“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” –George Bernard Shaw
I am not typically a big fan of fireworks, and I never quite understood the connection between our country’s independence and barbecues (not that I ever really need an excuse to eat), so I’ve never made much of an effort to join in the traditional celebration activities. This holiday was no different, and, rather than searching for the best fireworks display, I planned a long weekend out of town for some culture, relaxation and family togetherness. However, the universe apparently had different things in mind for me, and plans were suddenly changed. Needless to say, I was disappointed. But then, I have sincerely come to believe that everything happens for a reason, and what started out as a sad start to a long July weekend, ended up being one of the best Independence Day weekends I’ve ever had.
Since we were now meant to spend the weekend in town, Little Man and I began to devise our Plan B. Since his idea of a perfect holiday weekend is playing The Sims for three days straight and mine is eating…well, almost anything for three days straight, we settled on pretending to be Sims while I ate my way halfway across town. My mother, who Little Man refers to as “Mimi,” joined us for part of the weekend, and he was excited because he had been eager to introduce her to the West Side Market.
His tour began, as our Saturdays at the Market always do, with apple fritters from K & K Bakery. These, of course, are eaten immediately, as we explore the Market for the goodies of the day. In between bites, he eagerly pointed out the various stands, as we explained to Mimi where the organic produce could be found or who carried grass-fed beef. As soon as he finished his apple fritter, he guided Mimi past the pastry displays and spice vendors to Frank’s Bratwurst, where he always orders a “frankfooter” with mustard, ketchup and cheese. As is tradition, we then took this across the street to enjoy in the courtyard, along with a drink from Koffie Café. In-between the eating, we do actually manage to buy some foods that make it to the house, but it’s the munching while sightseeing that makes these excursions so special.
The Market seemed especially busy this Saturday, but I couldn’t let the trip go by without a visit to Mediterranean Imported Foods, which has become my go-to cheese shop in Cleveland. As I stepped into one of the small aisles awaiting my turn to peruse the day’s cheese selection, a small but interesting display of honey jars drew my attention. Varieties I never knew existed until they stared at me from their pretty little bottles, begging me to take a closer look.
My prior knowledge of honey was limited to a vague recognition that bees are involved, and that it could generally be found at the local grocery store in a plastic, bear-shaped bottle. The really fancy honey seemed to come in glass jars, and occasionally I would find a the words “wildflower” or “clover” on them, which meant little to me, but it still all pretty much just wore the label of “honey.” As a typical American child, raised on white sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, I had never given honey much thought. I was unaware of the pleasure that this delightful brown liquid could bring until I was in college. And even then, I didn’t know that there were so many varieties or that there was so much involved in the making of it. My curiosity was piqued by this display in front of me, so I decided that I would learn a little more. I’m always willing to learn…especially if I can gorge myself in the process.
I have since learned that there are more than 300 varieties of honey available in the United States, alone, and that the smell, color and taste depend on the types of flowers the honeybees visit. Honey can be polyfloral (made from the nectar of different types of flowers) or monofloral (made from the nectar of one type of flower). There is also an ingestion and regurgitation process that takes place, but it’s probably best not to think about that too much. Color ranges from nearly white to a dark amber, and while there is usually an underlying bee vomit, err, “honey flavor,” regardless of the variety, the taste will vary, depending on the floral source. Evidently, light-colored honey is generally milder in taste and darker honey will have a more pronounced taste. Not being one to take information at face value, I will, of course, be testing these theories for myself. You know…in the interest of responsible blogging.
None of this information was available to me in the moment, though, and not knowing the difference in flavor between rapsflower, acacia blossom or forest honey, I decided to go with my own sophisticated selection process. I chose the prettiest bottle. Apparently, I am very shallow.
I was excited with my new bottle of Spanish Wild Lavender Honey produced by a company called Mitica, but I wasn’t really sure what to do with my new treasure once I got it home. To inform my decision, I first dipped a tiny spoon in the jar and tasted the honey alone. This nectar of the Bee Gods was way better than the crap in the bear bottle! I could have just eaten the whole jar with a spoon while standing at my counter, but something about that seemed very wrong. No, this was special, and deserved a formal preparation. I did a quick search for lavender honey recipes and was surprised to see that this is apparently hot shit right now.
As I was taking inventory of what possibilities lie in my refrigerator, I came across an as-yet un-eaten wedge of English Stilton. I’m not sure if lavender honey was ever intended to be eaten with Stilton, but, quite frankly, I don’t care. For me, it turned out to be the most delightful combination of sweet and buttery and creamy, with just a hint of the pungent aftertaste that makes the “King of English cheeses” so charming. And so much easier than making lavender honey cupcakes.
OMG…Heaven drizzled with Wild Lavender Honey!
After dinner, I began thinking about the honey again and wanted to try it with something else. Then I remembered the vanilla bean truffle gelato I had at Michaelangelo’s last fall and decided to prepare something similar. I added a bit of the lavender honey to some Talenti Tahitian Vanilla Bean Gelato I had in the freezer, and ladies…let me just say…if you’re ever without a date on a Saturday night, this will make it all better.
It’s amazing the joy the little things can bring you. The rest of the weekend was full of similar excursions (and food), and was a reminder that there is an awful lot of good in my life. So, while the weekend was not what I had originally hoped for, it gave me much to be appreciative for. And I suppose that’s really what this holiday is about. © Racheal Lee Bradford