Have yourself a consumable little Christmas

Do people really need more stuff? Homemade goodies are likely to chic this year. (Photo courtesy by Dreamstime.)

Do people really need more stuff? Affordable, consumable goodies are likely to top lists this year. (Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.)



New York Times columnist Michael Kinsey wrote an interesting blog recently about a debate he had with himself: Should he purchase a whiz-bang coffee grinder/maker on sale at home emporium store going out of business? Although he could certainly afford the $179 the gadget would set him back, he noted, the current dour economic conditions made think him twice and he ultimately decided to leave it on the shelf. Expense aside, he figured, it was just another appliance to clutter up the kitchen counter.

Hmmm, he raises a good point. When you think about it, buying more junk willy-nilly is the opposite of fiscal responsibility (even if it’s deeply discounted at pre-Christmas sales and  was the engine that drove our economy for so long) and counter to environmental responsibility (more stuff=more clutter=more junk in the landfill).

Kinsey’s blog also reminds me of my friend’s husband. Long before the economy began to tank, he despised gifts that just took up space and favored tokens that could be consumed, literally. A gift of food was the most obvious example (for goodies to make, check out Eating Well magazine’s roundup of healthy recipes and cool printable gift tags). The recipient eats it, enjoys it, and–voila!–it’s gone. Tickets to an event are an idea in the same vein. And since I’m in the process of packing for a cross-country move, I can appreciate this concept better than ever. I’m shedding stuff, not looking to acquire more.

Long before the economy began to tank, my friend’s husband despised gifts that took up space and favored tokens that could be consumed, literally. Nothing fulfills that criteria better than the gift of food.

So I predict these austere times will make homemade gifts, including baked treats and other cadeaux from the kitchen, a hot item this holiday. These presents may once have smacked for quaint; now they’re the height of recession-era chic. If you don’t have time to be an elf in the kitchen this year, here are a half-dozen affordable, consumable items to consider for those you love.

For the coffee lover

OK, at $39.95 for a half-pound, Peet’s Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee isn’t exactly cheap, but recipients will no doubt consume it in no time. And if your giftees have downgraded to Yuban lately, this rich, world-renowned brew will be all the more appreciated. Or to keep stretch that $39, enroll someone in Peet’s Monthly Coffee Tour ($39 for 3 months, $74 for 6, $149 for 12) so they receive 1 pound of a different coffee monthly.


For the artisanal food aficionado

Located in the heart of Kentucky’s Bourbon Country, Bourbon Barrel Foods crafts small-batch sauces using bourbon barrels. The result is very intriguing gifts for little coin: their Worcestershire or soy sauce is just $5. Their sorghum syrups–billed as Kentucky’s answer to maple syrup–are about $8. Their bourbon barrel-aged vanilla extract ($8.95) is a must for bakers. For $17.50, you can give a set of the their bourbon barrel-smoked salt, paprika, and peppers–a nice item for the grillers on your list.


For the cook…

…a hands-on cooking lesson, of course. You can find these in just about any community for all manner of cuisines and techniques. Culinary schools often offer recreational classes for passionate amateurs, national chains like Sur la Table have great lineups of guest teachers, and local restaurant chefs also occasionally invite students into their kitchens. Prices range from about $60 for an evening class at a local store to $2,095 for a five-day Culinary Boot Camp at the Culinary Institute of America‘s Hyde Park, NY, campus. And remember, hands on, no demo sessions, because a cook isn’t going to want to sit around and watch someone else at the stove.

For the gourmand or health-food lover

Farro is high on the list of trendy foods these days. The ancient grain is high in fiber and protein, has appealing nutty flavor and al dente texture; you can use it in a place of rice in a pilaf or cook it like risotto. But it can be hard to find, so make it easy by ordering a pretty little linen bag of Tenuta Castello Farro


For the (adventurous) chocolate lover

Chocolate and bacon? Trust me, it’s compelling…sort of a gourmet sweet-and-savory riff like chocolate and peanut butter. Vosges‘ Mo’s Bacon Bar ($7.50) combines velvety milk chocolate with bits of applewood-smoked bacon and a sprinkling of alder wood-smoked salt. Yummmm. The chocolatiers at Vosges aren’t shy about creating offbeat flavor combinations; they also have the intriguing Organic Enchanted Mushroom Bar (dark chocolate, reishi mushrooms, and walnuts for $8.50) or the Habana bar (milk chocolate and crunchy plaintains, also $8.50)–and these are some of their more mainstream concoctions. For those who like variety, awesome gift sets of mini exotic bars starting at $25.

For the wine (and food) lover

Wine is a classic consumable gift, and a bottle of Dobbes Family Estate’s 2007 Grand Assemblage Cuvee Pinot Noir ($28) is a crowd-pleasing winner.  The wine’s ripe fruitiness, soft texture, and pleasing acidity makes it play well with all manner of holiday foods. If you go to someone’s house for supper, a bottle of this Oregonian wine will ensure you’re invited back. A guest brought me a bottle for Thanksgiving, and it certainly left me with warm fuzzy feelings.