A Pinch of Nutmeg

IMG_3009I’ve always loved nutmeg. Its woody, sweet smell is as nostalgic an aroma as mothballs, gasoline, pine needles, the residual smell of beer in the nose on a cold winter night after getting turfed from the bar. Okay that’s a weird one, but it’s up there anyway. And it brings me back to warm times.

In truth, it was one of those spices that got me into baking in the first place. It was like a gateway spice. First, a few sprinkles on oatmeal. A little cinnamon toast. A sprinkle in some hot chocolate. Then on to cookies. Coffee cakes. Banana bread. And finally, rock bottom and full commitment; pies and curries. Never more 1/2-3/4 of a teaspoon, a little nutmeg always goes a long way. It is a short and powerful road, but always delivers a long line of flavor. But space cakes is where I must draw an end to that line.

The concept of nutmeg being a narotic substance came to me when I watched the movie, Malcolm X. I had no idea. But there was Malcolm in prison, going through some major withdrawal, and his cell mate offers him a little shot glass of some “tea” to “help him get the monkey off his back”. Eighteen year old me, mind blown. It had been there all along. Nutmeg?! I’d smoked banana peels, mint, various herbal teas. Chasing childhood urban legends, that usually turned out to be scams. Once I even rolled up a bunch of  dried maple leaves in a piece of newspaper. Good times, lemme tell ya. But when I heard that nutmeg was a powerful, possibly even toxic, hallucinogen I was shocked and disillusioned. I felt like I’d been lied to. Yet for some reason, even with this new knowledge that getting high could be as easy and cheap as raiding the spice rack, I never bothered.

I suppose part of it was because I didn’t really know what to do. How was it to be prepared? In the film, it looked like they were just drinking the stuff. And judging by the actors’ wincing faces while they did their prison shooters, it didn’t look at all appealing. Also, there was no internet at the time, and no one was talking about it. It was clear that either nobody knew about this, or that adults everywhere had taken a solemn oath to never speak of the dark side of this beloved and essential component of pumpkin spice. So anyway, I just forgot all about it.

Eight thousand years pass and I’m at a beach party somewhere, talking to a bunch of giddy people who have clearly been eating all kinds of oatmeal cookies. Smells yummy. I’m hungry. And confused. Grandma’s oatmeal cookies at a reggae party? Reggae bake sale? Okay… On my way to buy my next beer, I see the sign for ‘space cakes’. It’s written in iridescent glittery marker on a black piece of cardboard. It has a couple of planets drawn on it, and a UFO. Makes sense. And there they were. Hunks of plastic wrapped squares of cakes, next to all the regular bar fixings you’d expect to see. I didn’t buy one, but I was offered a bite.

Despite the fluffy looking cakes I’d seen neatly folded in plastic wrap; exhibiting hints of the slightest stickiness and moistness, these were heavy, gritty, baked bricks. More similar to a protein bar consistency, than to any kind of coffee cake. After eating what was a pretty small nibble, my mouth was on fire. It was like I’d downed a whole bottle of Old Spice. There was nothing pleasant about this. Just pure torture of the mouth. All at once, my tongue was sapped of moisture, yet tingling in a similar way that Szechuan peppers cause, which I actually like. I didn’t like this though. I could feel the sides of my mouth shrinking and my molars were starting to squeak along the walls of my mouth. Luckily, beer helped. I rinsed out my mouth and that was that for my two-minute relationship with nutmeg space cakes.

For those who enter into the deep space of the nutmeg cake, the highs vary. I never even made it to the lobby. Some have experienced the feeling of trudging around head to toe in a thick, mollasesy substance. Others claim to have loss of appetite, inability to fall asleep, and a lot of other nasties like stomach cramps, headaches, nausea, dry mouth to the extreme, and elevated heart rate, to list a few. That’s a pretty iffy laundry list of fine print to roll the dice on, just to get the euphoric and hallucinatory effects that very few people actually enjoy. Still, its legal, cheap, and as easy to get as going to your local supermarket. But I think I’ll just stick to cinnamon buns and zucchini bread, thanks.

Okay, a wee bit of science. Nutmeg contains a chemical compound called myristicin, among other things. Its breakdown in the liver produces MMDA, a known amphetamine. However in some studies, human guinea pigs were given high doses of myristicin, but were observed to have much milder results than expected, suggesting that other chemical compounds were probably also responsible for the ‘high’. I found a short read on the subject for anyone who’s considering getting all janky and sketched out on holiday spice, or just curious.

To put it all in a nut (meg) shell, sorry… some places have strict and often archaic laws in regard to drugs. So I totally understand, and even support, people getting creative in their pursuit to make merry. The fact there’s a potentially psychoactive household ingredient sitting right under our noses, can make experimenting pretty desirable. But for all its potential worth, it doesn’t actually seem worth the trouble. The fine print warnings read like some TV ad for pain medication. And in my personal view, I do not enjoy destroying my love of the flavors that have happily speckled my life. I’ll stick to that recipe.