July 19, 2011
At a C&Z anniversary party three years ago I met David, a reader from L.A. who was spending a few months in France. We've been in touch on and off since then, and when David came back to Paris for a vacation in late spring, he very generously brought me a gift.
What he brought was a bag of honey dates grown in Indio, California by Dates by Davall*, and a pound of dry roasted hazelnuts from the Freddy Guys orchard in the Willamette** valley in Oregon. He included a note to explain that he gets the former at his farmers market in Santa Monica, and discovered the latter while in Portland.
This struck me as a textbook example of the perfect gift.
Not only are the dates and hazelnuts spectacularly good -- the dates soft and caramelly as toffee, the hazelnuts crisp and light as popcorn, and vividly flavorful -- but the combo of the two is the ultimate treat. Throw in a square or two of dark chocolate and angels come out from behind the clouds, playing their tiny trumpets.
Beyond the sheer good taste -- literally and figuratively -- of the present, I love the elegant simplicity of offering ingredients that reflect the work of fine growers I might never have come across otherwise. I love that they come with a personal story, too, and that I get to imagine David visiting those market stalls, sampling the fruits, going cuckoo for them, and buying extra to give out to friends so they could share in his enthusiasm.
And share in his enthusiasm I certainly do. I've been savoring those dates and hazelnuts sloooowly, trying to make the supply last as long as possible. Of course, I can find good dates (from Iran) and hazelnuts (from France or Italy) here, but I won't be able to get more of these particular dates and hazelnuts anytime soon, and this makes each snack extra special.
I regularly receive requests from readers who are coming to France, and want to bring a gift for French people who are going to host them: what should I get them, they ask?
There are a million and one suitable gifts -- and, in general, any gift is a great gift -- but I often recommend taking advantage of the rather lenient customs policy of the EU, by which you can pretty much bring in any food you like for personal consumption, as long as it's not meat, fish, or dairy.
You can't possibly go wrong picking up a small selection of high-quality local goods that you're fond and proud of, and including a card to explain what they are and why you've chosen them.
Do you share my point of view? What kind of food gifts have you particularly enjoyed as the recipient, or been particularly successful with as the giver?
* Dates by Davall doesn't seem to have a website, but they provide a phone number if you want to inquire about where to find their dates: +1 (760) 398-1070.
** Though I only spent a couple of days in Oregon, it was enough to learn the proper way to pronounce Willamette: it's Wi-LAM-it, and it's easy to remember once you're told that it rhymes with "dammit!"
Easy Candied Almonds and Hazelnuts
Dukkah (Egyptian Spice Mix)