Foody gifts

Andreae Prozesky keeps the cookies in Christmas.

I know there are a lot of haters out there when it comes to this whole Christmas racket. “It’s all so commercial!” they despair, like Charlie Brown before Linus goes all Gospel of Luke on him. Did I ever tell you I was Linus in my grade-five production of A Charlie Brown Christmas? True story. And I rocked it. I am, and always have been, a dedicated fan of the holiday season.

My heart grows three sizes just hearing Dean Martin croon, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” and positively explodes by the time I get to all the Whos down in Whoville with their “Dah who dor-aze” and whatnot.

I flippin’ love it.

This is not to suggest, however, that I’m one of those people who goes out and gets all her shopping done in October. Or in November. Or that I even shop much at all. I buy a few sparkly things for the resident princess-ballerina-fairy obsessed little girl, and I troll the Christmas fairs for cool, handmade local goods by our city’s fine craftspeople, but when that’s done I go home and make up a grocery list, pick out some recipes, and get busy in the Food Nerd Laboratory.

In a season of commercial frenzy and grown-ups having meltdowns in traffic from Stavanger to Kelsey, my kitchen is an oasis of floury calm. And yours, my friend, can be one too.

I’m a big fan of the edible gift. I like giving food, and I like getting food. After all, Christmas is a foody time. Whether you’re attending a family dinner for 25 or sitting down to watch Rudolph alone with a nice glass of wine and a full box of Toffifee (as I’ve been known to do), it’s all about savouring the deliciousness of the season. Plus, you know, there’s that seven pounds you’re supposed to put on every winter to help get you through the cold, damp, bone-chilling days between now and April. If you haven’t gained that much by New Year’s, you’re totally going to freeze. Seriously. In that light, isn’t a gift of buttery, buttery shortbreads as good as a sweater? Certainly tastier, no?

Of course, if you’ve got people on your list who are going to give you grief over a delicious, home-made treat of a Christmas gift, then knock them off your “to-cook-for” list. I don’t want your efforts in the kitchen to go unappreciated. Your fifteen-year-old nephew isn’t likely to be all that impressed by a jar of chutney, no matter how artfully you’ve balanced its acidity and sweetness. Get him a gift certificate for Fred’s or something. Buttery, buttery shortbreads won’t go over too well with your vegan sister or your wheat-sensitive mother-in-law either, but non-dairy coconut truffles just might do the trick.

You won’t be the only one giving gifts of food, I promise. There are people out there signing one another up for cheese-of-the-month clubs as I type. Jars of exotic jams are resting on mounds of straw in fancy gift-baskets like shiny, bright-hued eggs in overpriced nests.

On a recent trip to a certain giant bookstore (might I call it a biblioplex?), I spied harried shoppers picking up fancy gifts of­—I’m not kidding—’smores-making kits. That’s right, some graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate in a box. At $12.99 a pop. For that price, you could assemble the same thing using gorgeous fair trade organic chocolate. If you wanted to go all fancy-like you could even make your own marshmallows. My, um, colleague, the venerable Martha Stewart, has a much-loved recipe over on her website. I’ve never made them, but I’ve always wanted to. Perhaps this is the year. I do enjoy a good feed of ’smores.

If you’re worried that people will be disappointed that you’ve given them a gift that won’t last forever, don’t be. They won’t be disappointed. Chances are, they’ll be grateful. It means they won’t have to worry about dusting off that mantelpiece ornament every time you come over. They won’t have to run to the very ends of town trying to find something worth spending that gift card on, among all the other people running around trying to find things to spend their own gift cards on. They won’t have to live in fear of the heartache of snowglobe-breakage.

See how you’re improving the lives of the people you love? Not to mention improving your own life.

Making homemade presents in your very own kitchen means not having to set foot in the mall through the entire holiday season. You can avoid Stavanger, you can avoid Kelsey, you can make your own hours and you can do it all in your slippers, if you like, watching A Charlie Brown Christmas and getting down with the true spirit of the season.

A few gifty, foody ideas…

When you’re making food gifts, make sure you take any allergies, sensitivities, or other dietary concerns into account. There’s no sense messing up dishes to make presents that people aren’t going to be able to enjoy.

There are plenty of gifty-type recipes in the Food Nerd archives on The Scope site. Here are a few:

granola, in individual jars or bags
• peach-rhubarb chutney (you can substitute tinned peaches and frozen rhubarb in the recipe)
pumpkin chocolate-chip cookies (these are great to give someone to put in their freezer for post-Christmas detox)
• the infamous golden fruitcake, if your loved ones are that way inclined

There’s always room for the semi-homemade gift. One easy one is marinated olives. Pick up some choice-looking olives, drain them, and soak them overnight in lemon juice. Drain the juice, and divide the olives among gift-sized jars (I use 250 ml jam jars). Add to each jar ¼ teaspoon hot pepper flakes, one peeled garlic clove, and a bay leaf. Top them up with olive oil and you’re done. You can do the very same thing with plain canned artichoke hearts, too.

One last one: hot nuts. Fun to say, easy to make, awesome to eat. In a bowl, beat one egg white until frothy. Add a big pinch of coarse sea salt, and whatever spices you enjoy—cayenne, cinnamon, allspice, coriander, curry powder, whatever—to a total of, say, 2 teaspoons. Add a teaspoon of sugar if you like. Toss in about 3 cups of nuts—pecans, cashews, almonds, or peanuts if you’re on a budget—and bake, on an ungreased pan, at 250F for 25-30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Let them cool, package them up, and enjoy a week of holiday mirth and hot nuts jokes.

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30 January 2013

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