Special Section: Non-Chocolate Gift Food Recommendations
Everyone has someone special on their holiday list who's into good
food but can't or won't eat chocolate. Here are some ideas for that
Vanilla Company (www.vanilla.com, 1-800-757-7511). I adore vanilla.
It is unbeatable as a flavoring, especially combined with chocolate,
and my idea of aromatherapy is opening a bottle of good vanilla
extract and inhaling deeply. If you are similarly-minded, rejoice,
for here is a small venture devoted to the joys of that blessed
orchid. Different types of vanilla beans and extracts (wholesale
and retail), vanilla soap and perfumes and bath salts, vanilla honey,
even clary sage and vanilla massage oil; if it has vanilla in it,
chances are that the "Queen of Vanilla", Patricia Rain,
knows about it. The website is very new, so look for a continually-expanding
roster of products. I like Ms. Rain's mission and vision for The
Vanilla Company, and be sure to read her fascinating history. Vanilla-themed
gift baskets should be online by now, too.
Jam and Preserves (www.deandeluca.com, 1-877-826-9246). Woodberry's,
located near the famed fruit-growing Langekloof area of South Africa,
is a small, family-owned and family-run company that makes regionally-traditional
jams in small, open-pot batches. Choose from their Cape Gooseberry,
Youngberry, seedless Hanepoot Grape, Cape Fig, or other jams (try
finding those flavors in your local market!). All fruit is hand-picked,
and there are no artificial preservatives or colors used. The elegant
labels and jars will make a good first impression, too. Via the
magic of our ever-smaller world, you need only go as far as the
web or your telephone, as Dean & Deluca now carries Woodberry's
products (make sure you try the delicious apricot). Many of these
preserves can also be used in your cooking (try glazing a turkey
with the nectarine jam blended with mixed poultry herbs), and most
will be eye-openers for everyone who tastes them. Here's your opportunity
to surprise anyone who thinks they've seen it all in the world of
in the Rough (www.mclures.com, 1-800-84-MAPLE). This raw, unprocessed,
opaque honey, containing pollen and propolis and capped with honeycomb,
has a great, intense flavor and a spreadable, slightly rough texture--very
distinct from the multitude of similar-tasting brands. This is a
honey that can stand up to your favorite wholegrain or multigrain
bread, but at the same time I think it'd be ideal in a cup of delicate
tea. I've tried a number of creamed honies and raw honies lately,
from various regions of the country, and this beats them all both
for texture and flavor. If you know someone really into natural
foods, this would be a very nice holiday gift. Important note: Honey
of any kind should not be fed to infants under one year of age.
Fruitz (www.wildfruitz.com, 1-888-688-7632). Trev Warshauer
is a man passionate about his mission. Upon realizing that the vast
quantities of soda drunk by so many young people contained things
that were contributing to health problems, such as diabetes, he
set out to create an alternative to soda. He wanted something that
was healthier and better-tasting and could be used as a culinary
item. A tall order, certainly, but his Wild Fruitz Sparkling Juices
fill the bill. They are remarkable for what they don't contain:
no preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors,
or phosphoric acid. What these juices do have is at least 25% real
fruit juice, all natural flavors, light carbonation, and a genuine
thirst-quenching fruit flavor that isn't too sweet. I'm told that
some chefs use these as marinades, and I'm betting the orange/mango
would be great over poultry. Other flavors available include raspberry,
lemonade, huckleberry/blueberry, and pomegranate/black currant.
There's a minimum order of one case of 12 ounce bottles, but you
can mix flavors within the case. If it seems odd to order a beverage
this way, remember how many people don't give a second thought to
ordering cases of wine...
Own (www.leosown.com, 1-888-LEOS-OWN). Whether you're entertaining
a crowd or your own tastebuds, smoked salmon is always a popular
choice. So what's so different about Leo's Own, you ask? First off,
it's all wild Pacific salmon, so it really tastes like something
(to me, most farm-raised fish lacks in flavor). The salmon is lightly
smoked with a traditional low-salt recipe, then packed into glass
jars, which makes it perfect for use in recipes (regular smoked
salmon is a pain to slice and chop). Of course, if you're like me,
you'll eat it straight from the jar; it's fully cooked, so this
is no problem. Leo's Own (which really is headed by someone named
Leo), is available in traditional flavor, as well as lemon pepper,
garlic pepper, lemon dill, and savory sweet. This salmon is always
moist and flavorful. Unbeatable as a midnight snack!
A Tasteful Cracker (www.partnerscrackers.com, 1-800-632-7477).
If you had to name one snack food you'll almost certainly serve
during the holidays, crackers would be a safe bet. But most supermarket
crackers are too salty or too greasy for me, or they're loaded with
artificial ingredients. Not these! Available in flavors such as
Walla Walla sweet onion and toasted sesame, Partners are very thin,
very crisp, and quite flavorful, and would be a perfect accompaniment
to cheeses or dips--you can even enjoy them unadorned. If you're
looking to reduce your fat intake, this company also makes a line
of low fat Wisecrackers, and you can choose from roasted garlic
& rosemary, spicy pepper melange, and more. Newer introductions
for Partners are their minimally sweet cookies, called Sweet Crisps
(though I haven't tried these, that toasted hazelnut variety has
me intrigued) and several choices in Gourmet Granola, all sweetened
only with honey and fruit. The website has a complete list of offerings.
If you cannot find Partners products in your local upscale grocer
or specialty store, you can order via the toll-free number above.
Mo Munchies Soy Nuts (www.mightymomunchies.com, 1-800-762-1384).
Even if you scoff at all of the health claims touted by people into
soy snacks, it cannot be denied that these soy nuts are high in
isoflavones, non-genetically-modified, low in fat, and contain some
serious fiber (in addition to vitamins and minerals). I started
eating soy nuts because I know they have good nutritional value;
I ended up eating these because they are the best-tasting soy nuts
I've tried--and I've sampled a lot of the other brands on the market.
This is a company with a great history (see their website); in addition,
they are wonderfully nice people. They tell me that some organizations
are putting these snacks into gift baskets these days instead of
chips or sweet snacks--what a great idea! The soy nuts are available
in original (salted), Cajun, ranch, or unsalted flavors, in either
8 ounce or new 1-1/2 ounce bags. I never thought I'd actually enjoy
eating any soy product, but sometimes it's nice to be proven so
French Cheese Company (www.marinfrenchcheese.com, (800) 292-6001
or (707) 762-6001). Cheeses handmade in the style of La Belle France
are the specialty of this small company. Only milk from Jersey cows
is used, and non-animal rennet is the order of the day. Offerings
include a delicate breakfast cheese, Camembert, Brie (traditional
or flavored), and Rouge et Noir (their brand name) shirts, baseball
caps, wine glasses, etc. My respect for Marin's cheesemaking ability
has known no bounds since I first tasted their Camembert last January;
it was creamy and perfectly aged and beautifully well-balanced.
These are cheeses made by people who respect this time-honored craft
and for people who love cheese or desire to educate their palates.
(www.FreshCoffeeNow.com, 1-866-394-7852). I have a confession to
make. I'm not a coffee drinker. However, I know enough about coffee
to understand that, as an agricultural product, it's always going
to be better when it's fresh. That's the premise behind FreshCoffeeNow.com.
Your coffee is roasted only after you place your order, and it's
shipped to you within 24 hours of roasting. Once you choose from
a dizzying variety of coffees (including but not limited to samplers,
Central American, Papua New Guinean, estate, flavored, African,
decaffeinated, and espresso), you select from 5 grinds, ranging
from whole bean to cone grind to French press. Shipping is free,
and the company's special packaging protects against the damaging
effects of oxygen. If you can't do without your minimum daily requirement
of java, shouldn't you be drinking the freshest stuff you can find?
Gourmet Kippered Beefsteak (www.oregonpride.com, 1-888-697-4767
or 908-537-7539). Sure, it looks rather like jerky, but any resemblance
ends there. Good quality top round beef, savory spices, and premium
wine or liqueur result in a much more tender and moist product than
regular, stiff-as-a-board, dried-out jerky. The finished beef contains
no alcohol, they say--just a bit of its flavor. There are no added
nitrites or MSG, either. My preferences run to Zeke's Gold or Ol'
Number 9, but there are varieties with more kick, too. Ideal for
camping trips, of course, but also a great pick-me-up on a long
plane flight or car ride.
Pancake Mix (www.heidispancakes.com, 1-877-295-3212). One of
Heidi Acuff's promotional posters shows her with a stack of her
pancakes--on her head. While I'm all for innovative headgear, I
think that eating the pancakes made from these mixes would be a
much better way to go. Her cottage cheese pancakes taste a lot like
the ones my mom used to make for me; she also has a sourdough mix,
an oats'n apple mix with real apple pieces and whole rolled oats,
and a blue moon! mix with blue corn, flax seeds, wheat and oat bran,
and brown sugar. These pancakes are no trouble to make, and wouldn't
they be a nice change of pace from cereal or a granola bar on a
cold morning? Good for a gift basket, too.
in the Wall Pesto (www.wholeinthewall.com, 1-607-722-0006).
If you don't know about pesto, you're really missing out on something;
well-made pesto is a joy. Originally, it was a combination of olive
oil, garlic, pine nuts (pignolas), fresh basil, and Parmesan cheese,
ground together and served over pasta. Whole in the Wall is a restaurant
(43 South Washington St. in Binghamton, NY) with all-natural dishes,
many vegetarian, and they have developed six varieties of this pasta
"sauce": original basil, sun-dried tomato, Cajun, dairy
free, spinach Parmesan, and sweet red pepper. I tasted the spinach
Parmesan at a trade show recently, and was most impressed. It wasn't
too oily or too salty (both are common flaws), just vibrantly flavored
and fresh-tasting. Since pesto is rather a pain to make, I was delighted
to find out that Whole in the Wall will now ship packs of 4 or 12
cartons (6.5 ounces each) to retail customers; just call them to
order. They'll include a recipe pamphlet with other suggestions
for their pesto, including using it as a baked potato topper. Pesto
can bring a little instant summertime into anyone's cold winter
and Earth (www.heavenandearthsauces.com or www.worldpantry.com,
1-866-972-6879). Hawa'iian-born chef Glenn Chu has taken what he
calls "Island Asian" sauces from his repertoire at Indigo
restaurant and made them available as condiments, marinades, etc.
I tried his raspberry hoisin sauce at a food show earlier this year,
and it's a knockout! I'd never have thought to combine those two
flavors, but this sauce would be perfect on chicken or duck. Other
types available include four fruit, peanut, ginger mint, and dragon
fire chili. Great for cooks or those who like entertaining at home
and want to try something new. Available for e-shoppers on the World
Pantry website (also an interesting place).
you havea comment, question, or suggestion? I'd like your input
into this column. You can reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.