Do you have a Penzey's in your area? I had only heard about them recently from friends who loved to go there. Then I discovered there's a local one not too near me but within driving distance. I always meant to go but since it's farther away, I never made it. I'd fallen out of the habit of shopping just to shop so I couldn't justify driving there just to see the place. When one of my coworkers discovered I had never been but she knew how much I love to bake, her first reaction was "you've got to go to Penzey's!" And to help me see the light of what I was missing, she was kind enough to give me a gift card to Penzey's. It isn't like I needed an incentive to go but it did give me purpose and justification to make the drive over (thanks, Michelle!).
Which I did and it was fun. Penzey's is a spice shop but that seems like such a modest oversimplification to describe the store. Every conceivable spice lines their shelves, neatly arranged in some flavor palette that probably makes sense to most cooks. Spices, extracts and "powder" products commonly used in baking like cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice, cloves, dried lemon peel, cocoa, and vanilla extract are neatly displayed in an area meant to emulate a kitchen. Spices for barbecues like jerk rub are in one section, other seasoning spices line up next to them. If you're an avid cook, Penzey's is akin to FAO Schwarz for kids. I can see chefs and gourmands alike spending hours at Penzey's much like I geek out at the library or Williams Sonoma. I know so little about cooking that I can't even do justice to a description of Penzey's so if you have one near you, I'd say it's definitely worth a field trip.
I did appreciate all the baking spices though and stocked up on my favorite Vietnamese cinnamon as well as unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder and lemon extract. Their prices were pretty reasonable, especially since I don't believe in buying spices in large containers. Spices are at their most flavorful when they're fresh and by the time you go through a bottle, it'll have lost some of its initial punch. It's better to buy spices in small containers and replenish them as needed. Says the person who has geriatric garlic powder in the spice drawer..... But hey, at least my cinnamon is used up and purchased fresh regularly. Nothing but the best for my snickerdoodles.
Oh and if you're still shopping for Christmas gifts, if you have any cooks on your gift list and/or anyone who's gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan or has other dietary requirements and the usual food baskets won't do, spices are a great gift. Anyone who cooks at home can always use them and you can have fun picking which ones you think they'd like best.