Now’s the week when I begin to obsess over holiday hubbub and this year I am not so spirited as much as submitted to the indulgent hour. This is my first Thanksgiving turkey protest and it feels pretty good. Rather I’m making a casual meal this year for my family and a friend or two who may swing by, a meal that won’t have me sweating over the oven for hours hearing everyone else sipping on drinks and laughing by the fire, but still quite yummy. Plus, dare I say, I just can’t get lathered up about eating turkey this year…
And now that I don’t have to plan an elaborate meal I’ve time to think about some gifts I may want to give this Christmas. Every year I work my brain thinking of the perfect little unusual presents I can make for everyone, usually food focused since I couldn’t knit or draw or glaze a pot to save my life. I usually jar something like preserved meyer lemons (which were a hit a few holidays ago) or citrus and ginger jam or a chutney (which I’ve decided no one really can get excited about). I’ve also made food baskets that contain regional products like Ames honey and Legacy chocolates and Minnesota wild rice and give those to faraway friends.
I thought I’d take the time to suggest a few other things, all the while promoting some local businesses. Alright, I thought of filling some small jars with homemade herb salts. I’ve found a few good recipes lately in Jamie Oliver’s new book Jamie’s Italy and in Sally Schneider’s latest The Improvisational Cook, both highly recommended. Oliver has a recipe for a rosemary orange salt and Schneider gives ideas for a few of her own. My only qualm is lasting power. Your friends wouldn’t be able to leave those on their shelves for too long. Maybe include a recipe or two for when to use the salts and that will get them cooking.
In the realm of salts, Penzeys has a good column of already made gift boxes that I think are worthwhile. Beyond their impressive spices they have various salts and hot cocoa mixes and what not. You can also make your own spice gift box and they stuff it with all sorts of smelly delicous things like bay leaf and cinnamon stick to pretty it up. Lovely idea for a gift. And in case you can’t remember where Penzeys is located, there is one smack-dab in the middle of uptown on Hennepin and Lake Street across from Kitchen Window. Or you’ve a St. Paul Penzeys on Grand Ave.
Nearby Penzeys on Grand is the new Golden Fig and River Chocolate Co. store which sells local and regional food products. Those nice ladies from the St. Paul Farmers Market have opened their own tiny shop and now’s the time to drop in. Here’s a real live local business which sells real live local products; you can’t think of skipping it while on your Grand Ave. holiday shopping trip. Uh, listen to me…
A few good food books have just emerged that I wouldn’t mind receiving for Christmas. Marcus Samuelsson’s newest, The Soul of a New Cuisine is fun to sit down with. It’s a good example of the new trend in cook books to be almost as much story as recipe. Tales of his travels through Africa are great to read as escapism and the recipes are, as is normally the case, impressive and accessible. Following that trend of travel, story, and recipe is Jamie Oliver’s latest Jamie’s Italy where he does virtually the same sort of trip, eating his way round the country and telling about it. But Oliver profiles some of those he meets and tells their story, which I really appreciate. And the photographs are magnificent. Not your average cookbooks. Plus, Sally Schneider’s new The Improvisational Cook isn’t too shabby. I don’t always agree with Schneider or find all of her recipes compelling, but I think she’s onto something, plus the book is tidy and fun to flip through.
Just to mention. The Wedge Coop in Minneapolis has just opened up an online store called Wedge Worldwide where they sell delightful little hippy goods now and everything for the yoga-going friend on your shopping list. Plus, inside their store, they’ve a sharp display of locally-made goods in the health and beauty section such as kitchen-ware, socks and mittens, and pottery. You may want to peruse the shelves there.
And finally, and this is really just a shout to anyone who may have me on their holiday list. That lovely food empire out of Ann Arbor, MI, Zingerman’s, has too much to lust over. If you’ve never visited their website or begged them for their catalog, it is not too late. Ultimate foodies, they travel the world in hunt of the best cheeses, vinegars, oils, chocolates, nuts, and on and on. Most importantly, they have their own highly esteemed bakery and dairy and deli and you can order their products as well. They all come to your door wrapped up fancy, and you really can’t beat the quality of food that they sell. Highly highly recommended. Did I mention how fun it is to browse through their catalog?
Good luck. And if you’ve any suggestions for fine holiday food gifts, please find me and let me know, I’m always looking. Happy Thanksgiving…