Monday, October 17, 2011

Weird and Wonderful Food Gifts

It’s never too early to start thinking about holiday gifts, or at least that’s what the department stores have brainwashed me into thinking.  Over the years I have found that early shopping does take some of the stress out of the process, avoiding the full frontal assault of the last minute rush.  Starting early and giving the process more thought also allows for more creativity that the typical run through the mall- unusual websites, little known specialty stores, even craft markets and vintage stores all become targets for off-the-beaten path gifts, often with better stock than come December 24th

Here are a few food related websites with global influences.  For the cook friend who has everything, the hostess you’d like to thank with something more thoughtful than a bottle of wine, or the in-laws that put you up for the Thanksgiving holiday- these online stores are full of culinary delights sure to inspire.

Bram ( Just as I was falling in love with my new Chilean clay bean pot (from Pomaireware purchased at Kitchen Table in Walnut Creek, CA), a walk around the square in downtown Sonoma brought me to clay pot Nirvana in the form of Bram, a store devoted entirely to clay cooking vessels.  Bram, named after a specific type of half-glazed Egyptian clay pot, is a shrine to all things clay cooking.  Crammed between the shop’s narrow walls I found hand painted Moroccan tagines in vibrant colors, unglazed South American bean pots, and Spanish glazed cazuelas. From the humble unglazed red clay variety to intricately patterned hand painted serving dishes from Egypt, Bram has dish to fill your clay cooking fantasies.  If I was looking for inspiration on using these vessels, a wall of books, including the wonderful Mediterranean Clay PotCooking by Paula Wolfert, was there to help me on the way.  For friends who will appreciate a new pot as lovely to look at as it is fun to cook with, clay is the way to go. 

Far West Fungi ( It took one taste of truffle salt to know that this was a gift I would not stop giving.  At Far West Fungi, a mushroom-themed store in San Francisco’ Ferry Building, sales clerks encouraged me to dip a finger into the pungent jar of sea salt flecked with bits of fabled Italian black truffle.  In my mouth the effect was so complete and intoxicating I could have been sitting down to a $90 plate of truffle linguine.  For only $24 however, this reasonable luxury could dust scrambled eggs in the morning, finish off a medium rare fillet mignon just off the grill, or simply top a wedge of really good unsalted butter to smear on a crust of warm French bread.  While you’re at it, fungi loving friends might also enjoy growing their own.  Far West sells kits to get started growing one’s very own shitake or oyster mushroom mini farm.  While most people are eating chocolate Yule logs, your friends can brag about their very first Christmas mushroom log. 

Stinky Brooklyn ( Stinky Brooklyn is a, well, more aromatic alternative to your mama’s fruit-of-the-month club.  Food or wine-of-the-month clubs gifts are the holiday gift that keeps on giving- it is easy to see why this form of food giving has not just persisted over the years, but grown.  The holidays are weighed down with enough food already, it is nice to think that your food gift, in this case three .5lb selections of artisanal cheese, will arrive at your loved one’s door every month for three months, just in time for those New Year’s resolutions.  Sure there are other cheese-of-the-month clubs (Murray’s and Artisanal are two notable ones), but Stinky’s wins points for sheer amusement in the name.  Who wouldn’t smile when a fresh shipment of Stinky’s show’s up at the door? 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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