Saturday, April 19, 2008

Simple Pleasures in Artisanal Food

Simple pleasures offer authentic experiences free of embellishment and trappings. These encounters form our earliest sensory impressions and continue to shape our memories as we grow older. Appetite is instinctually drawn to artisanal food, permitting contemplation of utility, heritage and function in flavor. The following products nourish and heighten the senses, and serve as a balm in a fast-paced world that easily abides in distraction:

Brown Kalijira Rice (Lotus Foods) Brown Kalijira Rice is a miniature variety of Basmati. Its demure grains resemble oblong sesame seeds and tease the mind with the question, “Can these tiny grains truly be rice?” Prior to cooking, Kalijira emits notes of bran, popped corn and wood, qualities that are common to its Basmati cousin. The similarity ends once the Lilliputian grains are added to the pot and begin to swell with water. Creamy aromas of coconut, jasmine and sweet grass mingle above the stove, filling the entire house with a compelling aroma that can last up to half a day. If rice is the food of comfort, Kalijira is the food of unadulterated beauty.

Dry Roasted DuChilly Hazelnuts (Holmquist Farms)
Hazelnuts are not eaten out of hand as often as peanuts, almonds and cashews. Their skins have a tendency to be bitter and few varieties are truly sweet. The natural sweetness of DuChilly hazelnuts from Washington State make Italy’s prized Langhe, a favorite of confectioners, look like a saccharine imposter. Though distinctive, the DuChilly’s inimitable character does not come without a price. Once planted, a tree may take as long as 15 years to mature. In addition, the slightly pruned and odd shaped nut is subject to irreversible blights that discourage many farmers from growing them. For the Holmquist family, who have owned their farm for over 104 years, the taste of DuChilly hazelnuts surpasses obstacles to cultivation. The nut’s sweet flavor saunters between a hazelnut and an almond, and has an addictive crunch in dry-roasted form. Try them in your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe or the one provided on Holmquist Farms' website.

Organic Heirloom Tea Flowers (Upton Tea)
Humans have praised the leaves of the tea plant for centuries, but its flowers have been a stranger to most brews. Upton Tea has ventured into new territory by offering a tisane made from the actual flowers of the Camillia sinensis plant. This rare yet affordable offering presents a new way to enjoy tea that is worth the effort of infusion. Heirloom Tea Flowers have an addictive perfume that melds notes of honey, blonde tobacco, apricots and citrus. The tendered cup retains an apricot note mixed with woody and muscat aspects traditionally associated with a good Darjeeling (think Margaret’s Hope Estate, First Flush). The tisane is significantly lower in caffeine than regular tea and contains polyphenolic antioxidant catechins. Qualities of good taste and health-giving properties make Organic Heirloom Tea Flowers a worthy addition to the teetotaler’s cupboard.

Dried Lychees (Trader Joe's)
The process of dehydration intensifies the flavor of fruit, highlighting primary characteristics while adding new and intriguing facets. Dried Lychees emit an intense rose note on the palate, this despite a generic quality of woodiness that emanates from the bag. The citric quality attributed to fresh lychees is accentuated in some of the pieces, a feature that is likely due to the use of unripe fruit in the drying process. The exotic snack has a compulsive quality due to variations in flavor and texture from piece to piece. Each morsel beckons another attempt at aromatic consideration, but efforts are not intellectual and the bag is quickly emptied.

Links in this article were edited in 2020. Upton Tea Heirloom Tea Flowers and Lotus Foods Brown Kalijira Rice are no longer available.

Photo of Buddha from Turning Stone Ranch.