Gifts From the Heart to the Stomach

Who doesn’t have fun melting chocolate, crushing candy canes, and licking the spatula and bowl?
These pretty Linzer cookies are much easier to make than they look, but you will need cookie cutters. Laura Donnelly

Homemade holiday gifts are often the best and most economical. They show that you made some effort, and it’s something your children can join in on. I mean, who doesn’t have fun melting chocolate, crushing candy canes, and licking the spatula and bowl?

In the years I was working as a pastry chef, I would buy a few pounds of good, dark bittersweet Valhrona chocolate from the head chef and make peppermint bark for Christmas presents. It takes five minutes and is a lot cheaper than what you’ll find at such gourmet stores as Williams Sonoma. Melt dark chocolate and spread it on a sheet pan. Melt a smaller amount of white chocolate and spread this on the cooled dark chocolate. Smash up some candy canes and sprinkle them on the white chocolate. Let cool, break into pieces and pack into tins or boxes for your lucky friends.

One year I was extremely ambitious (and broke). The restaurant I was working in was serving Parker House rolls brushed with Old Bay seasoning butter. I made an extra batch of the yeast dough and turned it into cinnamon buns. I delivered each batch of unbaked buns on Christmas Eve to friends around East Hampton. All they had to do was pop them in the oven on Christmas morning. I loved imagining everyone enjoying the aroma of cinnamon wafting throughout their houses as they opened presents.

Some years I make a French orange-flavored brandy called bischof. It is meant to be added in small amounts, about a teaspoon, to glasses of champagne or white wine, but is delicious on its own, chilled. It’s fun to collect small decorative bottles throughout the year for this purpose. Places like HomeGoods are good for this.

HomeGoods can be hit or miss, but I have often found great deals on olive oils, maple syrup, pretty paper baking cups, Le Creuset baking dishes, Emile Henry crockery, and more.

Some foods and cooking equipment can be bundled together with other items to make a themed gift. For instance, homemade Creole seasoning could join a bottle of hot sauce and a Lodge cast iron frying pan for a Louisiana-inspired gift. Include some recipes for gumbo or étouffée and your friends will be mighty impressed with your creativity and thoughtfulness. Another themed gift could be a beautiful Moroccan tagine from Loaves and Fishes Cookshop with some tins of Global Palate spices like ras al hanout or baharat and a jar of Charissa’s Harissa. Global Palate spices can be bought online and were created by the talented local chef Mark Sanne. Charissa’s Harissa, sold at many markets in our area, was created by the North Forkers Earl Felt and his late wife, Gloria.

Use your imagination for other economical themed food gifts. Cavaniola’s in Sag Harbor has mini raclette cheese melters. Give one of these with a hunk of raclette cheese and a jar of cornichons for an apnes-ski fondue party. 

Have a friend who loves tamales? Give him or her some dried corn husks, a bag of masa flour, dried chilies, and a Mexican cookbook for their D.I.Y. project.

Think outside the box: Quail Hill Farm winter shares are still available, who wouldn’t love the gift of going to one of our best organic farms to snip greens, gather alliums, potatoes, carrots, and winter squash from the barn, and grind wheat berries for bread? Shares are available through the Peconic Land Trust.

Everyone loves cookies and everyone knows Tate’s Bakeshop. You can find the Tate’s chocolate chip cookies everywhere. Pay a visit to the charming shop in Southampton, however, and you will find items you won’t see anywhere else, like Tate’s addictive cayenne chocolate cookies that Kathleen King invented two years ago.

For a grander gift (without spending too much), go hunting around antique and thrift stores. Sage Street Antiques in Sag Harbor is a reliable source for such fine items as Simon Pearce glassware, Apilco porcelain gratin dishes, copper pots in perfect condition, and all manner of beautiful plates and glasses.

Tiina the Store in Amagansett is best known for its beautifully unique, curated clothing. Look closer and you’ll find Italla glasses, bowls, and dishes, Marimekko napkins and potholders, Black Creek Mercantile cutting boards and spoons, Dosa dish towels, and crinkly white ceramic vases and pitchers designed by Max Lamb for 1882 Ltd.

Dedicated foodies always love receiving cookbooks, and BookHampton in East Hampton has the best selection around. Yeah, you can buy books on Amazon, but isn’t browsing in person a lot more fun?

Use your imagination, take a little time, and make some effort for your friends and family, for ‘tis the season!

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