Arbitrary Food Gear

NEAROF!’s Christmas Gift General Ideas 2010

A selection of delicious teas from Silk Road, an amazing tea shop in Victoria, B.C., Canada.

Admit it. By January 1st, you’re going to be five pounds heavier than you were a month earlier. Why? Because the holiday season is full of food and non-stop cooking and baking. It’s also a time for giving and receiving foodie delights, from edible treats to kitchen gadgets.

Food-related Christmas gifts require more research than a lot of other gifts. Taste is a very personal thing, and you only get a window into another person’s food personality by getting to know them.

This list, then, isn’t full of specifics, but is instead filled with general ideas that might get you thinking in the right direction.

CHEAP!
1. Candy: We’re not talking a Snickers bar, eh? Hit up your local specialty candy shop for something unique. Maybe something exotic and foreign, like fudge from the UK? Jaffa Cakes? (Yes, UK readers. Jaffa Cakes qualify as exotic around here.) The more oddball, the better.

2. Tea: Something particularly nice, like a tin from Victoria’s splendid Silk Road Tea – personal faves include Canton Orange (if you like Earl Grey, you’ll love it) and Spicy Mandarin (a festively spicy orange-infused black tea). Plus, it’s light enough that shipping doesn’t have to cost a fortune. (They ship Canada Post based on actual weight at shipping, so check their website for descriptions and tea prices, then give them a call to order and calculate postage.) Folks in Edmonton should check out the Acquired Taste Tea Company just off 124th Street. Both shops have a solid online presence.

3. Nifty (but inexpensive) kitchen item: Back in high school, one of my friends got me the perfect kitchen gadget gift — a French fry cutter. Why was it so awesome? Because they knew how much I loved making homemade fries, so it was both practical and genuinely tailored to my tastes by someone who knew me well.

LESS CHEAP!
1. Case of yummy beer: After opening all those gifts, you’re going to be looking for an afternoon sip, no doubt. Wouldn’t it be lovely if someone gave you a six-pack of intriguing beer? Darker, more flavourful beers are perfect for winter, so explore the beer store for something more interesting than thirst-quenching. Don’t forget: New Year’s Eve is also right around the corner.

2. Appropriate cookbook: It’s the whole teach-a-man-to-fish thing. The key to giving a cookbook as a gift is to find a title that isn’t either too far above or below their skill level, and that reflects their cooking/baking interests. Try for something special, or that will indulge their obscure foodie passion. A guide to making authentic macarons for the Francophile cousin, maybe? A book of region-specific BBQ recipes for the charcoal die-hard?

3. Homemade baking: One of the most amazing gifts I can remember receiving from a friend at Christmas was a small clear plastic box of my colleague Kelly’s  homemade vanilla marshmallows, packaged together with graham crackers, dark chocolate and instructions on how to make toaster s’mores. Creative, fun, and delicious. The more decadent and labour-intensive the baking, the better.

MODERATE TO BIG!
1. Something from Alessi: It doesn’t really matter what you get from Alessi, you know it’s going to be ridiculously chic, part design piece and part practical tool. On the lower end of things, maybe a Magic Bunny rabbit toothpick holder? I spotted them in town for around $57. If cool matters more than cash, maybe try dropping $100-150 on a Juicy Salif, the most spectacular — though not the most practical — lemon squeezer you’ve ever seen. Designed by Philippe Starck, it looks more like an evil alien landing ship than a citrus juicer. I don’t own one yet, but I’ve been coveting it for years. (Prices for this stuff vary widely. Shop around.)

2. Espresso Machine: You’re going to need some help with this one, so consult with your local espresso machine dealer. Questions to consider: 1. Does your lucky gift recipient already have a machine? If so, find out the make/model so you know if your gift (and price range) would be a step up, or a step down. 2. Do they love espresso-based drinks, or are they strictly drip-coffee fans? If they scoff at ordering a cappuccino, skip the espresso machine and buy them tickets to the next monster truck show. 3. Do they have a good grinder? By good, I mean a real grinder, like a Rancilio Rocky. Whirly-blade grinders aren’t up to snuff for making espresso. 4. How automatic do you want to go? There are machines that deliver decent (though rarely spectacular) shots at the push of a button, and others that make amazing espresso but require the user to learn some technical finesse. 5. What’s your budget? You can drop $200 on a super-cheap machine, or $5,000 on a machine with loads of bells and whistles. This is where the first question comes in. If they’re an espresso snob, they’re not going to be satisfied with a $200 machine.

3. Stand Mixer: Life in the kitchen is better with a stand mixer. Whipping, kneading, folding — if you’re serious about baking and cooking, a quality mixer can take your repertoire to the next level. Prices vary quite a bit, but consider capacity, power, and how expandable the mixer system is before committing. Check out reviews online, and think about brand name and warranty. My stand mixer, a 1,000-watt piece of Cuisinart beauty, is huge and crazy powerful — my apartment building vibrates when I use it — and there are things I could never make without it. If they’re going to be making bread and other doughs, go big and go for kneading power. For smaller projects, a lighter mixer may suffice.

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