Essays

Dates, Hazelnuts, and Thoughts on Food Gifts

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.

I’ve been savoring those dates and hazelnuts sloooowly, trying to make the supply last as long as possible.

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.

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The Omnivore’s Hundred

The Omnivore’s Hundred is an eclectic and entirely subjective list of 100 items that Andrew Wheeler, co-author of the British food blog Very Good Taste, thinks every omnivore should try at least once in his life.

He offered this list as the starting point for a game, along the following rules:
1. Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2. Bold all the items you’ve eaten (I’ve used icons instead, and added an asterisk for the items I’m particularly fond of).
3. Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4. Optional extra: post a comment on Very Good Taste, linking to your results.

[Update: In response to the numerous questions his list raised, Andrew published an FAQ explaining the how, the why, and the wherefore.]

My list is below; I am missing 37 items, most of which I’d be happy to try if given the opportunity. There are a few that I wouldn’t rush to eat, but none that I couldn’t swallow if someone’s life, honor, and/or feelings were at stake.

And of course, if you don’t have a blog, you can still play along, with a good old pencil and some paper — care to share your results? And/or items you think should be added to, or removed from that list?

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On Hotel Breakfasts, and How Not to Have Them

Much has been written about plane food and its associated plights, but I don’t think enough ink has been devoted to the matter of hotel breakfasts. And as I get ready to embark on my book tour, the subject is very much on my mind.

Breakfast is, to me, the most intimate meal of the day, the one that you eat barefoot and in your pajamas, the one that eases the transition from your helpless, sleeping self to the person you are in the daytime and to the outside world. What you eat then says a lot about you: I have it on authority that Brillat-Savarin meant to write “You are what you eat for breakfast” (“Dis-moi ce que tu manges au petit déjeuner, je te dirai ce que tu es”) but the maxim had to be edited for space.

The challenges of hotel breakfasts

If you feel the same way, I’m sure you’ll agree that breakfast poses a serious challenge when you travel for work. Hotel breakfasts, even in nice hotels, make me want to cry — remember, we’re all children at breakfast — as I stand by the buffet, trying to identify the least unappealing items and more importantly, the most nutritious, so I won’t feel faint an hour later.

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Seven Breakfasts

Click here to read today’s entry.

War Ration Stamps

Tickets de Rationnement

[War Ration Stamps]

As if those two books my grandmother gave me weren’t fascinating enough, leafing through them unearthed other treasures, slipped between the pages over the years.

A yellowed advertisement for a bottled remedy called Le Contre-Coups de l’Abbé Perdrigeon (Abbot Perdrigeon’s back-kick), which will help you recover from heavy falls and blows, brain congestion, apoplexy, and will ease the pain from arthritis, rhumatisms, hypertension, and miscellaneous maladies de la cinquantaine, those ailments that hit you in your fifties.

An ugly promotional bookmark for the Larousse dictionary (“Le Larousse est toujours à la page”, the Larousse is always up-to-date). A torn little card from a rest home near Paris, Le Château de Grignon. A thin book with instructions on how to use a mysterious powdered binding agent called Zite, which purportedly replaced eggs, butter and oil in recipes. A scrap of paper on which my grandmother copied one of her (and my) favorite poems, Le Dormeur du Val.

And in an old envelope, faded strips of ration stamps from March and April 1946, allowing you to buy meat (90 grams per stamp) and fat (50 grams per stamp); the food rationing in France went on for four years after the end of World War II, until 1949.

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