Fleur-de-Package

“Wij kleden ze niet uit.”

It’s a Flemish saying that translates roughly as “We do not undress them” which, in the words of my favorite Ghent gent, means: “We pay a fair price for good produce.”

Only this time, it has a few other meanings.

A package notice arrived in our post office box the other day. If you’ve never been in the State College post office during Christmas season, let me take a moment to describe the scene. It’s not unusual to have 20 box-laden customers waiting in a line in the main section of the post office with one or two holding the glass door open to the postal box lobby to cram another dozen or so customers into the snaking line. And it’s 4:50 p.m., 10 minutes to closing. There are only two clerks working. Then a third appears and shouts, “Anyone here for a pickup?”

My lucky day. I was able to jump to the head of the line for Clerk No. 3. I handed her my slip. A few minutes later, she returned with a battered and tattered heap. Originally, it was a cardboard box about the size of two shoeboxes. But it had been slit and crushed and ripped and slashed to nakedness. Then, it was wrapped with clear plastic tape. Then twined with plastic cord and wrapped again with Shrink Wrap. Before Clerk No. 3 would hand it over, I had to sign an orange notice.

Apparently customs clerks on both sides of the Atlantic have a motto that’s quite contrary: “We do undress them,” rifling through the birthday-Christmas package for my mom and me from our Belgian family.gifts

If customs officers were expecting contraband, it must have been a disappointment. From Richard, there were Belgian melt-in-your-mouth chocolates and a smorgasbord of regional/European, edible delights such as canned Belgian “faux gras”, a tin of Portuguese sardines, and a package of Icelandic sea salt flakes. There was also a special treat from my rascally granddaughter Lais: Jimini’s Crickets. From Marina and Koen, a Naaktkalender. Now, you don’t need to know Flemish to figure that one, just pronounce each letter out loud—N-aa-k-t (naked) k-a-l-e-n-d-e-r (calendar).

The package was a gift of years and Christmases past, present, and to come.

The snack packet of pepper and dried tomato crickets brought back memories of this year’s visit to Penn State’s Great Insect Fair…and stirred up desires of looking forward to introducing my granddaughter to the wonders of nature. The company motto at Jimini’s is Think Bigger, Eat Smaller. Check out their products at www.jiminis.com (text available in English and French.) Jimini’s began in October 2012 with an idea, followed by crowd funding. Insect snacks were sold in France the following year and reached supermarkets in Belgium by 2014. All insects used in Jimini’s products are raised in Europe, and the snacks and energy bars are manufactured south of Paris. There are lots of sustainability reasons to intentionally include insects in our diet in the coming years, and, a few nutritional surprises. Crickets, for example, contain twice as much iron as spinach!

Faux Gras de Gaia (www.fauxgras.be —available in French and Dutch) is an animal friendly pate made of mushrooms, champagne, aromatics such as coriander, cinnamon, and cloves, and other organic ingredients. The product information says 200,000 ducks in Belgium are caged and force-fed until their livers swell 10 times their normal size to provide the country’s appetite for foie gras. For me, this gift recalls our first Christmas in Belgium with Marina’s au pair family: Christmas Eve dinner, Liege-style, with foie gras and champagne and midnight Mass in French. Directions say to refrigerate the pate before serving. The faux gras will be cut it into bite-size pieces and then each is placed on a slice of toast, for a single bite. My Chocolate & Zucchini blog guru, Clotilde Dusoulier, instructs that foie gras should never be “spread” on toast, a foie gras and Faux Gras faux pas.

The tin of Rio Azul sardines in olive oil from Setubal, Portugal, brought an immediate smile to my face. I recalled my travels in 2016, picnic lunching on sardines with good Portuguese bread and cheese, gazing at monoliths, cork trees, and beachside cliffs. The people of Setubal (south of Lisbon) have been preserving fish since Roman times. You can order your own at www.rioazul.pt (Website available in English, etc.)

The sea salt may be a gift of future travels, but how did Richard know? I’ve been daydreaming of visiting Iceland for years, prompted by a book I read on Icelandic ponies (A Good Horse Has No Color: Searching Iceland for the Perfect Horse by Nancy Marie Brown). This fantasy raised its head once again just this month, listening to a friend’s tale of watching school children in Iceland save baby puffins. Infant puffins, it seems, fall out of their cliff nests with regularity, and students go on field trips to pick up the birds and return them to their nests. The beauty of Mother Nature is that puffin moms don’t care which baby is returned to which nest—they mother whoever ends up in their nest. On second thought, Richard probably just remembered my mom’s salt mill was getting low… Nordur Sea Salt Flakes are blended with handpicked Arctic rhubarb in Karlsey, Iceland, where sea salt has been harvested for 260 years. www.nordursalt.com

All of this discussion leads me to the coming year and the calendar from Marina and Koen, the Ghent food team (VZW Voedselteam) and the team’s motto: “Wij kleden ze niet uit.”

Apparently the food team farmers and food purveyors decided they would undress themselves. Most years they open their farms for tours or events, but this year they stripped off their overalls and work shirts to promote another form of transparency within their food system. The calendar idea struck a soft spot with me because I loved the 2003 British comedy Calendar Girls (starring my favorite Helen Mirren). Just this summer, I went to a local Boal Barn production of Calendar Girls in which a Master Gardener friend had a role. With the Naaktkalender hanging on my wall, it promises to be an interesting new year. Happy 2017. Laurie Lynch

Written on Slate: “Live each season as it passes, breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.” Henry David Thoreau

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