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A recent letter

I ordered a mystery box to share with my partner on our recent kinda vacation... I love how it was wrapped simply with brown paper and tied with twine...


June Field Trip!

La Montagnet

My connection with Sokol Blosser traces its roots back 30 years, to the day I dropped out of college, moved to France, and smooth-talked my way into a job restoring a chateau on a fringe of the Pyrenees.  It was there that I discovered something remarkable. I thought it would be nice to introduce myself and my company, The Meadow, via the story of this discovery. I won’t share the stories that are still recalled with mixed horror and amusement by French villagers today: stories entitled “Some Cracked Ribs" or “Two Inches of Plaster Dust" or “The Homicidal Peacock." It wasn’t all calamity. I hunted wild boar in a thick fog at dawn, mastered a legendary cassoulet recipe from the village over the mountain, and foraged chanterelles with loggers. 

I met Alison Sokol Blosser because I wrote a book called Salted—a Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes.The book won a James beard Award, and that nudged me into a gig co-hosting a diner in New York where Alison was pouring some mythical pinot noir. So it was salt and wine that brought us together. Here’s the story, pulled straight from my first book, of how I fell in love with salt.

"At twenty years of age, I made the discovery that would change my life forever. I was somewhere in the middle of a very long, unstructured motorcycle trip across Europe, wandering from Wales to Slovenia, Vatican City to Denmark. My philosophy was that I should ride slowly, soaking up the scenery and stopping to look more closely at whatever caught my eye—a strange-looking tree, or a cow that approached the fence, or a toothless man. I’d maybe open a can of sardines and dump them on the crust of yesterday’s bread, cut a tomato on top, and stare at whatever was there to be stared at. Some of the time I would camp alone, but often enough I would strike up a conversation and find myself at 3 a.m. drinking red wine from a barrel at the toothless man’s cousin’s ex-wife’s vineyard, snack-ing on fried olives made by the ex-wife’s attractive but mean-looking daughter. 
When I made my discovery, I was motoring along on the picturesque D836 road from Paris to Le Havre. In the mood to splurge, I began looking for a relais—the French equivalent of an American truck stop, offering traditional food at affordable prices. Unlike the United States, where chain restaurants  now dominate the roadside, France still has a good number of relais that exist as distinctive local enterprises. They buy local ingredients, cook specialty regional dishes, and serve them with locally made wines and spirits; thanks to them it is still possible to eat your way across the thousands of miles of French highways experiencing the country’s dozens of traditional regional cuisines. 
I rode for some time in search of a relais. Finally I asked a woman walking along the side of the road with a basket of beets under her arm. She pointed me in the right direction and minutes later I was seated at a nondescript relais drinking a glass of thin, crisp red wine and waiting for my steak.
The steak was superb. Firm in texture, like a fresh peach. With every bite the flavor evolved—from mild and sweet to something deeper and richer. The world floated away. I was one of Odysseus’ oarsmen devouring the sacred cattle of Helios. Mythic.
Transported, I asked the waiter how they made the steak. This, evidently, was not a very intelligent question—his response was to return to the kitchen.  I took a few more bites and tried again to engage the waiter, hoping to appeal  to his pride.
Our conversation went something like this:
“Wow, this is the best steak I’ve ever eaten in my entire life, ever.”
“I am glad.” 
“Um, how is this steak made?”
“It is a steak, Monsieur.”
“Yes, but it is really good steak.”
“Um, so why is it so good?”
“Monsieur, it is a steak that has been grilled.”
“Where did you get the steak?”
“It is from Michel-Paul’s farm.”
“Yes, a man who raises cows.” 
“Um, okay. So what else?”
“It is steak, from a cow. It is cooked with the grill, and seasoned with the salt.”
Aha! I looked at the steak more carefully. Hefty nuggets of opalescent salt were scattered across the surface, glistening in little wells of steak juice, each crystal a fractured composite of smaller crystals, within which were finer crystals yet. 
“Where did you get that salt?” I demanded. 
“That, Monsieur, is salt from Guérande. The owner’s brother is a salt maker. This is the family’s salt. They have made salt for hundreds of years in the traditional way.” 
And there it was. By dumb luck and a simple appreciation for a steak, I had discovered the heart of the restaurant, its connections to neighbors, family, and ancestral ways of life. 
After lunch, I called my friends in Le Havre from the pay phone at the back of the restaurant and told them I would not be able to make it that day. Instead, I rode off, fast now, gunning it toward the Brittany coast with the waiter’s directions to find the salt maker. This experience was one of several that shaped my love and respect for food. I was beginning to understand that all ingredients matter—a lot—and that, in virtually everything we eat, major revelations await the curious. Salt! Who would have thought?
Over the next decades, I discovered that there are multitudes of salts in the world, that their forms are legion, and that the ways to use them are infinite. A sense of never-ending possibility has fueled my interest and frustrated my comprehension. For years after my great roadside discovery, my outlook on salt could have been summed up as, “Wow.” Yet over time my observations and thoughts—and my many conversations with salt makers and cooks—have coalesced into a greater understanding. From salt makers, I have learned how the most elusive and fleeting nuances of weather, ocean, land, and tradition are adamantine facts of the craft. Cooks have showed me how salting can become a portal into a more vital and personal connection to food. Both, in their own ways, are searching for truths as surely as any philosopher. 
During that first long tour, and many subsequent ones, I picked up every imaginable type of food, from live eels to moldy cheese, but it was the salt that started to accumulate. Bags of salt would be tossed in cartons with journals, old pants, and spare motorcycle parts and secreted away. The collection was highly personal from the start. But over time it became more than that. Settling down with a family gave the salts space to breathe, and gave me even more time to research and cook with them. Old boxes were unpacked. Cupboards filled. Gradually the essence of my life took physical form: a lifelong pursuit of food and travel, curated in salt."