

Hot flashes and night sweats are common symptoms of the menopause, but they can often be relieved by taking a few self-help measures. If hot flashes persist or are severe enough to disrupt your life, see your doctor, as they may be able to prescribe medication to help ease your symptoms.


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