A little grateful munching

December 31st, 2006

In these last hours of 2006, I am awash with gratitude. There are so many kind, generous and talented people to thank – the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters and the Culinary Trust top the list, as these culinary wizards waved their magic wand in my direction. The grant to research and finish the Ah, Almonds book has been a great help, spurring me on. Their generosity made travel to Spanish Catalonia possible last September. In Reus, I spoke with Mr. Barriach, director of the almond processors, Morella Nuts. He spoke of his concerns and of the role his Morella research team is playing in collaboration with Califronia Almond Board researchers on almonds’ nutritive role in fighting ‘the obesity epidemic’. During that busy week, Carme Ruscalleda – a three-star Michelin chef on the Costa Brava – enthusiastically shared her ideas along with clever twists on Catalan traditions using almonds. I had asked for a short interview, but after two hours we shook hands and agreed to meet again! These are but two of the high points of the travel and research in Catalonia. There are numerous individuals to whom I am grateful (as I munch on a few paprika-roasted almonds -yes, from Casa Gispert in Barcelona) and look back on 2006. My daughter, Julia, introduced me to Olympe Versini during a memorable autumn dinner at Casa Olyme in Paris – Merci, Julia! An interview with this Corsican chef will appear on vagabondgourmand in upcoming months.

During a thoroughly relaxing Noël in south eastern France, I spent an afternoon at La Fenière in Lourmarin, learning about les Treize Desserts, the finale of a Provençal Noël feast.  I want to thank Reine Sammut for taking time to talk with me about her favorite variations on the almond theme. The frosty Calissons d’Aix glacées that topped off our La Fenière lunch were just a sample of this well known chef’s inspired interpretations of sweet Mediterranean traditions. Our welcoming Noël hostess in Apt, Mme Virginie, graciously let me restore my sleep bank and offered support through the weeks since my mother’s passing. To all of these kind individuals, and to Michel – chief proof-reader, chef extraordinaire and the driving force on yet another project – I am ever grateful.

Merci et Bonne Nouvelle Année 2007!

Wrapping up Flavor

December 15th, 2006

Another year of tasting and traveling is almost behind us.  The packages have been wrapped and sent to our near and dear ones in distant spots around Europe and North America, but I’m still subject to last minute gift ideas – an almond torrone or perhaps a Spanish fig cake might delight a special friend.  Delinostrum to the rescue!  Ordering gifts of food specialties from their web site, www.delinostrum.com takes the hassle out of shopping and shipping. The quality of their products is always high, and the range is very well chosen.  This is my quick-shopper stop for Spanish almonds, with a tantalyzing selection of artisanal torrones (a Spanish almond and honey confection), and packets of Marcona and Llarghetta almonds straight from my favorite foodie nook in Barcelona: Casa Gispert. If I can’t zip south to the Catalan capital, Delinostrum saves the day, just short of the real experience of poking around in the ancient grocery while the aromas of roasting almonds or coffee fill the air. Almonds only begin the list of Delinostrum shipable specialties…their olive oils and vinegars are excellent, too.

For Italian food specialties, I turn to www.gustiamo.com, whose site is a wonderland of products and information. For Sicilian sweets and jams or the lightest, sweet loaves of Panettone, this is an excellent gift source. If not for Christmas, gustiamo’s savory and sweet temptations solve the hostess-gift puzzle.  Beatrice Ughi, whose spirit and savvy shines through in the gustiamo forums, is the manager and contact at gustiamo.  Gifts are dispatched with alacrity from gustiamo’s warehouse in the US.  It is difficult to choose from such a wide range of specialties.  Any (or many!) would be a great introductory taste for friends planning travel to Italy in the upcoming new year. And why not sample a special morsel while toasting the old year and ringing in 2007?