Thursday, January 17, 2008


The Evanston Athletic Club is a wonderful form of therapy because while I sweat profusely on the treadmill, I can watch Ina Garten in her lovely Hampton's abode cooking fabulous and friendly meals for her loved ones. God save personal tv's in cardio machines. Anyway....

Today, Ina reminded me of something. Saffron, the pungent and sunset-colored spice is actually the dried stamens of the Crocus flower. When I think of saffron, I immediately associate it with riches and bounty beyond imagination. Not surprising. This thin thread costs, on average, $1,000 per pound reaching $5,000 for the really good stuff. It takes up to 75,000 plants just to get this much! Talk about labor intensive. My 13-year-old brother gets board after 15 minutes at the Berry Patch rooting around for blueberries, I'd like to see him in the fertile fields of Egypt back in the days of Pharaoh!

As a college student, finding a place to cook is hurdle number one, then comes shopping with no car, followed by purchasing ingredients on a collegiate budget. Saffron is simply not in the cards. I'm reserving it for summers of bouillabaisse, paella and risottos. But there is no harm in abating my curiosity......

The earliest record of saffron dates from the 7th century BC in upper Egypt, a region formally known as Assyria. Cleopatra was the first celebrity to discover the energizing effects of the spice. This gold plated (and underage) queen bathed in saffron infused water to stimulate her sex drive and receive heightened pleasure from her sexual partners. Honestly, you'd think college women would at least shell out the dough for this!!

If college women don't want to relax in a yellow colored-tube, we might consider saffron for our mental health. A study cited in Health Magazine from the Journal of Enthopharmacology found that people who received 30 milligrams per day for six weeks reaped the same benefits as those taking depression medications like Prozac. This happened because saffron enhances mood lifting neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine.

Some centuries later, around 330 BC, Alexander the Great used a saffron ointment to heal his battle wounds. If Cleo was right, you've got to wonder what this lotion did to a powerful man with a big sword.

The spice found its way to Europe in the 14th century AD, charging onto the medical scene to fight the BLACK DEATH! Brought to the west via big, big, boats, the theft of one vessel set off a 14 week saffron war, and so called "spice adulterers" who corrupted the spice for greater profit, were sentenced to jail, public shame and even death.

Saffron has been used to aid digestion, cure measles and treat liver, kidney and gallbladders diseases. It also contains a very high amount of crocin, an antioxidant which inhibits the growth and propagation of cancerous cells.

After finishing my jog at the gym, and after Ina had completed her apple turnovers and fingerling potatoes for supper, I jumped on my bike in search of my computer and enough money to feed my ever-growing appetite. I'm getting close to searching the couch cushions for quarters to satiate my craving for Saffron Chicken!

I think somewhere in this legacy, there is a novel, or perhaps a motion picture staring Russel Crow.

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