For Chocolate Lovers only

Annual Non-Chocolate Gift Foods List

Once again this year, I present a listing of notable, non-chocolate edibles for those loved ones who can’t or won’t eat chocolate. Here they are, in no particular order…

---Twin Hens Chicken Pot Pie, (908) 925-9040, Old-fashioned chicken pot pie---even reading those words is enough to make me hungry. But it’s a time-consuming dish to make, and the commercial examples available are pretty bad, as a rule…or they were, until two moms in New Jersey with chef backgrounds decided to change that. I’ve tasted Twin Hens pot pies on several occasions, and I’d have no hesitation in serving them to company or my family. Lots of chunks of chicken (they use only Bell & Evans breast and thigh meat), a good amount of organic vegetables (that’s right; the onions, peas, carrots, and celery are all organic), even a real butter-based pastry crust topping. No preservatives or hydrogenated oils are ever used. The pies, made in small and large sizes, are available in some retail locations, but they can also be shipped to you this time of year. They arrive frozen; you need only heat them. Who says convenience foods can’t taste good and be good for you? A great comfort food on a cold night, and perfect as a gift for new parents!

---World Art Foods, (866) 774-8322, Grilling plain chicken or salmon again? Tired of the same old salad dressing? Fear not the boredom of mediocre meals past, as World Art Foods comes to your gustatory rescue. Here are condiments to make your food sparkle and sing. Perhaps a Honey Chipotle Vinaigrette for your salad this evening, or maybe a Shiitake Garlic Grilling Sauce for those times when you can’t resist firing up the grill. I love the Brandy Apple Pecan Sauce, one of the Private Reserve choices. To my surprise, this wasn’t overly-sweet; it was just very tasty. All of the flavors were nicely represented, and I’m thinking I’d use this as a dip for grilled or broiled spare ribs. I also like the idea of the Roasted Coconut Papaya Sauce and the Garlic Dill Spread, but really there are too many choices to name here; you ought to take a look at the cool website, where you can view the full product range, order whatever you’d like, and even find recipes for the products you choose.  

---Firefly Farms Organic, Here’s a little company I like a lot. Their “mission statement”, as it were, involves sustainable agriculture, humane treatment of animals, and respect for the environment, all of this while making some amazing goat cheeses. I first tried these cheeses at a food festival; one taste of their Buche Noire, and I was hooked. The Buche Noire is a cheese coated in French vegetable ash; when properly aged, it has a gorgeously creamy texture with an equally lovely taste. And I didn’t even think I liked ash-covered cheeses! The Merry Goat Round looks like a small round of Brie, but has a firmer texture, and the Mountain Top Bleu, with minimalist blue veining, is in a pyramid shape. Something that particularly impresses me about all of these cheeses is their delicacy. Goats’ milk cheeses can taste, well, “goaty”, but these do not. Each cheese simply has a distinct, subtle flavor, and subtlety in goat cheese isn’t always an easy matter to achieve! Any of these products would pair well with other foods or beverages. Cheeses are shipped overnight, and mine, shipped in late August, arrived in fine condition. Do try some of these cheeses; you won’t be disappointed.

---Readington River Buffalo Company, (908) 806-0030, Readington River is a small-scale, family-owned, 200+ acre bison farm, dedicated to raising American Bison and promoting education about bison agriculture. I first tasted their ground buffalo as a burger at a local 4-H Fair, not exactly the place where I expected to find anything remarkable in the way of food. My buffalo burger was delicious, however. The taste, while not in the least “gamey”, is similar to that of ground beef, but sufficiently different so that you know you’re eating something else. My understanding is that bison meat is exceptionally healthy, being lower in fat, calories, and cholesterol than most other meats commonly eaten in the US. Readington River has a store on their farm (open on weekends or by appointment), but best of all they will ship any of their wide range of products to you. And when I say “wide range”, I mean it! Sausage, ravioli, jerky, t-bone steak, short ribs, and many more cuts. They also sell non-food items, such as buffalo hides and skulls, and fluffy buffalo keychains. See their website for more information, and try some of “the other red meat” this holiday season!   

---Beth’s Farm Kitchen, (800) 331-JAMS, I first tried Beth’s jams and chutney at the Fancy Food Show in New York City. Even at a food show with hundreds of kinds of preserves, these stood out. The blackberry was amazing---full of fruit, with a great berry taste and an understated sweetness. The strawberry-rhubarb was equally delicious. I had never heard of this company before, but they’ve been in business for 23 years. Beth (there really is a Beth, by the way) is one busy lady, given that she makes many jams (ranging from standards like strawberry to intriguing combinations such as “raspycran”), no-sugar fruit spreads, chutneys, “zany” jellies (garlic-rosemary, for instance) and pickles. Her secrets? Small batches (12 jars at a time), lots of hand labor, and using the best local produce she can buy. In 2003 alone, she bought over ten tons of locally-grown fruits and vegetables! If you live in New York City, Beth’s sells at the Greenmarkets and in some stores. For the rest of us, ordering online or by phone is the way to go, if you have the self-control not to order one of everything from the large selection. Gift packs, too, of course. 

---Sampson’s, (877) 977-0077 (in Massachusetts, (617) 924-0408), Nuts are always a popular snack, especially at holiday time. But this year, those same old half-stale salted nuts in a can should be dropped right off your shopping list. A better idea has surfaced in the fair hamlet of Watertown, Massachusetts; Sampson’s makes spiced nuts, ranging from their signature Sweet & Spicy Pecans to Wild & Smoky Pistachios to Hot & Sassy Almonds. I picked up a small bag of the Citrus Curried Cashews and was wowed by the freshness of the nuts, combined with a somewhat spicy curry blend and genuine note of orange. Sampson’s is a small company, but their products are big on taste. They do make a chocolate version (Dark & Decadent Pecans) and a shortbread, and one of the founders has even written a cookbook with instructions on how you can make spiced nuts at home. All of the nuts come in two sizes, five or sixteen ounces (take my advice; you’re going to need the larger size of whatever you order). Online ordering, of course, and there’s even a sampler available. A great “hostess” gift, and perfect if you’re asked to contribute something to a party.

---Guerzoni Mosto d’Uva,,,, and others. What’s the big deal about grape juice, you ask? Well, this isn’t exactly the product you drank as a kid. In a process at least as old as ancient Rome, the juices of three different, biodynamically-grown grapes are combined and simmered for two to three hours. The simmering caramelizes some of the naturally-present grape sugars, leading to a beautifully smooth finish and a long-keeping juice. As dark purple as any Roman emperor’s robe, Mosto d’Uva is rich-tasting, refreshing, and not too sweet. This is a certified organic, non-alcoholic grape juice ideal for a holiday meal (or on a hot, late summer afternoon, which is when I’m drinking it); it’s also a terrific gift. Purely Organic is the importer, and Mosto d’Uva is available on their website as well as several others (shop around and compare prices). You can find this juice in natural foods stores, too, and it’s even served at some fine restaurants (I first encountered it at Restaurant Nora in Washington, D.C.). If for some reason you cannot locate a source, you can call Purely Organic at (877) 201-0710. Especially nice for an office party, perhaps with a platter of good Italian meats or cheeses and a loaf of crusty bread.

---Moosewood Hollow, (802) 479-7999, For many years, it was one of my cardinal rules: thou shalt not mess with my maple syrup. I just didn’t understand why people needed to try to combine other flavors with something so good all by itself. But along came Moosewood Hollow, who’s done something positive in this direction. I tried the Sweet Ginger Infused Maple Syrup not long ago, and it was lovely. You could taste both flavors, but they were in an excellent balance, with neither overwhelming the other. That’s what a good blend is all about! The company suggests using this on salmon or in apple pie; my thoughts for this product turn to French toast, vanilla ice cream, tea, homemade applesauce, and whole wheat bread. Moosewood Hollow is not a company to rest on their laurels; they have five other infused maple syrups, ranging from Sweet Autumn (with sweet spices and vanilla) to Sweet Savory (with rosemary, thyme, and lemon) to their newest creation, Sweet Lavender. Pretty packaging and clever three-pack and six-pack samplers are available. A delicious alternative to straight maple syrup. See also their Biscoaties---crunchy maple-oat cookies in 4 flavors for horses and their humans.

---A Perfect Pear, (800) 553-5753 or (707) 251-8532, Pears seem to me to be an underrated fruit. Among the fall crops, you always hear about apples and grapes and even pumpkins, but not enough people utilize pears to full advantage in food. A Perfect Pear is out to change that. This is a small company with a belief in using as much locally-grown produce as possible, and in some pretty darn creative ways. Try the Pear Wasabi Dressing, perhaps, or the Tomato Pear Chutney. The creation that I particularly like is their Pear Balsamic Vinegar, earthy and aromatic. I’d use this over vanilla ice cream, as part of a vinaigrette for a salad (perhaps a spinach-pear-bleu cheese-toasted walnut combination), or as a minimalist drizzle atop really good Parmesan or prosciutto. A few of these products would make a welcome gift for a cook (or someone who longs to be one); they might even change someone’s outlook on pears for the better! If you don’t care for pears or cannot eat them, there are a few non-pear products here, as well.

---The Real Canadian Bacon Company, (866) BACON-01, Disclaimer: After I tried this at a trade show and expressed my admiration for it, the President of the company sent me samples and wouldn’t let me pay for them. Now, having told you that, I can also tell you that you’ve been missing something if you haven’t tried this. Real Canadian bacon (called “peameal bacon” in Canada because it was once coated in ground yellow peas) is made from the leaner portions of pork loins, with external fat trimmed to 1/8 inch or less. Following that, it is sweet pickle-cured and rolled in a cornmeal coating. To my taste, it is less sweet and less agressively salty than American Canadian-style bacon. I love the more delicate but truly meaty flavor. Real Canadian bacon is available sliced, as you might expect, but it’s also sold as a roast, and you must promise me you’ll try it that way. I brought my roast to a summer get-together, where we grilled it and sliced it thickly as directed. Unbelievably good! (of course, you can also roast in it the oven.) Real Canadian Bacon freezes beautifully, too, just in case Aunt Martha brings yet another canned ham and you feel obliged to consume that when she’s staying for dinner. Secure online ordering is available, and recipes and serving suggestions are sent along with your order. A genuine treat.

---beehive beeproducts, (718) 834-1518, I’ll be honest here; I’m not a great fan of insects. But even I realize how critical honeybees are to our survival. If that sounds odd, reflect upon the fact that bees pollinate more than 2/3 of the food we eat! Honeybees are hard-working critters; in fact, they were portrayed on medieval coats of arms to indicate industriousness. Honey, in all it’s many varieties, is a sweet side product of the bee’s busy nature, and beehive offers a number of varietal honies in 8 ounce jars, including Sage, Blueberry, and Clover/Knapweed (the latter is excellent, with a cinnamony finish and slightly granular texture). There are honey samplers, too, in eye-catching “test tube” packaging with cork tops, and limited-run seasonal varieties. Best of all, beehive is dedicated to supporting the work of small-scale beekeepers in this country. Check their website for interesting facts on bees and beekeepers, not to mention some unnerving information on apian genetic modification.

---robbie dawg, (718) 501-5940, Four Cheese Oatmeal. Turkey Sausage and Romano. Peanut Butter, Carrot, and Wheat Germ. The latest gourmet snack food flavors? You bet, but these are designed for that special dog-lover or canine in your life. That’s right; they’re all dog biscuit flavors from robbie dawg. Lisa Fortunato, the real Robbie’s “Mom”, developed her own dog biscuits when she couldn’t find any to meet her exacting standards. There’s even an Oatmeal Carob Chip Biscuit for “dessert”! Only organic and natural ingredients are used, and all of these products are handmade under Lisa’s watchful eye. There are samplers, and larger and smaller biscuits of each type (after all, a Great Dane and a miniature dachshund will require differently-sized snacks). Look for holiday specials, including coin-shaped Hanukah “gelt” in gold mesh bags decorated with bows and a small dreidel! A fun and novel gift that will please pups and their people alike.




Published: October 2004