fleur de sel, fleur de my soul

The day started out all January-like. It was overcast and droopy, with a wet chill in the air. I was so sure that nothing extraordinary would happen today, except perhaps, that excellent nap I would take later to go with the stay-in-and-drink-hot-cocoa weather. I pitter-pattered through the morning as usual. One bowl of Special K with Redberries and plain soymilk, a 40-minute brisk walk/jog around my neighborhood, and to top it all off, a cooking show waiting for me when I got back home. In the afternoon, I thought I might read some more American Pastoral, watch Benjamin Button, or start The Road. Was I in the mood for nostalgia Americana, period drama, or potential thriller? As it was all a little unclear, I chose to think less about all of that and more about what I would make for lunch. As I made my way back along the last 1/2 mile towards home, I had it. Miso-glazed broiled salmon and snow peas. This has more or less been the state of affairs in the soverign nation of my mind since winter break started. It sounds quite structured, but I assure you, there was quite a lot of rambling between the lines.

The post-lunch slump rolled around, and the sky looked no bluer. In fact, it was a great deal greyer and heavier. I remembered that I planned to meet a couple of friends at Whole Foods for a shopping/browsing trip, so uninsured as I am, I asked my mumsy to drop me off. After really getting into ingredients and flavors last year, I have to say, I’ve grown even easier to please and entertain. All you have to do is take me to a grocery store and I’d be content for hours, just milling around the isles and thinking about all the recipes I could make. And that’s just your basic old Ralphs or Albertson’s. But at Whole Foods…at Whole Foods, I can see myself wandering around for days, savoring the baked goods, candies, hummus, cheeses, cereals, fruits, vegetables, kabobs, etc., etc., etc.!!!! I want to say weeks, but at the risk of already sounding a bit freakish, I think I will keep it at days.

First, we hit the produce section. Cashew juice, anyone? I’d never heard of it before today. Lesson number one down! Then, because I’ve had an awful sweet tooth lately, we traversed the market floor straight to the baked goods/gelato/chocolatier. I picked up and longingly looked at the contents of several plastic-sealed treasures. Raspberry-coconut bark. Bite-sized melty dark chocolates. Gingerbread cookies. But alas, the courage of my wallet failed me, and I set it all down. I also knew that I would be in danger of devouring the entire contents of any of the things I saw, and after Christmas and New Year’s, I figured I should lay off extremes. We wandered through the ready-made hot-food section and wound up oggling cheeses. I sampled a Monterrey aged white cheddar: quite nutty, quite good. Dubliner’s still my fave, though. We were passing by the meat and seafood sections back towards the produce area where I was hit with desire for….trail mix!!!

So a brief history of the beginnings of my love for trail mix. I had never really loved the idea–liked the salty mixed with the sweet, but was never a huge fan of nuts or raisins or dried fruit. Then I spent the summer in Budapest, during my first year of flavor and food education/indulgence, and picked up my first box of muesli. After that, I have to say, few things make me happier than some sweet bits all shook up with some salty bits and put in a container. I’ve said it before, but only my good friends believe me: I’m quite easy to please.

I thought I might have found January 3rd, 2008’s Holy Grail with the vast assortment of trail mix varieties blinking their choco-nutty eyes at me. I restrained myself with great effort, however. The tour through the living food-museum was not quite complete (I like to make a once-around Whole Foods before I decide what to spend my meager cash on). Today I was interested in that one special thing. The once-in-a-lifetime kind. Or at least, the once-a-year-splurge kind. Cakes. Cookies. Chocolate. Hm, I thought. I’d had chocolate on my mind for a while. I shuffled back towards the chocolatier and took a more critical eye to the display case of sinful treats. Immediately, I picked up on my favorites: the dark chocolates. Was I interested in a caramel? A fruity burst encased in at least 55% cacao? Some nuttiness, perhaps, to go with the deep sensuality of the chocolate? Alas, these things were not to be. Today I wanted pure flavor. I wanted a truffle that was so entirely dark and chocolatey that I wouldn’t think about wanting one for a least another month.

Again, I scanned the gold-framed nametags pinned to the undersides of the smiling cubes and spheres. After a little more squinting, I found it. Dark Chocolate Truffle. Mmmmmmmm. How lush. But oh, what was this? There weren’t any DCT’s smiling back at me! Surely there must have been some mistake?! I started panicking a little. I get like this about chocolate sometimes. Especially when it runs at $2.30 a truffle. Actually, since I generally buy my chocolate in bars (when I do), I don’t really know what the going rate for quality truffles is. But still, for someone who ate potatoes because they were like four pounds to a dollar all summer, $2.30 for a piece of chocolate is rather extravagant.

I needed a backup plan. I noticed DCT’s friendly neighbor was a Sea Salt Truffle. This intrigued me. I’d heard that salt can enhance the flavor of sticky or sweet treats, and I was thinking that chocolate might be one of them. Plus, fleur de sel has been getting sexier over the years. Didn’t I want to indulge? That recent article in the NY Times about caramel and fleur de sel got me thinking about the Starbucks salted caramel hot chocolate, which in turn brought me full circle back to what was in front of me. So I thought, Why not? We should all live a little on a dreary day. Or live more, even. “Excuse me, is the sea salt truffle made with dark chocolate?” I asked. I had to be sure. I wasn’t going to eat some milk chocolate sea salt truffle. That wouldn’t satisfy my specific craving. I can’t tell you how excited I was when I was told that it was, in fact, GENUINE dark chocolate. It was a little like someone with SADD turning on their happy lamp for the first time. I was damn hopeful about that there Sea Salt Truffle.

I paid for it. I looked at it. Turned it over a couple of times. Wondered if it would meet my expectations. Tried to get through the plastic wrapping. Feared that I might drop this potentially forever-precious, half-egg shaped chocolate onto the shiny camel hell of the Whole Foods floor. Finally, I held it safe between my thumb and two fingers. I bit into it. I chewed. I transcended.

I came back down halfway through the truffle to really think about the beauty of what I had just tasted. The chocolatey, mysterious and deep-flavored outer and the velvety, rich, creamy and salt-flecked filling. The crystal-crunchiness of the salt. Fleur de sel. It was artfully salty, spread evenly through the truffle and through my chews, adding a third texture and dimension of flavor dimension that went beyond anything I had ever tasted before. I was swimming in smooth, luxurious cacao.

If you love chocolate, and you ever have $2.30 on hand, I’m telling you, run or bike (if you think you might feel guilty about it later) to your nearest Whole Foods or chocolatier and search for a truffle spiked with sea salt. I’m thinking of buying a couple dozen the next time I get paid.

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