Part of the pleasure of cooking and eating is sharing it with loved and liked ones. Here are some of the gifts that I’ve either given to my own family members and friends (Mom! Stop reading right now!) or that I’ve enjoyed enough to put on my own wish list. Homemade treats are also always a gift option, of course — even a couple years into it, I’m still surprised each time how easy it is to make these brittles, barks, and chocolate-dipped fruits.
We’re lucky in Seattle that we have shops curating some fabulously gift-ready ingredients and prepared goods — think Picnic, Sugarpill, Chefshop, DeLaurenti, Big John’s PFI, Uwajimaya, the new Marx Foods… (add your favorite in the comments if I’ve missed it). I’m thrilled that the Book Larder is serving up cookbooks (If your mom, like mine, already bought herself Dishing Up Washington, try local Alice Currah’s “Savory Sweet Life” and (sister! Stop reading right now!) Maggie Savarino’s “The Seasonal Cocktail Companion,” both of which include holiday recipes.) Impressive but non-local recent gift books, depending on the tastes of the recipients, would be Cheryl Sternman Rule’s radiant “Ripe,” Martha Holmberg’s instant-classic “Modern Sauces,” bread-baker’s manual “Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast” by Ken Forkish of Portland’s Ken’s Artisan Bakery, and Yoram Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s evocative “Jerusalem.” But if you’re going for straight food items, my tastes this year run to these items:
1. “Mirepoix” caramel box (pictured top right)
There are a couple benefits to this intriguing $12 collaboration between Theo Chocolate and FareStart, caramels composed with classic mirepoix flavors like celery and onions: One is that the limited-edition caramels taste great, in a highly unusual way. Another is that the sales benefit a fine cause, with $1 per sale going to FareStart’s deservedly lauded culinary training program for people who are homeless. FareStart students and chefs from the organization’s Guest Chef night helped create the savory sweets. You can get them, along with shelves of other goodies, at the store by the Theo factory, or buy them online here through the holidays.
2. Soda syrups and drinking vinegars
The Sodastream is a tempting gift if you have the counter space. But the best and most interesting non-alcoholic drinks I’ve had this year are easy even if you have no gadgets more complicated than strong wrists. Just add club soda to Pok Pok’s sour-sweet drinking vinegars. Lisa Dupar, who uses them for seasonal mocktails, tipped me that the vinegars are now available in Seattle shops like Sugarpill and DeLaurenti — and they’re also online here ($16.95-$18.95/bottle). Even less DIY, gift-wrap a stock of the dry, sophisticated soda syrups in unusual flavors like lovage, stocked by Marx Foods. They’d be appreciated by soda fans and cocktail fans alike.
3. Spicing it up
When I need a last-minute hostess gift, I sometimes duck into the grocery store for a few bags of fancy sugars or spices. I’m a fan (and not the only one) of the clean, pretty packaging and high-quality ingredients of Seattle-based India Tree. You can find retailers through this locator, though QFC, Metropolitan Markets, and Whole Foods carry at least some of their goods. Fancy salts are also usually appreciated — Sugarpill has a fine selection, and I was impressed earlier this year with Woodinville-based Saltworks, online here.
4. Let them eat cake
Cookies are fine. But dense, nutty panforte says “holidays” to me just as much, and isn’t as simple to make at home. Years ago I enjoyed the one carried by Pasta & Co., they’ve since replaced it with an imported Italian pear-chocolate panettone that they also swear by. I’m a fan of intense spices like cloves and mace, so this lebkuchen-like Marabissi Panpepato has been on my mind since tasting it as part of an impressive array of panforte options at Marx Foods. It was better than any cookie I’ve eaten all year.
5. The gift that keeps on giving
Generic gift cards are fine when you don’t know people well on a personal level. But when you know their tastes, a restaurant gift certificate will be appreciated long-term — when it’s unwrapped, when it’s remembered, and when it’s used. (And that appreciation might extend years later — we still gratefully remember that our first Canlis visit came through a gift card my husband received in our student days.) I’ve been tempted by certificates from independents like Danielle Custer’s Mobile Monte Cristo, but most restaurants offer them — just ask, and enjoy.
What’s on your holiday food list?
Photos of lovage soda and panforte are courtesy of Ryan Clark for Marx Foods. Mirepoix is courtesy of Theo Chocolate, peppers courtesy of India Tree, and gift certificate image courtesy of Mobile Monte Cristo. Happy holidays, all!