I love giving food-related gifts almost as much as I enjoy receiving them. Here are some of my favorites for the 2009 holiday season.
Give a cooking class. I suggest a one-day class in the art of cheese making from a top practitioner: Eran Wajswol of Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley, Morris County. Route 1 denizens are familiar with his cheeses from the many seasonal farmers markets he participates in, including Lawrenceville and Princeton. Classes are held once a month from April through November, with students returning 90 days later to pick up their fully aged two-pound wheel of cheese. Classes fill up fast. In fact, a few in 2010 are already sold out or near capacity. www.valleyshepherd.com. ($155)
Support area cookbook authors. The first volume of “Canal House Cooking” from Lambertville’s Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hersheimer was issued last summer and has been garnering praise and notice, big time, ever since. Call these modest but elegant books a seasonal recipe collection, as the authors do, or call it a serialized cookbook, as the editors of Saveur magazine do; they’re winners either way. The second issue, just out, contains simple but irresistible fall and holiday recipes. Can winter/spring be far behind? www.thecanalhouse.com. ($19.95 per book or $49.95 for a yearly subscription of three books)
Help someone on your list create a personal cookbook. When Lorraine Bodger’s “Cook Up a Cookbook” kit arrived unbidden on my doorstep, I scoffed. In these days of simplified desktop publishing, I reasoned, who couldn’t put together a binder or spiral-bound book of favorite recipes. Once I delved inside, however, I began to appreciate that it takes a bit more thought, organization, and commitment than most of us realize — and that some well-thought-out professional advice goes a long way towards producing the best version of whatever cookbook may be floating around in our heads. The kit contains tools for organizing, personalizing, preserving, and sharing recipes — even advice on how to take food photos. ($21.95 list price)
Give a gingerbread house kit you can’t mess up. Really. I came across the Gingerhaus line of all-in-one kits at last summer’s Fancy Food Show and immediately knew they were for people like me, whose fantasies outdistance her skills. The genius here is that you bake the pieces on a sturdy cardboard template that has tabs. You mix the dough (included, and developed with the King Arthur Flour people), cut out the flat panels, flip them over, and bake. The kits include icing and decorations, which you apply to the baked, flat panels, and then assemble via the tabs.
Gingerhaus kits are available at surlatable.com and kingarthurflour.com, but the best price I could find for the full-sized, deluxe house is at www.amazon.com. ($19.95). The Whole Foods chain carries an all-natural version of the smaller gingerbread chalet.
Design high-style fused-glass tableware. If you haven’t yet discovered that Red Green Blue, the drop-in arts and crafts studio at 4 Hulfish Street in Princeton, is not for kids only, I encourage you to take a look at the examples of some very stylish, very adult, and very useful plates, platters, and bowls of fused glass on display. They are really fun to make. I should know: to celebrate my birthday one year, 10 of my best buddies and I each made a custom sushi plate. I suggest giving a gift certificate for two so the recipient doesn’t have to go alone. If you’re lucky, your recipient will choose you. 609-683-5100. (Prices start at $19.95.)
Give locavore coffee beans. OK, so coffee doesn’t grow in New Jersey, or anywhere near. But the blend of beans created specially for Princeton’s Elements restaurant by Small World Coffee is as local as you can get. The blend of beans from Java, Sumatra, and Guatemala was personally selected by the Elements staff, after numerous “cuppings” at the Small World roasting facility in Rocky Hill. Besides being served at the restaurant, one-pound bags of the blend are sold at both Small World locations (14 Witherspoon and 254 Nassau) and online at smallworldcoffee.com ( $13.95 per pound). Best of all, a portion of the sales is donated to the Princeton School Garden Cooperative. I told you it was local.
Support a local restaurant. While I’m on the subject of great area restaurants such as Elements, what dining out devotee do you know who wouldn’t appreciate a gift certificate to a favorite eatery? Likewise, it’s hard for me to imagine any restaurant in the area that wouldn’t be happy to oblige. Keep in mind that especially during these tight times our independent, locally owned restaurants need and deserve our support.