Column Classic: Rewarding, Or Why Free Is Dumber Than You Think

By Lisa Scottoline

Here’s what I’m telling you: beware “rewards points.”

What?

Yes, that’s right. I said it, and if you remember, it wasn’t always thus. I used to be a big fan of rewards points.

Let’s review.

I remember the day I found out that my credit card was accumulating rewards points, because I felt like I had won the lottery.

Okay, a really tiny lottery, but still, free is free, and I was excited. The way my credit card worked was that every time I used it, it accumulated points that enabled me to choose free stuff from a free catalog, full of freeness.

Wow!

I even wrote about how hard it was to pick stuff out of the free catalog, mainly because I was so dazzled by the free part that I thought I might faint.

I’m not cheap, but free has a unique power, no? I couldn’t go wrong if it didn’t cost me anything.

Or so I thought.

And since then, I’ve been all over the reward thing. I’ve even spread the word. Daughter Francesca is about to get a new credit card, and I’ve advised her to make sure she gets one with rewards.

Who doesn’t want to be rewarded?

Lately, me.

I came to this epiphany with my new spice rack. I saw it in the free catalog, and I forget how many points it cost, because it all came down to the same thing:

It’s FREE, dummy!

So, I bought/ordered/ willed it to exist in my house. And now, sitting atop my oven, is a too-cool-for-school spice rack from Dean & DeLuca. All of the spices are in glass test tubes with real corks, so they’re visible from the side and have nice colors. But the spices are things like lavender and Tellicherry peppercorns.

Huh?

I have no idea when lavender became a spice, but it does look pretty in its purple test tube. Too pretty to use, and anyway, what would I put lavender on?

Marigolds?

The rack also includes imported spices, like Greek oregano and French tarragon. Thank God. You wouldn’t want tarragon from anywhere else, would you? And I smelled the Greek oregano, which smells exactly like American oregano, which smells like a pizza parlor.

So maybe that, I’ll use.

Or eat out of the jar.

But I’ve never used any of the spices in the rack, and the test tubes don’t say when they expire, so the bottom line is, the French tarragon should have stayed in Paris. It was a waste, even though it cost nothing.

Paradoxical, no?

The spice rack taught me that even though something is free, I might not want it. I don’t need it. I’m not going to use it. If I had really wanted the spice rack, I would have bought it, and the fact that I didn’t means I shouldn’t have it in the house, at any price.

Even free.

That was my life lesson.

Let me interject to say that the problem may be endemic to spices. Even before the test-tube spice rack, I’d been known to buy spices that I’d never use. Mainly because I want to be the kind of person who cooks with green curry, I’d buy the spice and throw it out when it became a solid block of greenness. I’d make this same mistake around the holidays, when I’d pick up fresh jars of allspice, ground cloves, and cinnamon, which is the kind of thing I imagine the Cake Boss tosses into his shopping cart. But I never use it, and I’m no Cake Boss.

Cake is the boss of me.

Come to think of it, the real problem may be that I’m a stinky cook, as I barely use any spices at all, and in this regard, I am my mother’s daughter.

Let’s blame Mother Mary. After all, she’s not here, and she doesn’t read the column.

Truth to tell, there was no spice rack in our house growing up, and we had only four spices: dried oregano, garlic salt, onion salt, and salt.

Mother Mary mainly cooked Italian, and salt.

We didn’t even have pepper because Mother Mary is enough pepper for anybody.

And to this day, when she visits me and makes meatballs or tomato sauce, we first make a trip to the grocery store to buy her salts, with their preservatives included the faker the better.

And you know what?

Her food tastes delicious.

And I feel rewarded.

Almost free.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline 2011