Thursday, December 5, 2013

Holiday Gifts

This is just a reminder that since most people already have more stuff than they can store, food gifts are always perfect. Everybody has to eat so there's never too much in the pantry. And food gifts that brighten the dreary days of December and January bring joy to the world.  So don't forget to raid your pantry in the Christmas spirit of sharing with others. These gifts may not look as glamorous as a new i Pad  but they'll keep giving just as much pleasure. Nothing lifts a spirit like treats good to grab.

Here are the usual ideas:
Spiced pumpkin seeds
     These crunch up a green salad or winter squash dish,  crisp the top of corn pudding or corn tart, make a zesty snack, and best of all provide crucial nutrients like zinc that aren't in too many other foods.  Zinc is especially beneficial to men.

Maple Syrup
    Only the genuine syrup from a local farm is worth giving and it's getting more valuable by the year. Climate change is warming winters too much for the sap to rise; maple syrup is predicted to become extinct in 50 years. So indulge now. It's the perfect gift for diabetics because this is supposedly a sweetener they can live with. Maple syrup isn't just for pancakes; it's for oatmeal, yogurt, toast, baked apples, Indian pudding, barbeque sauce, muffins and cookies.  It can also glaze a roasted turkey.

   Most commercial supermarket honey is said to be sludge from China impure in more ways than one, so genuine honey from a local producer is a real gift to someone you love. Historically and universally, it's been the gift that signals a sweet relationship, a way to tell others you love them. Plus it's an antibiotic you can use on your throat or dab on a wound in an emergency.  Honey doesn't just add happiness to tea; it makes sour yogurt yummy. Greeks traditionally put honey and butter on their sourdough breakfast bread and that's delicious. With soy sauce and ketchup in equal parts, honey makes a tasty, easy spare rib cooking sauce. Frankly, its uses are endless.

Pickled Beans or Asparagus or Cucumbers
   This is the stuff of cocktail canapes, salads, Japanese suppers, cheese trays and sandwich plates.  Plus there is sweetness in all this sour: pickling creates a nutritional powerhouse because fermenting doesn't just preserve the veggies' original vitamins, it increases the mix.

   Whatever you made last summer or fall, give it now because the commercial stuff is mostly sugar, by design. It has to be made to last a lifetime. But if you have homemade jam without artificial pectin and with low sugar so that your friends can actually taste the fruit, they're gonna love you for giving them a jar. It will have less calories too. Jam isn't just for toast and croissants; it's good to make linzer torte or thumb print cookies and good for glazing a fruit tart.

   Yes, stale bread like Cinderella can become something quite lovely. You just need dense bread, hopefully locally baked and a day old. If it's a baguette, cut it in thin slices. If it's a round or oval loaf, cut it into bite-sized pieces. Either way, put the cut bread into a wide shallow bowl half filled with really fruity olive oil and a mashed clove or two of garlic until it's moist.  Remove from the bowl, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and dry in the oven at 300ยบ for about an hour or so. Check. In the end they should be hard and golden.  Store and present in airtight tins.  The sliced croutons are perfect for soup or fondu, the diced ones for salads. They turn out to be very handy, especially because store-bought croutons can be prohibitively expensive.

Tomato Sauce, Spiced Nuts, Cheesesticks, Cookies
    You get the idea...

and don't forget locally made potholders because nobody ever has enough.

P.S. I like to present food gifts in tins, jars and baskets the recipient can use over and again. They are part of the gift.