Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Nourishing Wednesdays – Building Community From the Ground Up

When I started really cooking and not just defrosting, it was easier to drag myself out of bed on Wednesdays. That was the day when the food section came tucked into the Los Angeles Times. Imagine how I felt when we started getting the New York Times with its sophisticated discussion of all things culinary. When I took to surfing the Internet, I found a cornucopia of food sections from around the country where I could learn about regional cuisines.

My interest in the best way to measure flour, whip up a batch of pesto and create my own curry blend has since expanded to issues like soil depletion, fresh water, heritage seeds, family farms and the humane treatment of animals. (California’s Prop 2 passed! See my Nov 3rd post.)

So it’s appropriate that I launch Nourishing Wednesdays. I hope to share what I learn about food, farming, cooking, gardening and community. Because people brought together over a shared meal can solve anything.

Today I want to tell you about a little neighborhood store tucked in an unassuming strip mall. My daughter and her high school pals discovered Tifa Chocolate during their weekend quests to celebrate the newfound freedom that the automobile can still provide.

I’m not a big chocolate fan. (mon dieu!) So it barely registered on my brain until I needed to get a present for a friend’s birthday party. I figured it was the perfect excuse to check out the shop.

Tifa is family owned and operated and Denise happily jumped out from behind the counter to explain chocolate facts to me. We discussed the soil where the beans are grown, and its effect on flavor. She plied me with samples and questions about the birthday girl, the better to divine the perfect chocolate. My friend was deemed a dark chocolate connoisseur and a package was created. I hadn’t had such great service since I discovered a wonderful bra lady at Macy’s. Exceptional chocolate and a good fitting bra. Is there anything else in life?

Denise spent a lot of time with me and I left promising to come back the next week for another birthday gift. It seems I have many chocoholic friends.

And of course I did return; it wasn’t an idle comment. I’d found a local merchant, one of my community building goals. When I told Denise I liked to cook and enjoyed learning about the ingredients I used, she shared a salad recipe that used nibs and offered to send me home with some next time.

So what about the samples, you’re asking. Well, the caramel milk chocolate with salt was very good, all the flavors were balanced. Then there was a white chocolate that was much better than the supermarket wax chips in a bag. And one with a hint of floral, another with citrus and I can’t leave out the pepper infused one that would go great with a Syrah … well come on, I didn’t say I hated chocolate.

But the point isn’t the candy, at least not for me and my thighs. Here was a storeowner who knew her merchandise and what it took to sell to someone from the neighborhood. This wasn’t a national chain with cashiers who knew nothing and cared less. I’d played crazed mama bear and whipped out a photo of my daughter, and Denise had remembered her and her buddies. Try doing that with a big box clerk.

I’ll be back. Tifa serves hot chocolate and has two little tables and chairs where you can enjoy your sipping and check out the world map that shows where chocolate is grown. Perfect for pre/post movie evenings.

And by coincidence today’s New York Times Dining & Wine section has an article on this magical bean, “When chocolate is a way of life”. It’s about a family and village in Ecuador and how they’ve become real entrepreneurs, making and marketing their own chocolate. I guess I’m fated to learn more about cacao beans. I sense more tastings in my future.

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